By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Like many students, William Anderson first was exposed to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder through school.
“For me, like many American kids, it started in elementary school,” said Anderson who will be discussing his latest book “The Select Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder” at Schuler Books & Music March 15. “In those schools, especially the upper elementaries, it wasn’t uncommon for a teacher to read a book to the class. Wilder’s books were popular because she offered a very good window into frontier life.”
Born Feb. 7, 1867, as Laura Ingalls – she later married Almanzo Wilder – Wilder is known as the author of the classic “Little House on the Prairie” series which are based on her childhood memories as a settler family from 1932 to 1943. In the 1970s, a televisions series “Little House on the Prairie,” was loosely based on the books starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls and Michael Landon as her father, Charles Ingalls.
With a shift of school goals over the years, the practice of teachers reading to their classes has somewhat disappeared, but the books have remained popular having never gone out of print since first being released in 1932. There have been numerous authors, including Anderson, who have written on Wilder’s life and times. Anderson has done a travel book on Wilder’s homes as well as picture books on her life. Earlier this year, it was announced that a “Little House on the Prairie” movie was being discussed.
“She certainly has staying power,” Anderson said. “It is a topic that people like and enjoy.”
Wilder was, and still remains an American icon, with communities naming facilities after her and in fact the first to do so was Detroit. The Detroit Public Library Wilder Branch, which was dedicated in 1949, still exists today.
In fact, in his new book “The Selected Letters,” Anderson said he selected many letters that had strong Michigan ties. Some came from the cities of Kalamazoo, East Jordan, and Mt. Pleasant. Michigan schools were one of the school systems that had adopted Wilder’s books and used them heavily in its curriculum, Anderson said.
“Wilder often credited the librarians for the popularity of her books,” Anderson said. “When the books were released in the thirties and forties, they were immediately adopted by teachers and librarians.”
Wilder also was dedicated to responding to every letter she received which means there is a lot of correspondence from Wilder – much of it is housed at the Hoover Public Library – available to pull from. “There are still letters being found,” Anderson said, adding that this is happening as people clean out old family homes.
While it might seem like a Herculean task to decide which of the 500 to 600 letters to include in a book, Anderson said he spent his time focused on what would tell the story of Wilder.
The book, “The Selected Letters,” is Anderson’s swan song, said the author, who has written about Mark Twain, Mt. Rushmore and the VonTrapp family and is currently working on other projects. He said while the author helped launch his career into writing about unique American icons, he feels he has pretty much covered the gamut of Wilder’s life and travels.
“It’s time to let other people find different spins on her story and life, if there are any left,” Anderson said.
Anderson is set to present his book “The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder” March 15 at 7 p.m. at Schuler Books & Music, 2660 28th St. SE. For more information, visit www.SchulerBooks.com or call 616-942-2561.