Anyone who loved the Little House series is in for a treat, because in a new book, writer Wendy McClure really put her money where her sunbonnet is.
I get Little House love. Heck, my second grade curriculum was devoted to the series: we made sunbonnets and ground wheat in a coffee grinder and put papier mache hams in a cardboard smokehouse. I understand falling under the spell of those books and the family's self-sufficient, cozy, itinerant life. But you need not have been an obsessive fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder in order to appreciate McClure's memoir The Wilder Life — because, really, she's not just talking about this one series, but about the magic childhood books can hold throughout one's life.
A childhood lover of the series, McClure rediscovers them as an adult, and quickly finds herself in the grip of obsession: she starts churning butter, researching Wilder history and generally trying to get to the bottom of the series' mystique. (She was also the anonymous voice of the HalfPintIngalls Twitter feed.) Her journey into what she terms "Laura World" become literal when she embarks, often with a tolerant and bemused boyfriend, on road trips to the different homesteads and museums and small-town pageants across the Midwest.
Along the way, we get a good picture of Ingalls and American history and meet a good number of cranks and characters. But we also come to understand the power of childhood attachment and, without wishing to sound too stentorian, the nature of adulthood. I think what I found particularly appealing about the book — which, by the way, is breezy and funny and fun — is that in a world of contrived stunt concepts, this felt organic. She started with a genuine love and the book grew out of an authentic need for exploration. The fact that she ends up with some six sunbonnets is a testament, I feel, to her commitment.