December 12, 2017

Christmas Popcorn Balls

Do you remember in These Happy Golden Years when Almanzo had to go away before Christmas? Laura still busied herself as the family prepared for the celebration. It wasn't long before Carrie's extra bag of candy was needed for a special guest. 
Laura popped popcorn. Ma boiled molasses and drizzled it over the popcorn, forming balls in her hands. 

This Christmas maybe you'll make popcorn balls with your loved ones! My daughter still remembers the sweet popcorn balls we made a few years ago. I think we'll make some, too. 

If you want to make your own popcorn balls, my popcorn ball recipe is fairly simple. The hardest part is keeping your hands buttered or sprayed so the sweet kernels don't stick to your hands.

Have a wonderful holiday season! Merry Christmas!

~ Annette Whipple
This post contains affiliate links.  If you make any purchases through the Amazon links, I will earn a tiny percentage at no additional cost to you.  Thanks for your support.


November 10, 2017

Author Interview and Giveaway

Earlier this week I reviewed Shelley Tougas's book Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life (linked to review). I enjoyed the book so much I reached out to Shelley and asked her a few questions about her newest book. She has generously even offered a giveaway of the book!
Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life was such an enjoyable book to read that I reached out to Shelley to ask a few questions about her just-released book. I'll get right to the interview since you've already read my review of the book (right?). Be sure to read to the end because Shelley Tougas has generously offered a giveaway of the book!
Shelley Tougas

Little House Companion: When did you become a fan of the Little House books?
Shelley Tougas: I started reading them in elementary school. I remember asking for the series as a Christmas present in third grade. I watched the TV show, too, but I’m not sure which came first for me—the show? The books? I think it was the books, because during every TV episode, I was sure to inform my mother whether the plot had actually happened in the books and whether characters were real or made up by the show. I didn’t know until I was an adult that the books themselves were novels based on her real life. Laura herself invented characters. Nellie Oleson didn’t exist in real life. She was created to represent a couple of “mean” girls Laura knew.

LHC: I love that even as a child you noticed how different the Little House on the Prairie television show and the Little House books are. What inspired Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life? 
ST: When I was a kid, I wrote pioneer stories. Clearly Laura has been influencing me for a long time. Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life is contemporary, so I obviously ruled out historical fiction. I decided I’d rather write a parallel story.

LHC: The parallel story certainly works! When Charlotte’s mom uproots the family to live in Walnut Grove, Charlotte is more than a bit frustrated, which is obvious from the title. Was it difficult or fun to write from Charlotte’s frustrated perspective?
ST: It was fun to develop the contrast between Charlotte’s frustration and her mom and sister’s sunny outlook. Charlotte’s mother, Martha, is very much like Pa – footloose, upbeat, always looking for the next lottery ticket. Like Pa, she races out of town in the middle of the night to avoid a debt collector. Charles Ingalls actually did that when they lived in Iowa. Laura rarely reveals anyone questioning Pa’s decisions, some of which were definitely questionable. Occasionally Ma will say something like, “Oh, Charles,” and you read between the lines as an adult. For example, they could’ve stayed in Wisconsin where they were surrounded by supportive family members and had a functioning farm. They had an attic full of food and plenty of game for hunting. But Pa had to move. They returned to the farm after a miserable experience on the prairie and then left it a second time. (The order of the books doesn’t reflect reality. Laura was two during “Little House on the Prairie, and she wrote it based on memories of family members.) I wanted Charlotte to be the cynical voice that was missing in the series, the voice of adult readers. What were they thinking?

LHC: Please tell us how your visits to Walnut Grove, Minnesota helped you write this book. Were any of your characters based on real people?
ST: I lived in Mankato, Minnesota for 20 years, so I'd been to Walnut Grove a few times. It's a small town - about 800 people - and it's very Laura-centric. There's not just a single museum. It's a complex. There's a reconstructed sod house, an old school house, an old church and more. Plus there's the dugout site near the town. In the summer the community puts on a pageant with a musical production about the town's history and the Ingalls family. I wondered, what's it like to grow up in a town like that? A small town with such an interesting identity? That question inspired the book. At one point, I'd reached out to one of the pageant organizers in Walnut Grove to observe auditions for the show and meet with some of the kids who were involved. I wanted to spend a lot more time in town since I'd only been there a few times. But I changed my mind. I’d been a journalist, and I was afraid I’d fall into journalism mode. My story was fiction. I didn’t want to be stifled by reality. (How could I create a mean school principal if I met the real principal and thought he - or she - was fabulous?) My memories, with some help from Internet research, were sufficient. I actually hit a deer while driving home from the pageant and nearly totaled my car. My daughter and her friend were recording themselves on an iPad when it happened – we got to listen to the crash (and my swearing) over and over. Trust me, it was memorable.

LHC: What made you choose Walnut Grove for the setting instead of one of the other Ingalls homesites?

ST: That’s a great question, because there are so many sites, and I’ve been to all of them. Walnut Grove really stands out for me. First, it’s truly a diverse town despite whatever perceptions you might have of southwest Minnesota. The part in the book about the population being a quarter Hmong is factual. Second, the museum complex and the annual festival are so impressive. I certainly don’t mean to pit sites against each other, because they all have wonderful things to offer, but Walnut Grove is close to my home in Mankato, so I feel a kinship with it. Since I lived near there, I literally laugh when I see the TV show, which was shot somewhere in California and looks nothing like the Minnesota prairie. I also love that the owners of the Ingalls’ dugout site allow members of the public to look at it, even though it’s private land. That’s incredibly generous. Finally, Laura never named Walnut Grove as the town in “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” She literally never wrote the words in the book. Call my novel a karmic clarification!
Shelley and her husband, Michael, at Laura's home in Missouri.
LHC: As a child, I remember wondering where Plum Creek was. I'm thankful to know now! Your story-telling skills are amazing. You included history beyond Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet the book doesn’t feel like a lesson. How did you decide what parts of history to mention in this book?
ST: I didn’t want to romanticize pioneer life or westward expansion. It was a hard life. As hard as Laura makes it sound in her novels, it was much, much harder in reality. Her actual memoir (“Pioneer Girl”) is often downright bleak with glimpses of domestic abuse, depression, alcoholism, which were among the issues faced by isolated settlers. I wanted to explore the consequences of westward expansion, too, from the exploitation of Chinese laborers in building the railroad to the removal of Native Americans from their land to environmental destruction via the Dust Bowl. It was really challenging to weave all that into a contemporary novel, especially because there’s so much content, and not have it feel like I was hitting readers over the head with a hammer. I asked other writers to read it and guide me in that regard. Ultimately, my editor had the final say, and I trust her judgment. When she thought I nailed it, I was comfortable.

LHC: Where can fans connect with you?
ST: I’m at www.shelleytougas.com online
And Twitter, too: @ShelleyTougas

LHC: What else would you like to tell Little House Companion readers?
ST: I’m equally fascinated by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter. If you like Laura’s story, keep reading. Rose defied gender roles of the time, traveling the world and working as a real estate agent and a writer. In fact, for a period of time she was one of the country’s highest-paid writers. She developed some strong political views as she aged. She essentially quit writing/working to protest Social Security and Roosevelt’s New Deal. She simply wasn’t going to participate in it. Historians consider her among the “mothers” of today’s Libertarian Party.

Shelley, thanks so much for sharing some of the back story to Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life! That was such fun! And thank you for providing a book for one lucky Little House Companion reader!

Please enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter gadget. (You'll need to be at the Little House Companion blog to do so.) This is limited to US residents. You may enter through Thursday, November 16. (It ends at midnight on November 17.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

November 8, 2017

Book Review: Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life

When I heard about the middle-grade novel Laura Ingalls Wilder is Ruining My Life, of course I had to read it since I try to read most books related to Laura Ingalls Wilder-even fictional titles. 
Of course it was Shelley Tougas's title, Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life, grabbed my attention. One of my reading habits is that I rarely read book summaries-for better or worse. Instead, I read books recommended by friends and authors I already know. Book titles and jackets grab my attention, too

Before I tell you about the book, be sure to return on Friday for an interview with author Shelley Tougas and a giveaway of Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life!

I really enjoyed meeting Charlotte...even with her spunk and attitude...or maybe because of it. Her mom has just uprooted her sister and twin brother-again-to move the family to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Will the family will be able to make it on the prairie and finally call this town home? Will Laura's spirit inspire Charlotte's mom to write her book? 

The characters are believable. Laura fans will appreciate the tidbits of Laura Ingalls Wilder history woven into the book. However, Shelley didn't reference all of her "nods" to Laura. Even some of the characters are named after Laura's family members-including her daughter Rose and real-life brother Freddie who weren't mentioned in the Little House books. 

Shelley Tougas also used her book to share some of America's complicated and ugly history. Yet, none of it felt like a lesson. 

I suspect Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life will make readers want to do two things. First, they'll want to visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota and the other Little House homesites for themselves. The book will also make readers curious about the real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and American history. Like Shelley Tougas, I also highly recommend (as seen in these review) Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Pamela Hill Smith. Two additional resources are Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography by William Anderson and Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life (affiliate link) by Pamela Hill Smith. You can see more resources here

P.S. Don't forget about Friday's interview and giveaway!

~ Annette Whipple
This post contains affiliate links.  If you make any purchases through the Amazon links, I will earn a tiny percentage at no additional cost to you.  Thanks for your support.


August 3, 2017

My New Books

I'd like to share some personal news with you. It's not related to Laura Ingalls Wilder or the Little House books. If you're not interested, just skip this blog post. 

I'm so glad you are still reading! This month I will have two new books for children out from Rourke Educational Media. These are nonfiction books, written especially for children in grades 2-4. I think the photographs and graphics really make these books pop. They were fun to research and write.

Flowers Book Description: 
Flowers are more than just decoration. They have an important job. But they can't always do it alone. Find out more about the work of flowers, how they attract help, and how they help plant species survive.
Preorder Flowers
(Amazon links are affiliates at no extra cost to you.)
Soil Book Description:
Soil hides most of the time, but it's important. Dig into the layers of soil and learn how it is made. Find out how soil helps plants and other living things thrive. Are you ready to get your hands dirty? 
Preorder Soil
I can't wait to see the actual books! (I did get to see PDFs of the books before it went to print, but it's not quite the same.)

Some have asked, so I thought I would let you know if you are interested in supporting any author (including me), in addition to buying a copy of the book (which make great gifts), you can ask your local library to purchase a copy of the book. (If you do, make sure you borrow it!) Like many authors, I love to provide author visits to schools, libraries, and even private groups. Recommendations are always appreciated. 

If you are curious about my writing, please check out my website. You might also want to sign up for my newsletter or like my Facebook page. Thanks for your support!

Thanks so much!
~ Annette Whipple


July 28, 2017

Pioneer Girl Perspectives Review

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books have long wondered about the rest of her story. The fictionalized books only tell us so much (and being fiction, it's not all truth). In my years of reading and research, I've come to admire Laura Ingalls Wilder not only for her Little House books, but for the life she lived. 

South Dakota Society Press brought together a team of nine Laura Ingalls Wilder experts. Each of the Wilder experts (plus an interview with Noel Silverman of the Little House Heritage Trust) explore different aspects of the Little House author in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder (affiliate link). The individual essays come together and give the reader a better understanding of Wilder's life, career, and more through the editorial work of Nancy Tystad Koupal. Wilder's personal and writing relationship with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane are examined. Curious about the Benders in Kansas? That strange episode is addressed, too. This book considers mid-western influences, fairy tales, and so much more!

Pioneer Girl Perspectives does just what the title states. It explores the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder from different perspectives. It's another excellent resource for any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan from South Dakota Historical Society Press.

In case you don't know, Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography was finally published in 2014. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (linked to my review) provides Wilder fans with her own account of her pioneer childhood, written for adult readers. When she and Lane could not find a publisher, it was used as the foundation of the Little House books. Wilder's text and Pamela Hill Smith's extensive annotations make Pioneer Girl a treasured Laura Ingalls Wilder encyclopedia.

Thank you South Dakota Historical Society Press for providing these scholarly Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Be sure to read The Pioneer Girl Project, a site dedicated to sharing the research and findings of the research team.

I understand fans' desire to know more about the Little House author. To help children understand pioneer living and the Little House books, I provide pioneer workshops for children. For fans (adults and children) of the books who want to know more, I offer a couple Laura Ingalls Wilder programs. I've even recommended resources here at Little House Companion. Because a lot has been written about Wilder. These are two Laura Ingalls Wilder resources you don't want to miss!

~ Annette Whipple
This post contains affiliate links.  If you make any purchases through the Amazon links, I will earn a tiny percentage at no additional cost to you.  Thanks for your support.


May 19, 2017

DIY Laura Ingalls Wilder Event

Any time is the perfect time to celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. You might host a pioneer celebration in conjunction with a book club, a birthday, or just for fun.

1. Basic Plans

Will your Laura Ingalls Wilder event be for adults, children, or a mixed audience?  Do you want a weekend celebration or on the exact day? Will your weather be nice enough to be outdoors? What space can you use to party?

2. Gather Laura Ingalls Wilder Facts

Do you want to focus on the books, Laura, or pioneers in general? Do you want to teach them something new? What do you want the party-goers to remember about Laura Ingalls Wilder? Do you want to emphasize how Laura fictionalized the Little House books? Or do you just want the guests to relax?

Consider how to share information. Will it be through a game like bingo? Trivia? Presentation? Discussion?

Look around this blog for some information in addition to some recommended resources. You may also want to use some of the books listed below to learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Have some fun with quotes or a game.
Learn about this LIW quote HERE.


3. Plan Little House Activities

What pioneer and Little House activities do you want your guests to experience, if any? If children are participating, consider what we did at our Little House party. These may be a simple game or something much more elaborate like teaching a skill such as sewing, knitting, or baking.

4. Plan Little House Food

The Little House Cookbook (linked to my review) is an incredible asset if you want authentic pioneer food. Here on this blog, I share less authentic Little House recipes so they can be made in modern kitchens with pantry ingredients. However, a simple beverages such as tea, coffee, or lemonade please crowds, too, especially paired with some 19th-century candy.

5. Little House Decorations

When it comes to decorations, I think less is more. And if your event can be outdoors, the better! We used things like quilts, tablecloths, and logs for our Little House birthday party. Canning jars and wicker baskets also add an old-fashioned touch for Little House decorations. The food may even be the decorations. A few Little House and Laura Ingalls Wilder quotes scattered around the room or tables will also give some of your guests something to do during down time. 


I recommend the following nonfiction books in addition to all the Little House fiction books. (Links to reviews or affiliate links to Amazon..)
Pioneer Girl (This is basically a Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House encyclopedia. Must have!)
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography
Little House Traveler
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life
The Little House Cookbook

~ Annette Whipple
This post contains affiliate links.  If you make any purchases through the Amazon links, I will earn a tiny percentage at no additional cost to you.  Thanks for your support.


April 6, 2017

85 Years of Little House

The Little House legacy began 85 years ago when Laura Ingalls Wilder's first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published on April 6, 1932. 

Around 1930, when Laura was in her sixties, she bought a supply of inexpensive notebooks and pencils. She began to write. This time it wasn’t a newspaper column but a book about her life focusing on her family’s pioneer experience in the American West. She titled it Pioneer Girl
Pioneer Girl manuscript. South Dakota Historical Society Press.
Laura filled six tablets with stories from sixteen years of her life. Laura wrote the manuscript hoping it would be published for adults, but she also wrote the stories for her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Laura included little notes, like personal sidebars, for Rose. The notes provided additional information she didn't want published.

Rose, a published author, offered her mom writing advice and typed the manuscript. She further edited Laura’s work and even sent it to her agent. Because of the Great Depression, publishers were not making a lot of books, so Laura did not sell Pioneer Girl to any publishers or magazines.

The publishers didn’t want THAT book, but they might be interested in a children’s book.

Likely without Laura’s knowledge, Rose adapted the Pioneer Girl manuscript and created a picture book for a young audience. One editor with Knopf, Marion Fiery, liked it but wanted a longer book for older children.