A really useful book

Every once in a while you run across a book that’s so useful, you just have to tell everybody about it.

Let’s say that you’re working on an annotated edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s unpublished autobiography. The Ingallses, you’ll recall, were a highly musical family, and dozens of tunes and lyrics are mentioned in Pioneer Girl and in the Little House books. Much of this music is unfamiliar to us early-twenty-first-century types, and so our annotations attempt to give the songs some context. And to do this, we keep coming back to Dale Cockrell, ed., The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook (Middleton, Wis.: A-R Editions, for the American Musicological Society, 2011).

Cockrell has systematically tracked down every song mentioned in Wilder’s oeuvre and provides us with music, lyrics, and valuable notes on variants, provenance, publication, and the general history of each one.  An impressive effort, and it came to fruition at just the right time for the editors at the South Dakota Historical Society Press.

Besides its intimate connection to a widely loved author, let me point out two other things that make this book so engaging.

First, what a neat concept!—to use these popular semiautobiographical novels as a case study, a lens through which to examine a (surprisingly wide) cross-section of nineteenth-century American music in the Midwest and Great Plains.

Second, as Cockrell points out, there may really be no better place to start such a study. “Almost no research has been conducted on nineteenth-century Midwestern performance practices,” he remarks in his extensive editorial notes. “In fact, perhaps the fullest published account of how music was actually played and heard in that time and place is found in the Little House books.”

Rodger Hartley

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10 thoughts on “A really useful book

  1. This sounds like a good addition to my collection of Laura Ingalls Widler books and related materials. I also recommend a DVD I saw on PBS called Pa’s Fiddle, the music of the Little House books. Various artists, including Randy Travis, do reditions of some of the songs in Laura’s books. There is even a band that goes by the name of Pa’s Fiddle on this DVD. The music is some of the best I’ve ever heard, and what a treat to hear Pa’s songs brought to life and done so well. You can get this DVD on amazon.com and it is worth having! Kerry

  2. I’ve never heard of this book!!! I went to go buy a copy…$240!!! We are a homeschool family, and we are going to use the Prairie Primer (a great guide to use with the Little House on the Prairie books) next year for our main course of study. I bought the Laura Ingalls Wilder songbook, as suggested by the author of the Prairie Primer. I’m wondering how these books compare to one another?

    So glad you found this gem! And I thought I had heard of all of the books written about Laura and her family! 🙂 Wishing you all the best of blessings as you wrap up writing the book.

    • Hi, Shannon. As to how the two books compare: The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook (New York: HarperCollins, 1995) contains music and lyrics to the tunes mentioned in the “Little House” books but not to those mentioned in Wilder’s other works, such as Pioneer Girl. The historical context of the songs is also absent. The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook would be more valuable to a researcher. If you are looking for a supplement to the “Little House” books for home schooling, The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook is a good alternative. It is no longer in print, but used copies are available through libraries or online sellers.

  3. I can’t find the book to purchase. I went to the South Dakota Historical Society Press and searched on both the title and the author but nothing displayed. Amazon says the book can be ordered for $240 but that is just a bit out of my price range. Do you think they are already out of print?

  4. Cool will have to track that down and have a read thanks for sharing – looking forward to Pioneer Girl being published 🙂

  5. The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook (Middleton, Wis.: A-R Editions, for the American Musicological Society, 2011) is still in print and available through sellers like Amazon. The $240 price tag certainly does limit its appeal for individual buyers. A high list price is not uncommon for books intended as reference works, which are designed mainly for educational and research institutions. For those who wish to take a look at this outstanding book without breaking the bank, I would recommend a trip to your local library’s interlibrary loan department. Our work at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press would be impossible without interlibrary loan.

  6. A useful book I found was The World of Little House. It shows how to make snow candy, 9 patch quilts, ice cream, e.t.c. It also shows layouts of the houses mentioned in the book and even has a timeliness in the back with events in America’s history and in Laura’s life. I recommend it highly and I found it on Amazon, New and Used, (50) for a $1.50. It is super helpful and I think a teacher would love to use it as a study guide.

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