On the Banks of Plum Creek

This one for me will always be The One With the Grasshoppers.*

Said grasshoppers destroy the Ingalls’ wheat crop and smother their farm like a Biblical visitation.  Worse, they stay.  And lay millions of eggs. 

Then one day they start marching on the ground, robotically, toward the west, finally taking their bows without so much as a by your leave.

Another bit that stamps itself in memory is the prairie fire that brings the “wheels of fire”, or burning tumbleweeds, that also beset the Ingalls home.

“On the Banks of Plum Creek” recounts hardships like the fires in “Little House On the Prairie” and the blizzards in “The Long Winter”, but it’s funnier than those books.  This is never more so than when Pa comes out of his den within shouting distance of the house; also when the girls bring in too much firewood; and when Laura, having attended church, stops feeling wickedness for Nellie Oleson and feels merely a “little bit of mean gladness”.

The book also has the child-eye perspective that was so prominent in “Little House On Big Woods”.  But in that book Laura saw things that, though they were brand new to her, she could at least name, like a lake, or a town.  In this book she’s constantly seeing things she has no name for, as when she first sees a belfry (“a tiny room with no walls and nothing in it”), or a rug carpet (the “whole floor was covered with some kind of heavy cloth that felt rough under Laura’s bare feet”).

And a blackboard, chalk and eraser:

On the wall behind Teacher’s desk there was a smooth space of boards painted black. Under it was a little trough. Some kind of short, white sticks lay in the trough, and a block of wood with a woolly bit of sheepskin pulled tightly around it and nailed down. Laura wondered what those things were.

All of this would have been ruined if the adult author, leaving the child’s perspective, had named these things before Laura could work them out herself.

The book is constantly playing like this with perspective.  We are never told what something is until we’re shown what it looked like to Laura – whether it’s the leeches that she finds on her legs after taking a swim, or the burning, spinning tumbleweeds, or that visiting swarm of locusts: 

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with the noise of a hailstorm.

I read the last 170 pages of this book in one day, and I’m a slow reader. 

One of the most enjoyable, and startling, reads I can remember.

This book has a few unique stamps on it, and I could have dubbed it The One With Walnut Grove; or The One With the Hobbit Hole; or The One Where Pa Hibernates Like a Bear.

But nothing beats those grasshoppers.

“Pa drove around the field, throwing out little piles of stuff as he went. Ma stooped over one, then a thread of smoke rose from it and spread. Ma lighted pile after pile. Laura watched till a smudge of smoke hid the field and Ma and Pa and the wagon. (Illustration by Garth Williams).

Next up, “By the Shores of Silver Lake.”  Working title: The One Where Mary Goes Blind and Jack Dies.

*I had previously read The One With the Wolf Pack; The One With All Those Songs and Hymns; The One with the Spelling Bee; and The One With Pa’s Stories. For non-Little House readers, and maybe even for my fellow Bonnet Heads: those are my nicknames for “Little House On the Prairie,” “The Long Winter,” “Little Town On the Prairie,” and “Little House in the Big Woods”, respectively.

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