On the Banks of Plum Creek is the fourth book in the Little House series. It was first published in 1937. Laura is 7-9.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Laura’s family’s first home in Minnesota is made of sod, but Pa builds a clean new house made of sawed lumber beside Plum Creek. The money for materials will come from their first wheat crop. Then, just before the wheat is ready to harvest, a strange glittering cloud fills the sky, blocking out the sun. Soon millions of grasshoppers cover the field and everything on the farm. In a week’s time, there is no wheat crop left at all.”
“All around that door green vines were growing out of the grassy bank, and they were full of flowers. Red and blue and purple and rosy-pink and white and striped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing glory to the morning. They were morning-glory flowers. Laura went under those singing flowers into the dugout. It was one room, all white. The earth walls had been smoothed and white-washed. The earth floor was smooth and hard…The ceiling was made of hay. Willow boughs had been laid across and their branches woven together, but here and there the hay that had been spread on them showed though.”
“A cloud was over the sun. It was not like any cloud they had ever seen before. It was a cloud of something like snowflakes, but they were larger than snowflakes, and thin and glittering. Light shone through each flickering particle….
Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. Then huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail.
The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers.”
Recommended Age Range: 10+
What I Liked:
Wilder depicts the most intense struggle to date (and the harshest until The Long Winter) as the Ingalls deal with the grasshoppers in Minnesota eating the wheat crop that is their living. Wheat is money, and Wilder has her characters repeat often that having a good wheat crop means a good house, new shoes and dresses, and candy to eat every day instead of only on Christmas. Pa builds a framehouse with glass windows and a new stove and buys horses, all bought on the condition and the promise of a bumper crop of wheat. And it is all the more heartbreaking when the grasshoppers come and eat everything, destroying the Wilder’s hopes and causing Pa to leave to work in the East in order to pay off the house.
This is the most developed of all of Wilder’s books, in that she employs foreshadowing as well as conflict, struggle, tension, and all the rest. She builds up the reader’s hopes with the Ingalls, and then flips everything around, causing the readers to experience both resignation, hope, and sorrow when the wheat and the promise of money is destroyed. Therefore, I would say that this is also the most reader-responsive/reader-intuitive of her books.
We are first introduced to Nellie Olson in this book, a snooty girl with all the wealth that Laura lacks. Nellie will also appear in the last two books of the series. Nellie is a combination of three girls that Wilder clashed with in real life. She’s simply a brat in this book; she becomes more nuanced later.
This book also has one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, involving hay stacks and the letter of the law.
What I Didn’t Like:
On the Banks of Plum Creek is similar to Little House on the Prairie in that while there’s conflict (this time between the grasshoppers and the Ingalls, instead of with the Indians and the settlers), it’s still a pretty blah book (at least in my opinion). Despite the fact that it contains my favorite scene, it’s not my favorite book, which is unfortunate because it’s perhaps a little more nuanced than the rest.
Another enjoyable read for children and adults alike. One of Wilder’s best in terms of literary elements, but unfortunately it’s overshadowed by some of her other books that are better in terms of plot and entertainment value.
Coming Up Next: By the Shores of Silver Lake