Anyone who knows me I’m a fiend for the Little House books. Better known as Little House on the Prairie, the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder has captured my imagination since I was a child. The beautiful descriptions of living a nomadic rural life always spoke to me and my heart went out to the family itself.
We Could All Use Feel Good Nostalgia Right Now
When you step back and look at it, the Little House books have something for everyone. If you want heartwarming family stories, they’ve got that. If you want a survival adventure, there are plenty of dangerous situations throughout nearly every book including blizzards, enormous fires, drowning… Frontier life was dangerous. Perhaps, you’re looking for fascinating descriptions of nature, cooking, historical chores, and farm life in general. Yeah, they’ve got that too.
I recently went back and reread the entire series and the sense of wonder I felt as a child remained. Problematic as the books may be, Little House on the Prairie remains a timeless classic for a reason.
We’re still in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I was still hungry for escapist reading. But when I searched for “Books like Little House on the Prairie for adults” I didn’t find anything. All of the lists just had more reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder which wasn’t what I was looking for. I’ve read tons of about the Ingalls and the Wilder families, I even made a list of Laura Ingalls Wilder related books.
Books that Give that Little House Feeling
Maybe you just want to stick to the original books? Please be patient! I’m working on a bingo card for you.
But for now? I was looking for something that filled the spirit of Little House on the Prairie rather just being more frontier tales about Laura. If you’re looking for purely Pioneer books, Goodreads has you covered.
Unfortunately for me, that was a list that was impossible to find. Fortunately for you, I’ve compiled a list of books that I think are great examples of books like Little House on the Prairie for adults. Before we start though, just know these aren’t necessarily happy books. You’ve been warned!
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So without further ado…
1. Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re living right on the marshy coast of North Carolina. The love that is given to the descriptions in the book evoke that same love that you could feel Laura had for nature and the prairies.
Kya is a young girl when she’s left to run wild through the marshes, and learn the rhythms of nature. She is a natural biologist, learning more through observance than most other people could through years of study. Not only does Where the Crawdads Sing have some of the descriptive chores and daily living that the Little House books did, but it also captures the thrill of danger from Little House on the Prairie. Laura wasn’t alone, she had her family, but Kya is entirely left to herself. Add in a murder plot and you have a book that I finished in one sitting.
2. The Cure for Death by Lightning
“The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother’s scrapbook, under the recipe for my father’s favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more.”
There’s no denying Gail Anderson-Dargatz had me hooked right at the opening. The Cure for Death by Lightning takes place in an rural farming community in Canada. It’s a tight-knit community where strange, supernatural seeming things keep happening. Beth is coming of age in a cruel, post-world war II world and her lightning numbed arm is both a blessing and a curse.
The Cure for Death by Lightning has recipes throughout that are taken from Beth’s mother’s scrapbook. The descriptions of food and the way that the world is described in the books makes me feel like I’ve stepped through a mirror into an alternate Little House on the Prairie. One where things are a little more sinister, where Ma is more beloved than Pa, and where Pa… feels untrustworthy.
3. Flat Broke with Two Goats
I’ll be the first to admit that this might be considered a controversial pick. A nonfiction book, Jennifer McGaha outlines her life once she realizes that her home is in foreclosure and she needs to downsize in the most stringent way.
She does this by moving to a North Carolina holler and living in a cabin that’s just crawling with bugs, mice, and snakes. The problem is that a lot of these issues can feel like they’re her own fault. She didn’t lose her money on the stock market, but because they owed taxes that they hadn’t paid.
Putting that aside, the descriptions of the struggle to make a house livable and to raise farm animals is one that I connected with. It is calls back to the times that Pa had to build house after house, abandoning some of them because he was… you know, on stolen land. Grey areas of financial morality aside, I really enjoyed the descriptions in this book and how it outlines living by nature.
4. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We’ve spoken already about how beautiful descriptive passages can completely enthrall us. There is nothing more descriptive than the lyrical ode to nature that Annie Dillard has written. It feels in some ways like this could have been who Laura became. If Laura had lived in a different time, she could have written these words. Shed
The prose is simple in an unpretentious way, leaving me calm. That’s one of the things I love about the Little House books, the calm they engender. Dillard loves the nature around her and if you squint at the text, you can almost read it like an adult Laura describing Plum Creek.
“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale.”
5. The Glass Castle
There are a lot of parallels between Jeannette Walls’ memoir and the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Both of them were dirt poor and their families were barely scraping by sometimes. Both had a charismatic father and a mother who loved him above all else. Lastly, both lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from town to rural landscapes then back to towns. Neither of them got what you would have expected, but both were able to educate themselves.
The difference in the end is addiction. While the Little House books paint glowing pictures of Charles and Caroline, the Glass Castle can’t afford to be so gentle with its parents. Rex and Rose Mary breed dysfunction within their own family. Whereas Ma and Pa kept the Ingalls family together, the Walls family is as unstable as its father.
It’s a hard book to read, but well worth it. This might just be my favourite book on the list.
Like the Glass Castle above, Educated is not an easy read by any means. It has the country living and the close knit family, but without the cheerful generosity of Pa. It really feels like if Pa were a slightly more villainous person, that he could have ended up like this.
I realized while rereading the Little House on the Prairie that Pa wasn’t just making a bet with Uncle Sam. He was betting his family’s life as well that things would be okay. There is the same surety of purpose in Educated. They live in their own way and the government can take a long walk off a short pier.
Educated feels like an alternate dimension Pa who’s out of control and a Ma who doesn’t know how to stand up for her children. It’s the darkest timeline of Little House books in some ways, but a compelling read.
7. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Fannie Flagg is a genius. I love this book so much even though it should be a tragic story. There’s so much love inside it that I think out of all the books on this list, this encompasses the loving spirit of Little House on the Prairie the most. In the 1980s, an old woman named Mrs. Threadgoode tells her friend Evelyn about two women in the 1930s. Idgie and Ruth who ran a small cafe in Alabama. Above all, it has a strong emphasis on family, both the blood and the found kind.
However, if I were to list out beat for beat the plot of this movie, it would sound like it was depressing. The book ends up being uplifting instead. It hits all the right beats and manages to recapture the gentle feeling that the Little House books have. At its best, it has the feeling of listening to Pa play his fiddle at night. Basically, it gives the knowledge that even if things are bad now, the sun will rise tomorrow.
Have you read any of the books on this list? Are there ones you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.
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