Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Long Winter

Next term, I hope to read The Long Winter with the book club at the home education group so it was time for a reread. Now, I think that this was probably my fourth reading of The Long Winter-once as a child and twice to my older children. 

The Long Winter tells of the Ingalls family's struggle to survive through the harsh winter of 1880-1881 in the new town of De Smet, in South Dakota. The winter of 1880-1881 is thought to have been the harshest known in the USA.

In the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, the Ingalls family had extensive stores prepared for winter whereas in this book, they were comparatively poorly prepared. They had just moved to their claim and the land had only been cultivated from the prairie that year, meaning that yields were poor. Winter came in October with the first blizzard and continued until April. It became obvious very soon that the claim shanty was not somewhere to spend the winter. From the description, I imagine it to have been rather like a shed. The Ingalls did have the option of moving to Pa's empty store in town so went there for the winter. 

By modern standards, the store wouldn't have been warm. There was no central heating and upstairs there weren't curtains to keep out the cold. The nails in the roof were covered by a layer of frost. 

Initially, the townsfolk hoped that the train would bring in supplies but as time passed, it became clear that it wasn't going to be possible to clear the track. This meant no coal, no kerosene and little food. The town was far from self-sufficient. The Ingalls had to resort to burning hay which Pa had keep hauling in from the claim. This task wasn't particularly safe as there was a risk of being caught in a blizzard. Artificial light was in short supply although Ma managed to make button lamps using axle grease. Worse, food supplies ran short and only a dangerous journey might keep the town from starvation.

This is a fascinating book although one that needs to be read under a warm duvet! In many ways, it is one of my favourites of the series as the reality of the situation comes across so clearly: pioneering doesn't seem like a fun game that we might like to copy. It also held my interest on a fourth read which must be a recommendation in itself.

I am using The Long Winter as my classic by a female author for the Back to the Classics challenge.

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  1. Loved that book as a child and I still do; like you say it does bring the grim realities of pioneering life more alive than some of the earlier books.

  2. I like how you say it needs to be read under a warm duvet! We loved this book when we read it and the children always asked for one more chapter, but it also made me feel cold!