Chloe’s Book Club: On The Banks Of Plum Creek

Plum Creek is one of my favorites. As a child, I loved the notion of living in a sod house, loved vicariously playing in the creek, loved the image of Laura frolicking on the roof among prairie flowers while Ma irons below. And yes, while I’ve had some quibbles with Ma, I do give her full credit for moving in with grace after being informed the deal is done.


Laura’s descriptions of the new home are enchanting:

The creek was singing to itself down among the willows, and the soft wind bent the grasses over the top of the bank.

Red and blue and purple and rose-pink and white and striped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing glory to the morning.

The book is full of childhood adventures (and misadventures). And, this is the book that gives us Laura’s nemesis, Nellie Olson.

But not all of the challenges are child-sized. Laura made poignant use of foreshadowing to set readers up for the crop tragedy.

Grasshopper Notice

Display at Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

Early on, when Laura laments having cattle instead of horses, Pa promises that they will have horses again one day.

“When, Pa?” she asked him, and he said, “When we raise our first crop of wheat.”

When Ma says living in the dugout makes her feel like a penned animal:

Never mind, Caroline,” Pa said. “We’ll have a good house next year.  …And good horses, and a buggy to  boot! I’ll take you riding, dressed up in silks! Think, Caroline—this level rich land, not a stone or stump to contended with, and only three miles from a railroad! We can sell every grain of wheat we raise!”

Then Pa buys lumber for a new house (and windows, and a stove)  on credit, with a promise to pay when he sells his wheat crop. It’s difficult for repeat readers not to shout, “Don’t do it, Pa!  The grasshoppers are coming!”


Garth Williams’ illustration.

The enormity of the multi-year disaster the Ingalls family faced when their crop was devoured is hard to absorb.

But as always, faith, hard work, and a determination to make the best of things lead to a happy ending. Ma and Pa demonstrate perseverance to their daughters. It’s one of Wilder’s favorite themes, but understandably so; somehow, crisis after crisis, the Ingalls family did survive.


Today Wilder fans can visit the dugout site on the banks of Plum Creek.

Is Plum Creek one of your favorites too? What did you like, or dislike? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.


Next up for discussion:  By The Shores Of Silver Lake.

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6 Responses to “Chloe’s Book Club: On The Banks Of Plum Creek”

  1. Betsy Kiekhafer Says:

    I found out not too long ago that’Charles and Caroline Ingalls infant son is in the same cemetery as my great grandparents. It is Pleasant Prairie Cemetery in Zumbro Township, Wabasha County, Mn.

  2. Jill Nisbet Says:

    Plum Creek was my favorite of a!! the books growing up. I guess the idea of being ab!e to play in the creek appealed to me so strongly that it overrode all the hard times. I was about the age of Laura in this book when I was introduced to the series. What kid wouldn’t enjoy Laura’s revenge on Nellie Oelsen or feel dismay at the abandoned Charlotte doll? Also this book has the best Christmas scene ever. Thanks Old World for showing how the marvelous Christmas tree would have !ooked. I’m so glad Laura got the lift!e fur muff and cape, and Carrie got tbe China dog! All that being said, I think in many ways it was the last innocence. They just got the wonderful house made out of real boards.. Like Pa I felt success was right aroujnd the corner. It was before the family had to take in boarders or Laura had to take outside jobs and above all e!se Mary could stil see!

  3. Kathleen Ernst Says:

    Jill – thanks for sharing your thoughts! After Laura’s description of pulling the leeches off–which I remember vividly–her revenge on Nellie was classic! And I agree about the Christmas scenes. Most of the books have wonderful Christmas scenes, but these are great.

    I also remember how shocked I was when the family lost everything. After losing everything in Kansas, it seemed so particularly unfair. I think at that point, as a child, I expected happy endings at least most of the time. Not that Laura didn’t end Plum Creek on a positive note, but still…I think it was the end of my innocence, too! By The Shores Of Silver Lake is, in my opinion, a real transitional book…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

  4. Lois Scorgie Says:

    I wondered often while reading this book. “Could people of this century endure the grasshopper plague, the limited clothes, food and all other material goods?” The Wilders were extremely brave. Both Ma and Pa taught their children to take pleasure in the smallest from the setting sun or a piece of Christmas candy. Laura was so proud of being a spunky, spirited child, wasn’t she?

    Lake Pepin has leeches too. Wading in the Lake, I pulled them off my own legs, every child did. Maybe Ma or Pa remembered them from their time in Wisconsin.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Lois, I agree, the hardships the Ingalls family experienced are beyond the experience of most of us. And–I didn’t know there are leeches in Lake Pepin! I’m pretty easy-going, but I’d have a hard time with that…

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