Caroline Fraser’s new biography Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder seeks to provide not only the tale of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life but also to provide the context of the historical periods in which Laura lived. Fraser also seeks to breakdown Laura’s often tumultuous connection her to her daughter Rose and the process through which her series came into existence.
This book is incredibly well researched. It provides several pages of worthwhile photographs of Laura and her family. Fraser does a phenomenal job of breaking down just how much of the famous Little House Series is actually true, and which aspects fiction (though all has autobiographical basis), after all, Laura is quoted as saying “All I have told is true but it is not the whole truth.” The historical connections dig deeply into the social, economic, and political forces affecting the country throughout Laura’s life in an impactful way.
There is a heavy focus on Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s daughter, which at points detracts from the conversation surrounding Laura’s own life. Almanzo wasn’t heavily included in the biography which seemed like an odd choice and it would have been nice for more explanation on what that decision was made. Perhaps there was not much information available concerning him?
Unfortunately, this book is too old to be directly utilized with youth at the age when Wilder’s novels are typically taught. However, it could be used to draw inspiration for historical evets to discuss with youth while reading one of the novels, such as talking about The Homestead Act or the way Wilder’s novels handle Native Americans. Fraser doesn’t shy away from handling difficult subjects and her heavy footnotes could provide sources to use as well for a variety of Laura Ingalls Wilder related purposes. Sections of this book could be used in a high school English or History course, and the whole text would likely function well in specialized college course. This is also useful for any Little House fan who wishes to know more about the books they’ve consumed and enjoyed so much.