Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

One of my very favorite TV shows when I was growing up was Little House on the Prairie. It became a favorite because the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were among my best-loved books, and I read the series over and over. When members of the Schoolhouse Crew had the opportunity to review one of two DVDs produced by Legacy Documentaries - The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura - I knew I'd be delighted with either one of them!
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Legacy Documentaries claims a mission "create and deliver content so compelling it entertains, informs, and shapes the lives of our viewers". The company produces biographies, tributes, profiles, and news segments. However, Executive Producer Dean Butler is best known to most of us for his portrayal of Almanzo Wilder in the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Butler produced these two original documentaries celebrating the life and legacy of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. In Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, viewers learn about Almanzo beyond what is told in Laura's book about his boyhood, Farmer BoyThe Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder tells Laura's story from a historical perspective, giving wonderful background on her real life story and how she became one of the most beloved authors of children's literature. Through dramatic re-enactments, original photographs, and excerpts from her books, this documentary details many of the experiences of her life that she adapted for her stories, and her journey to becoming an author. There are also insights from historical and literary experts about her contributions to preserving an important part of American history, and her development and importance as an author.
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How did we use it? Kennady and I watched the DVD together, and I think I got a lot more out of it simply because I have been a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and all things Little House for so many more years! Kennady was most interested in the scenes that gave background to the events described in the Little House books. I was most interested in the biographical information on Laura and her development as an author. I really didn't know that she hadn't begun writing until a couple of years into her marriage - I guess I'd assumed she had kept some kind of journal from a young age and later based her stories on those events. While most of the storylines from the Little House books are indeed actual events from Laura's growing up years, she did rearrange details and create fictional characters for her stories that were composites of people she had known.

There was quite a bit of discussion included about how Laura developed as an author, and the characteristics of good story-telling demonstrated in her work. Kennady has some interest in writing, and does write stories on her own, so some of the commentary on what made Laura's stories so compelling may prove inspirational to her. I found the insights into some of the struggles between author and editor fascinating. Laura's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was a respected author and was her mother's editor for many years; but I didn't know that they often had disagreed on what Laura should include or omit in the stories. They clashed over their views several times, and at one point their relationship was extremely strained because Rose used some of her mother's story material to write her own book - without Laura's approval! As you can imagine, that caused quite a rift between them! It came as quite a surprise to me that Rose was not always a sweet and dutiful daughter, although she did help her parents a great deal. It was Rose's idea that her mother's memories should be preserved as a book, and she was determined to help Laura hone her writing skills and become a published author. Rose led an adventurous and somewhat tumultuous life and was rather more independent and career-oriented than many women of her time. 

I enjoyed the bonus feature giving background on how the documentary was researched and filmed, and both Kennady and I enjoyed the preview of Pa's Fiddle, and we think we might like to have that!

What we liked best:
  • insights into the writing process, and lots of information we didn't previously know about Laura's life and her family.
  • included lots of photos of the Ingalls and Wilder families, and footage of the places featured in Laura's books

What I need to mention:
  • in my opinion, viewers should be somewhat familiar with the Little House books in order to really get the most out of this excellent documentary. However, it could be useful as part of studies on several topics - women in American history; American literature; pioneers and the settling of the American west.

Our bottom line: As I said, my enjoyment of this DVD was enhanced by my personal knowledge and love of the books Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. Kennady hasn't read all of the books, and I suspect that she would have been even more engaged if she had. I highly recommend this DVD to Little House fans, and I think it would be a valuable addition to a history study on the pioneers and westward expansion of the 1800s. Because it contains information about the writing process and the excellent literary quality of Laura's writing, I also think it would be inspiring as part of a study of American literature or for an aspiring author.

Would you like to explore the Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
Trailers for both videos can be viewed at Legacy Documentaries - Little House

Recommended Ages: suitable for all ages.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Crew members reviewed both DVDs, so be sure to check out their thoughts on the other title as well!

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