I grew up reading the “Little House” books and watching “Little House on the Prairie” on television and loving both. The actor, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the show, is actually still involved with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life.
Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is a documentary, produced by Legacy Documentaries in partnership with the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association in Burke, NY. This DVD tells about the early life of Almanzo, as it was described in the book Farmer Boy.
Before we watched this 53 minute documentary, Emily read Farmer Boy again. She had read it a few years ago, but I wanted it to be more fresh in her mind before viewing the DVD, thinking that she’d learn more from the DVD that way.
We both really enjoyed Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. The format is an interesting mix of narration, video footage of the Wilder Homestead (currently a museum in upstate New York), drawings from the book, and live reenactments of some of the scenes from the book. The narrator retold parts of the story and gave a lot of background information about the Wilder family and the time period. As we watched, Emily exclaimed several times, “Oh, I liked this part of the story!”
If you’ve read Farmer Boy, then you surely remember the wonderful descriptions of food throughout the book. This hard-working farm family ate a lot and they ate well. Many many dishes were served at every meal, and all are described in mouth-watering detail. Emily even remarked as she was reading Farmer Boy that reading through those descriptions made her hungry! I found it quite interesting that the DVD commented on the reason for the amount of space in the story devoted to food. The Ingalls family lived in poverty. In some books, such as The Long Winter, their hunger was a focal point of the book. In other of the stories, it’s not dwelt on as much, because Laura’s childhood seemed so content. But still, such common things as an orange or white sugar were portrayed as wonderful and rare treats because all the family generally had to eat was what they could grow or what Pa hunted. So, to Laura Ingalls Wilder, hearing of Almanzo’s more wealthy background must have been truly amazing, commanding an important role in his story.
More connections like these are made in the video. We love field trips and hands-on history, but we’re unlikely to ever make it to upper state New York to visit the Wilder Homestead, so this was the next best thing.
Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura ($21.95) is a great supplement to the Little House books and probably would be most enjoyed by upper elementary ages and up. If you enjoy the Little House books as much as we do, or if you’re studying the westward expansion time period then you would surely enjoy this DVD as much as we did!
Read more reviews of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura and the companion DVD, The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by clicking on the Crew banner below.