If you don’t feel cold enough, or if you want to feel hungry and worried and scared, read the children’s book The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is part of the “Little House” series of books, like “Little House on the Prairie.” It is listed as fiction, in the chapter book section of the Pine Bush Public Library, but it is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life.
It starts around September 1880 on the Great Plains, when her father is harvesting the long grass out on the prairie. Laura and Carrie get lost in the hay, which grows higher than their heads. When they find a break in the grass, there are two men they don’t know, harvesting their own grass. They meet the Wilder brothers, Royal and Almanzo. (Someday she will marry Almanzo.)
Winter arrives early, October 1. The Ingalls go to live in their house in town. The girls go to school. There is a blizzard and a white-out. Everyone will freeze and starve if they stay in the school house. The teachers try to lead them back to town, but no one can see anything but snow. Laura and Carrie bump into the last house in town, and Laura yells and yells, and people follow her voice. That is the only thing that kept all of them from wandering out onto the trackless prairie and being lost in the storm.
The blizzards do not stop, that year. The trains from the East cannot get through with food, because snow obliterates the train tracks. The woodpile gives out. The Ingalls are working the straw into tight braids and burning those in the kitchen stove, their house’s only source of heat. The flour runs out. The potatoes are all eaten, and the family is reduced to grinding up their seed wheat in the coffee grinder, to make course flour and very coarse bread. They are living on those slices of bread.
The teenaged Almanzo comes through at this time, wondering if the Ingalls and others in town are starving. He and his older brother Royal have enough food stashed away, but others do not. He and a brave older man go out, twenty miles on the prairie, looking for a farmer who will sell them his seed wheat. They have to get the sacks of wheat back to town before night falls and the next blizzard arrives. It is a harrowing journey, with the horses falling into pockets in the snow, and the sleds tipping over. They get home with the wheat, and the town people do not
starve, but it was a close call. The supply trains do not come through until April.
The whole book is harrowing. The more I read, the colder I got, If you want to feel colder than you are now, and scared and hungry and depressed, read Laura’s book, The Long Winter. It will make this winter seem even longer than it is.
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