Review: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClureTitle: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

Author: Wendy McClure

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/352

Publisher: Riverhead Press

Release Date: April 14, 2011

Rating: 4 Bookmarks

Source: Publisher

Nat’s One-Sentence Synopsis:  A thoroughly researched and well-written memoir that chronicles Wendy McClure’s reawakening of her love for the Little House on the Prairie book series and the lengths she traveled to capture a bit of the magic in “Laura’s World.”

While some sections in The Wilder Life read like a doctoral dissertation on Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie book series, Wendy McClure manages to balance her research with humorous anecdotes detailing her efforts to live life prairie style.  McClure is an erudite author with a knack for storytelling, and I was captivated by her adventure.

The Charles Ingalls Family: seated (l to r) Caroline, Charles, Mary; standing (l to r) Carrie, Laura, Grace cred: Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Assoc.

From churning butter in her living room, to traveling to Laura Ingalls/Little House on the Prairie-related museums and homesteads, McClure plunges into Wilder’s world determined to recapture a bit of childhood while staving off grief from her mother’s recent death.

photo cred. peculiar momma via

Through her research, McClure learns that things might not have been as simple and quaint as Wilder portrayed them.  Some sources question the time line and authorship of the novels–her daughter, Rose, may have had a hand in writing them- and some of Pa Ingalls’s land and business dealings may have been a touch suspect.  McClure delves into the Homestead Act of 1862 and the interactions between settlers, the government, and the Native Americans.

McClure, sometimes accompanied by her intrepid boyfriend or plucky friends, takes epic journeys across the Midwest and beyond to pay tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s museums and homesteads.  She meets and chats up like-minded fans, sleeps in a covered wagon, and attends prairie-themed performances all in the name of her research.

photo cred. donnybud via flickr

Her travels, research, and writing ultimately deliver her home literally and figuratively.  By the end of The Wilder Life, McClure seems better equipped to face and accept her mother’s death.  She doesn’t exploit the death or the impact it had on her, but her reticence to discuss the death speaks volumes to me about the impact of the loss.

The Wilder Life is a wonderful journey filled with humor, educational facts, literary conjecture, and fond memories of a book series that I loved.  I lived vicariously through McClure as she made the molasses snow candy, baked bread, and churned butter–things I always wanted to try after reading Laura’s enticing descriptions.  This book is a must-read for any Little House on the Prairie book fans and will spark interest in reading the original series if you’ve never had the pleasure!

Have you read any or all of the Little House series?  And, more importantly, have you ever churned butter or made candy from snow?!?


  1. What a fantastic idea for a book. I love the Prairie books and if I lived in America, I would do the same thing. I will add to my list.

  2. Having spent my girlhood in Canada, I did indeed make candy from snow! Because what is Canada today if not Little House on the Prairie, am I right? 😉 I did love these books when I was younger, and a few scenes still stick out in my mind. Namely how cool I thought it was when Pa made Laura a balloon out of a pig’s bladder, and how gross it was when the locusts/grasshopper invaded during one of the later books. I’ve heard good things about this one; I’m sure I’ll read it it at some point!

  3. I am so excited about this book! I can’t wait to read it and hope to pick it up soon.

  4. I missed out on the Little Louse books when I was growing up but I definitely want to read them and I’m sure that will include me reading this book at some point too. Something else I want to do…churn butter in my living room!! How cool does that sound! But it can’t be good for the hardwood…

  5. How odd that we just yesterday selected this book as our club read for May and now I’m seeing it EVERYWHERE. Actually, I’m not that thrilled about this month’s choice but that’s why it’s a club – to foist our want-to reads on others who don’t want to read the same things, right?
    I did read the entire series and watched the tv show but have little interest in going back to relive any of it.

  6. I watched the TV show as a child, but never read any of the books (blasphemy, I know!)

    We churned butter while on a field trip to John Bartram’s home in West Philly. A pretty crazy place – the botanist’s homestead is sandwiched between subsidized housing projects and the train tracks now, in a very rough neighborhood. It’s 5 minutes from where we used to live, yet a world away..

  7. Just seeing the books zinged me right back to childhood! What an interesting approach to writing a book about the woman and the books!

  8. Even though I never read any of the Little House books (but watched the series as a child) I think this book sounds pretty interesting! Thanks for the review!

Speak Your Mind