The last Caroline book is also the most heartwarming, describing the (possibly fictional) events leading up to Caroline and Charles getting married, prefacing the events of Little House in the Big Woods. The sweet, sedate romance that unfolds is appropriate for a children’s book, and Wilkins manages to convey both the wildness and wanderlust of Charles Ingalls and the groundedness of Caroline. Charles’s voice sounds, at times, straight out of the original Little House series, as does Caroline’s.
When not describing the budding romance between the
two, the book concerns itself with Caroline’s school teaching days. It’s not
overly exciting, but Wilkins does a good job of staying true to the picture of
Caroline that we receive in Little House, as well as provides for some
explanation of her ways in those books. The Caroline of this series seems
slightly spunkier than the one in Little House, but this last book does show
her gentleness that is so prominent in her daughter’s books.
This has always been my favorite book simply because of the sweet romance, but it’s not the most interesting. I think On Top of Concord Hill wins that award, as the romance featured in that book is of a much more interesting kind (plus a few more exciting things happen). However, A Little House of Their Own is the perfect finale for the series, as well as a perfect setup for the Little House books.
The most interesting thing about the Caroline books (and all of the prequel Little House books) is that there’s always a strong undercurrent of fiction. Though the original Little House books were fictionalized in many places, Wilder was drawing off of her own memory. Here, all we get is a brief author’s note at the beginning stating that some of the events were drawn from Martha Carpenter’s letters to Laura. Yet in this book, Caroline spends a whole 9 months away from Martha, so how much of what happens in here is true?
I don’t really mind one way or another, to be honest.
Whether Wilkins is making this up as she goes along or if there’s some sort of
letter or memory she’s taking pieces from, the book is still true to the
Caroline of the past books, and I had to smile at all the little nods Wilkins
gives to the Little House books, particularly Caroline’s delaine and the gold
pin. Is this where she actually got the dress, or did Wilkins throw it in
because it seemed plausible? While it doesn’t ultimately matter to me, or
affect the book, it is something interesting that I pondered briefly.
Anyway, the book itself is fine. I enjoyed the look at
Milwaukee and high-society life that it gives—it’s a nice refresher from the
previous books. That look also serves to center Caroline as well as to
seriously contrast her life with the life she could have had. There’s some
deliberate juxtapositions drawn here, and it’s interesting to read this book
knowing that Caroline, who (according to the book) could have gotten a
successful teaching job in the society and moved into a higher class, chose to
go back home and ultimately marry a farmer. There’s even the brief flirtation
with James, a sort of “could have” moment that Wilkins explores.
Maybe the book was mainly experimental, maybe it was
actually based on parts of Caroline’s life. Either way, while it’s not quite as
good as some of the stronger books that came before it, it serves as a good
contrast with the earlier books, and a nice bridge to the final book, where
Caroline returns home to teach and ends up falling in love with one Charles
Ingalls. That book’s probably my favorite because I’m a romantic at heart.
Across the Rolling River introduces Charles Ingalls and his family to the series, and young Charlie is just as boisterous and expressive as Pa Ingalls from the Little House books. It also shows us his family, who end up so close to the Quiner family (there are three Quiner/Ingalls marriages in total: Caroline, Henry, and Eliza marry Charles, Polly, and Peter respectively). Also appearing in this book are Mr. Carpenter and his son Charlie (who marries Martha eventually), who haven’t appeared since the third book, Little Clearing in the Woods.
This book really is starting to accelerate Caroline’s
development and love of learning. We see her desire to be a schoolteacher, with
the influence of her teacher, Miss May, as well as her budding attraction to
Charles Ingalls (though she’s only 12 in this book). We also see the
pearl-handled pen of the Little House books, as this book details how Caroline
came to get it.
I didn’t feel this book was as exciting or interesting
as On Top of Concord Hill, but I
liked the introduction of the Ingalls family as well as the exploration of
Caroline’s desires and wishes. The author switch seemed smooth, which can be
hard to accomplish even for a children’s book. All in all, not my favorite
Caroline book, but one that sets up a lot of things for the next two books.
As I hoped, once the Quiner family moved to Concord,
the books started to get more interesting and memorable. In On Top of Concord Hill, the last book
Wilkes will write of this series, a stepfather, the Gold Rush, cholera, and
early frost all combine to create perhaps the most tension-filled book in the
series so far. Of course, it’s still very tame tension, but it’s much better
than what has been in the first three books.
This is also the first book that was written after the start of the Martha Years, which might explain why suddenly Caroline’s grandparents are mentioned more and why the cover has changed more and more to express similarity between the sets of books.
The thing I most enjoyed about this book was the
subtle, lovely hints we got at the Charlotte/Frederick Holbrook relationship. I’m
not sure whether in real life Charlotte married him for stability or love, but
in this book, it’s very sweet to see the way they interact with each other. I
am a huge fan of shy/quiet guy-marries-girl tropes, so perhaps that’s why this
book so far is my favorite of all the Caroline books (though there wasn’t much
competition, to be honest).
With an author change and the introduction of the
Ingalls family in the next book, it will be interesting to see if the Caroline
books will continue to improve or if the changes will be too jarring. I
remember quite liking the last book in the series, so I’m hopeful that the
change won’t shake things up too badly (or perhaps they will shake them up in a
Clearing in the Woods finally starts to lift the Caroline
books out of the pit of mediocrity they were sinking into. The family moving,
the hardships they face on the new land, the new people they meet—all combine
to form, if not a particularly dramatic book, at least enough tension to
generate some excitement and interest.
The first half of the book has some overly dramatic
conflict with wolves, delivered a bit clunkily, but once the family reaches
their new home, it settles down to a more realistic conflict as the family
struggles to get used to new surroundings. Caroline and Martha have a few
spats, and I wish Martha was more developed of a character so that the fights
would have more meaning instead of feeling so wooden.
The second half of the book is better than the first,
with the introduction of Mr. Holbrook. Despite my problems with Wilkes’
writing, I will say that she paints a very good picture of the financial
situation of the family. It is very clear that they struggle to put food on the
table, and so the kindness of Mr. Holbrook and the generosity of Mr. Kellogg
shine through even more.
It’s a shame that the Caroline Years don’t start out
quite as strong or interesting as the previous two series, but at last the
series seems to be improving. Little
Clearing in the Woods still shares some of the problems of the first two
books, but the second half promises better things to come.
Town at the Crossroads is a book that is very similar to Little House in Brookfield, in terms of
both content and style. The content is very much like previous Little House
books: each chapter is episodic, without a distinct arc beyond the passing of
time. Wilkes seems to be trying to convey numerous aspects of the time period
without necessarily tying everything together, which isn’t a bad thing. The
book does, however, distinctly lack charm and excitement as did the first one.
I loved these books as a kid, but as an adult, they’re definitely missing the mark. Some of my favorite books (that I remember) are later in the series, after there is an author change, so perhaps it’s just Wilkes’s style that I’m struggling with. Everything is too cut-and-dry; characters sound like they’re rehearsing lines. There’s no real voice to them beyond “Caroline is the neat one, Martha is the spunky one.”
As historical fiction, Little Town at the Crossroads does a good job of capturing life in
the 1840s. However, as a story, it’s lacking a theme to tie it together and
some excitement and charm. Everything is just a bit too wooden and similar, and
the characters don’t grow or change. I’m hoping that changes as the series goes
Little House in Brookfield, by Maria D. Wilkes, was published in 1996 by HarperCollins.
The Caroline Years, or, as my copy states, “The Brookfield Years,” were written before the Martha Years and the Charlotte Years. Having read the latter two first, which were written by a different author, the style of this one threw me off a bit, especially since the Charlotte is this book is so much different. I’d say that Wilkes is likely more historically accurate than Wiley in her portrayal, however, especially since she had more research from which to draw.
I’ve always enjoyed the Caroline Years the most,
probably because it spans the most amount of years, similarly to the original
Little House books. However, the beginning of the series is mediocre at best.
While it does a good job of depicting the struggles the family went through
after the death of their father, it’s simply not a very exciting book. It does
give glimmers into the personality of Caroline that we will see come out in the
Little House books, and I also enjoyed the farm life aspect it showed, as it
does a good job of explaining so that readers know how people did things back
I remember enjoying the Caroline Years more as the
books went on, especially once they move to Concord, but Little House in Brookfield gives the series a slow start. Both the
style and the voice threw me off, as I was used to that of the previous two
series, though that’s not necessarily the book’s fault (although I’m not fond
of that sort of style in general). There’s also a lack of excitement that makes
the book a little dry to read.