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Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend

by John E. Miller

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1414161,030 (3.75)1
Although generations of readers of the Little House books are familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder's early life up through her first years of marriage to Almanzo Wilder, few know about her adult years. Going beyond previous studies, Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder focuses upon Wilder's years in Missouri from 1894 to 1957. Utilizing her unpublished autobiography, letters, newspaper stories, and other documentary evidence, John E. Miller fills the gaps in Wilder's autobiographical novels and describes her sixty-three years of living in Mansfield, Missouri. As a result, the process of personal development that culminated in Wilder's writing of the novels that secured her reputation as one of America's most popular children's authors becomes evident.… (more)
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Having read a number of other biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I consider this one to be fairly good though not extraordinary--though to someone who is first finding out about the facts of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, this book could be shocking or even disturbing. Miller did considerable research as he sets up extensive historical context around Wilder's life, especially her time in South Dakota and Missouri (I should note this book is part of a Missouri Biography series from University of Missouri Press). He draws a lot of newspaper and other cultural documents of the time. There are moments when that feels like padding because there is otherwise insufficient material on Wilder. He delves into the important, even controversial, subject of Rose Wilder Lane's role in her mother's Little House books as well.

I should note that this book was published in 1998. For a more current, more extensive biography of Wilder, I advise reading Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. ( )
  ladycato | Dec 24, 2021 |
Writing a biography of an icon is difficult. Writing a biography of an icon who created a fictitious autobiography is worse.

I have read four biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Two frankly aren't worth the bother -- one is nothing more than a paraphrase of her books, and the books are known not to be true. They are intended to describe pioneer life, not to tell us exactly how Bessie Wilder, the former Laura Ingalls, grew up.

This book is much more serious. I have heard Miller speak, and he has done his best to get behind the "Little House" books. The records for a real biography of Laura don't exist (there are no diaries, and other records are scarce), but Miller has done what he can. And he has brought out the key facts: That Wilder did rewrite her life, and that her daughter Rose Wilder Lane rewrote even that. The resulting books are of course very popular, and some will be rather disappointed to know that they are not "the truth." But this is a book for any true fan of the true Laura. ( )
  waltzmn | Mar 5, 2012 |
Pretty good as a quick read, slightly fawning and clearly not out to ruffle any feathers.
  fillyjonk | Mar 14, 2010 |
Excellent biography of LIW.....so much in her books were altered, switched about or simply left out. Also a great insight into the relationship between her only child, Rose Wilder Lane, and herself. I recommend if you have enjoyed the Little House books. ( )
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IntroductionThe books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of America's best-known and most widely read authors of children's literature, continue to fascinate children and adults alike.
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Pioneer Girl
1867-1879The Civil War was only two years past when a baby girl was born in a cabin on the edge of the "Big Woods" in the Chippewa River valley region of Wisconsin, just a few miles from the Mississippi River.
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Although generations of readers of the Little House books are familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder's early life up through her first years of marriage to Almanzo Wilder, few know about her adult years. Going beyond previous studies, Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder focuses upon Wilder's years in Missouri from 1894 to 1957. Utilizing her unpublished autobiography, letters, newspaper stories, and other documentary evidence, John E. Miller fills the gaps in Wilder's autobiographical novels and describes her sixty-three years of living in Mansfield, Missouri. As a result, the process of personal development that culminated in Wilder's writing of the novels that secured her reputation as one of America's most popular children's authors becomes evident.

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