As soon as I heard about The Wilder Life,I knew it was a must read. And apparently everyone else knew it was a “Melissa book” because nine million people asked me if I knew about it. Well, maybe not nine million people, but a lot. Including some friends I’ve never really considered as “book friends.”
All of that can be a lot of pressure for a book, so I did worry that I might not like it. What if I found author Wendy McClure annoying? After all, I’ve never felt a desire to churn butter, something that was almost always mentioned in the pre-publication blurbs. So I put my name on the library list rather than buying it. I might have been #1 on my library’s waiting list. . .
Over the past several days, I’ve been engulfed in Laura World (Wendy’s term. I feel like I can call her Wendy.) Like me, Little House was a huge part of her childhood. As an adult, she felt a need to revisit the book and took it to a whole new level–doing the research into the “real” story, buying a butter churn, and visiting all of the historic sites. She does it all with a lot of humor, but that humor is tempered with some real thoughtfulness. Visiting the real places you’ve built up in your imagination can be really, really hard.
Once Wendy started traveling, I had issues putting the book down. Perhaps it’s because I went wading in Plum Creek in 2009. And last May, I visited Mansfield for the first time. Her feelings were very, very close to mine–but she said it all so much better. If this wasn’t a library book, there would have been pages turned down and underlining and scribbles in the margins (Yes, I’m one of Those readers).
So, if you’ve ever made a literary pilgrimage, this book is for you. It’s a strange, wonderful feeling to be walking the same ground as characters that have lived in your head for years. And it’s something you can only, really do with kidlit history. As much as I’d like to, I can never really visit Hogwarts. But I can go to Prince Edward Island and commune with Anne (which I did in 2002–and was the trip of a lifetime). Or to Walnut Grove, Minnesota and wade in Plum Creek. And there is a definite different emotional pull to those places you first discovered as a child. During the same trip to Walnut Grove, I was attending at Betsy-Tacy convention. I didn’t discover Betsy until my 20s–I hadn’t grown up with her. But I was with plenty of people that had grown up with her–and who promptly burst into tears when they saw her “real” house for the first time.
These literary pilgrimages are special and unique and a lot of people just don’t get it. I’m so glad that Wendy McClure totally gets it–and is sharing her thoughts with the world.