Readers who grew up cherishing the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder will find much to savor in Caroline: Little House, Revisited, the third novel from Sarah Miller. Authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust and researched with letters, memoirs and other family records, Caroline recounts the events of the Little House on the Prairie series through the eyes of Caroline Ingalls, better known as “Ma.”
The story begins as the Ingalls family prepares to depart the “little house in the big woods” in Pepin, Wisconsin, to stake a claim in Kansas. Caroline, who has just discovered she is pregnant with a third child, is less enthusiastic than her husband, Charles, about leaving their extended family and taking their two small daughters—Mary, 5, and Laura, 3—into the region popularly known as “Indian Territory.” But she dutifully stitches and waxes the canvas wagon cover, packs her beloved china shepherdess into her trunk and completes the other myriad practical preparations for the long and difficult journey. When the family reaches their new home, more trials await that will test their bravery and skills.
One of the greatest charms of the Little House series—at least, for this reader—was the meticulous depiction of the chores, pleasures and challenges of everyday pioneer life (pig-bladder balloons!). Caroline follows in this tradition, as Miller explains everything from the intricacies of building a log house to the preparations for a new baby (Caroline carefully stitches a layer of waxed fabric to the inside of her bodice as a type of early brassiere). Life on the frontier had many dangers, and through Caroline’s eyes, the stakes of the story feel higher. In the original series, Laura’s fears could always be calmed by the right word from Ma or Pa. By contrast, Caroline knows that a lapse in judgment can have fatal consequences, and the reader feels this weight. Miller also introduces an adult element through the relationship between Caroline and Charles, which she depicts as a passionate and supportive partnership.
Full of lyrical descriptions of the wild beauty of the Kansas countryside, Caroline is a well-researched and thoughtful look at the inner life of one of America’s most famous frontier women.