Five go into Lockdown! How classic kids’ books help adults survive
I am returning to my childhood books, to a life that felt simpler, more enchanted, and rich in possibility
On Monday morning, a friend texted to see how I was managing with the new all-being-at-home regime. I replied, a bit too proudly (it was 11am), that it was going rather well: I was working at my desk, my six-year-old daughter was doing sums at hers, while her father was at the stove, cooking up a vat of stew for the freezer.
“It’s a bit like Little House on the Prairie only with Netflix,” I joked – and, as I wrote those words, I felt a sudden pang for the homely, self-sufficient domesticity of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sisters, and the fortitude with which they approached their turbulent 19th-century childhood in the American Midwest.
The itinerant, make-do-and-mend life of the Ingalls family was nothing like my ordinary but comfortable upbringing in Sussex, which may explain why, as a child, I devoured all nine books Laura wrote, most of them based on her early years amid America’s isolated, rural homestead communities. I remember Ma making her hats and poor Mary, with her fading eyesight. I remember the sisters hiding in the long grass that later would be razed by locusts, and I remember the long, hard winter that froze the breath of the bison on the prairies and glued their hooves to the earth. And I remember the occasional extreme lack of food – or rather, I remember its impact on Pa who, trudging through blizzards to get some grain, was too weak to hoist the sack on his back...