Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Farmer Boy is a deliciously sensuous book, mostly about food. It is, after all, the way to every young boy's heart. There are lots of moral messages, but the book is always inviting and never preachy. It's perfect for confident readers aged 9 and up who are interested in times gone by.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 372 Date: May 2004
Publisher: HarperTrophy
ISBN: 0060581824

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Are you hungry? And do you like doughnuts? These are very important questions. If you like food as Almanzo likes food, you'll read Farmer Boy and weep.

Almanzo is Almanzo Wilder - the Almanzo Wilder destined to marry Laura Ingalls of Little House fame. Before he went to the pioneer west and met and married Laura Ingalls, Almanzo spent his childhood on his parents farm in New York state. His life was rather different to Laura's in many ways; his family weren't pioneers, and the farm on which he lived was a prosperous one. But in comparison to the lives of children today, a century and a half later, Farmer Boy is a similar story to Ingalls Wilder's other books; one of school and hard physical work, one of making use of each last little thing - for us that is. For Almanzo it's the story of FOOD and of dreaming of horses. The book opens in winter time and at the start of the new school term. Everyone must go to school during the cold season, for there is less work to do on the farm. Almanzo, like many busy young children, doesn't like school too much because he feels that there are so many more important things to do. He knows he must get his "schooling" though, and he trudges through the snow with his brother Royal and his sisters Eliza Jane and Alice.

Laura Ingalls Wilder just grabs you, adult and child alike, and pulls you straight into her book, her writing is so full of the most amazing sensory recollection you can imagine. Straightaway you're there, in the cold, the freezing cold, walking to school, and straightaway you're there, inside the mind of a nine-year-old little boy, one hundred and fifty years ago. Wintertime in New York state is very very cold indeed - "a little water thrown up into the air came down as tiny balls of ice" - and the chores of feeding the livestock, milking the cows, and cleaning the barns are done as quickly as possible. Sometimes it's so cold they must get up at midnight and chase the cattle around, for if they stayed still all night they would freeze to death. But - and I really must get to the food now - when work is done, Mother's meals are always waiting. There is a description of at least one meal in every single chapter of Farmer Boy, each more delicious sounding than you, I, or even Almanzo, could ever imagine:

"Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy-boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp, golden crust."

"Mother was frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies."

Are you hungry yet? I am, and I'm only typing. I so want to smell that "hot, brown smell", don't you?

Almanzo has another preoccupation making school seem such a chore. He loves horses more than anything (perhaps even more than food). His greatest dream is to break his own colt. But he's too young and Father won't let him near those beautiful creatures for fear he'd make a mistake and ruin them. So Almanzo must make do with his calves, Star and Bright, and learn how to train them before he can even go into the stable with the Morgan colts. He learns his lessons well, and patiently, but it doesn't stop him wishing and it doesn't stop him standing in the barn for hours just watching the horses, and dreaming. It's a busy year and lots of things happen - you see the seasons in terms of the farm's work and the adventures and play that can be had around it. I like the parts best when Mother and Father go away and Eliza Jane bosses the other children but turns out to be a great sister in the end, and where, at the Fourth of July celebration in town, Almanzo's cousin Frank taunts him that Father won't give him a nickel to buy pink lemonade. Father doesn't give Almanzo a nickel, but a whole half dollar, and trusts him to spend it as wisely or as frivolously as he pleases. Needless to say Almanzo isn't tempted by spoiled Frank's greed, and shows that he's deserved his father's trust. Another favourite part is where an Indian races horses at the town fair and runs a mile in two minutes and forty seconds.

It's probably not escaped your notice that I love this book, Farmer Boy. I do, I really do, and I love all the others in the Little House series about Laura and her family too. I love history and I used to love listening to my parents and grandparents recounting stories of their childhoods. In the same way, because her writing is so warm and inclusive, I love reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love the way the children are welcomed into everything their parents do, and I love the way they're trusted to slowly become independent, and to learn their own lessons, and to discover that they must find for themselves the benefits in being honest and in helping others.

Some things never change do they? Children with their sibling rivalries, children who are fed up with helping around the house, children who have fun playing and learning, are the same now as they were then. And I really, really hope that at least one day in every child's life, everything suddenly goes right for them, as it does at one point for Almanzo, and that they feel just as he did:

"And then, suddenly, the whole world was a great, shining, expanding glow of warm light. For Father went on to say:... "

Ha! I'm not telling you! Get thee to a bookshop!

Children who like to read about life in the past might enjoy The Last Wolf by Michael Morpurgo.

Booklists.jpg Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the Top Ten Classics of Children's Literature.

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Buy Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder at


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