Wilder Days: Interview and Giveaway with Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Yona Zeldis McDonough


September 18, 2014 by Heidi

little author

Many of you know by now that I absolutely adore the Little House series (and I know many of you do as well).  If you don’t know, take a quick spin over to my once upon a time guest post at The Readadventurer and read about how I survived the prairie (and so can you)!  Assuming you make it back free of scarlet fever and other ailments, please join me today in welcoming author Yona Zeldis McDonough who has written a lovely biography for young Little House lovers, Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Many girls in elementary and middle school fall in love with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What they don’t always realize is that Wilder’s books are autobiographical. This narrative biography describes more of the details of the young Laura’s real life as a young pioneer homesteading with her family on many adventurous journeys. This biography, complete with charming illustrations, points out the differences between the fictional series as well as the many similarities. It’s a fascinating story of a much-celebrated writer.


So Yona…

When researching for Little Author in the Big Woods, what piece of Laura’s life did you find most surprising? I personally hadn’t realized that they’d moved a fair amount more than was reflected in the books. I was also very surprised at how Laura really glossed over Mary’s sickness–we leave one book healthy and fine and enter the next blind. But the most surprising thing for me was that her mother, she herself, and her daughter all lost sons.

I think we have very similar responses! The number of times the family moved was shocking to me, especially because Ma really wanted to settle down and get comfortable.  But Pa was having none of it—the need to keep moving was in his blood and it could not be denied. That must have been so hard for her, and for the family as a whole.

I was also very impressed by Ma’s love for and insistence on “book learning” for all her girls, even when Mary went blind. She and Pa sacrificed so much to send her to a special school so that she could continue her education and learn a trade. How remarkable was that in a time when the education of most women was optional and certainly insisting on educating a blind woman was most uncommon.

Have you had the chance to visit some of Laura’s former home sites? My father grew up in a small town just north of DeSmet, so I’ve been lucky enough to visit there. Now that I live in New York I want to go see the Wilder farm!

I have not been fortunate enough to visit any of the homes but I am still hoping to get to a few of them.


Visiting DeSmet’s First School (attended by Laura and Carry Ingalls) in 2013

My favorite part of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were always the descriptions of food–what a contrast between Almanzo’s life in Farmer Boy and Laura’s own childhood! You include some great recipes in Little Author in the Big Woods, are their any others you’ve tried? What has been your favorite?

I tried all the ones I included in the book. I love gingerbread—one of my favorites—and the fresh butter is a real treat. I recommend trying it at least once!


That gingerbread is bangin’.  I took Yona at her word and decided to make some gingerbread (not butter–far too lazy for that).  It’s delicious!  It’s like a gingersnap (my favorite cookie) in cake form.  Um…yes, please!

Laura was really shaped by the strong women in her life, particularly Ma. I was incredibly impressed by the continual stress of importance of education for women and also Laura’s refusal to use the word “obey” in her wedding vows. What strong women have influenced your life?

There were several, starting with m first ballet teacher, Minda Vollen, whose strength was of a quiet, gentle kind, and a lovely little woman named Marina Svetlova who had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and ran a ballet camp in Dorset, Vermont. She was as delicate and charming as a hummingbird, but she had an inner core of steel. Then there were a few influential teachers in high school and college: Evangeline Toms, who taught French with rigor and love, Patricia Wallace and Pamela Askew who taught, respectively, poetry and art history. I was lucky enough to be shaped by these women, each one strong, and each one excelling in her different discipline. I still cherish what they gave to me.

So the obvious (and perhaps impossible) question–which one of the Little House books is your favorite? I’ve been rereading them this past year and I think my vote goes to On the Banks of Plum Creek.

That’s a tough question but I think I would have to say it was the very first one, Little House in the Big Woods, because it sets both the stage and the tone for everything that follows.

Thank you, Yona Zeldis McDonough!

little author Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder is available now from Henry Holt and Co. BYR at a bookseller near you!  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it in the wild and it’s every bit as lovely as you would expect.  The kind people at Henry Holt and Co. have offered up a copy for one of my lovely readers, so you too can relive your days on the prairie, or experience them with a child in your life!


  • US/Canada Only
  • You have 24 hours to respond to my congratulatory e-mail before another winner will be chosen.

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  1. Melanie says:

    Oh goodness, I haven’t read the Little House books in forever! Rereading them sounds like it would be so much fun.

    I didn’t know the Ingalls moved around more than was reflected in the books. That’s quite interesting.

  2. Sandy says:

    That was such a lovely interview! Now I feel deprived because I haven’t read the little house books. And how cool that education was valued so much that the family made many sacrifices to ensure that the girls could receive one. I’m in awe 😀

    • Heidi says:

      I can’t believe you haven’t read these, Sandy! I honestly have no idea how an adult reading them for the first time would feel–I adore them but also grew up on them. The emphasis on education for women was awesome, right?

  3. Angela says:

    Heidi, I found your blog through a great many Facebook links and was very excited when I saw your post about the Little House series. I have loved the Little House books since my mom gave me my first copy in first grade. I’ve worn out several copies and now keep a set on my iPad for reading whenever I want. My favorite has been, and probably always will be, “Little House in the Big Woods.” It was the first one I read, and I guess it’s always stuck with me!

    • Heidi says:

      Oh yay! I’m so glad you found me and this post. I’ve so been loving rereading these books, and am sad I hadn’t for so long. I’m sure I’ll read them again and again as years go on–hopefully I’ll have daughters of my own to give them too!

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.