By the Shores of Silver Lake is the fifth book in the Little House series. It was first published in 1939. Laura is 12. There is a three-year gap between Plum Creek and Silver Lake, the events of which are described in Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Pa Ingalls heads west to the unsettled wilderness of the Dakota Territory. When Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and baby Grace join him, they become the first settlers in the town of De Smet. And Pa begins work on the first building in what will soon be a brand-new town on the shores of Silver Lake.”
“The brakeman helped unfasten the engine from the train. The fireman, all red and smeared with soot, leaned out of the engine to watch. Then he yanked a bell rope. The engine went on by itself, puffing and chuffing under the bell’s clanging. It went only a little way, then it stopped, and Laura could not believe what she saw. The steel rails under the engine, and the wooden ties between them, turned right around. They turned around in a circle there on the ground till the ends of the rails fitted together again, and the engine was facing backwards.
Laura was so amazed that she could not tell Mary what was happening. The engine went clanging and puffing on another track beside the train. It passed the train and went a little way beyond. The bell clanged, men shouted and made motions with their arms, and the engine came backing, bump! into the rear end of the rain. All the cars slam-banged against each other. And there stood the train and the engine, facing back towards the east.”
“Oh, what beautiful horses!” Laura cried. “Look, Pa! Look!” She turned her head to watch them as long as she could. They drew a light wagon. A young man stood up in the wagon, driving, and a taller man stood behind him with a hand on his shoulder. In a moment the backs of the men and the wagon loomed up so that Laura could no longer see the horses.
Pa had turned around in the seat to watch them too. “Those are the Wilder boys,” he said. “Almanzo’s driving, and that’s his brother Royal with him. They’ve taken up claims north of town, and they’ve got the finest horses in this whole country. By George, you seldom see a team like that.”
With all her heart Laura wished for such horses. She supposed she could never have them.”
Recommended Age Range: 10+
What I Liked:
The second half of this book I like much better than the first half. Once they reach the surveyor’s house, the book is much better in my opinion (in fact, once the Ingalls reach De Smet the whole series really picks up) as Pa worries about his claim, the town of De Smet starts to grow, the Boasts are introduced, and the Ingalls must deal with numerous boarders. We get a first glimpse of Almanzo Wilder at the end of the book, and of course Laura just notices the horses. Wilder portrays the claim rush of that period well when Pa must hurry to file his claim before anyone else can get his spot and almost gets into a fight because of it. The Boasts are a great addition and I wish that Wilder had brought them back more. There is tension caused by Mary’s blindness and Laura’s resigned attitude towards becoming a school teacher (“I don’t want to, but I must”). The Little House books really start to become great at this point.
What I Didn’t Like:
The first half is simply blah. Lena is annoying and a bad influence.
The second half of By the Shores of Silver Lake outshines the first. This book deserves the Newbery Honor it received. It is a great lead-up to the remaining books.
Coming Up Next: The Long Winter