Five things you didn't know about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Melissa Gilbert In 'Little House on the Prairie'
Actress Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls in an episode of 'Little House on the Prairie.'
NBC Television/Getty Images

Laura Ingalls Wilder is legendary. Her "Little House on the Prairie" series, based on her family's adventures on the Midwestern frontier, have sold more than 41 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into more than 40 languages.

The books spawned a long-running television show and, in 2008, a stage musical.

Millions of readers have been captivated by Wilder's childhood on the prairie, but her newest book, "Pioneer Girl," released more than 50 years after her death, offers a new perspective.

Annotated with exceptional detail by Pamela Smith Hill, "Pioneer Girl" is Wilder's autobiography, unpublished until now. Hill's extensive research, and Wilder's own words, unveil new details about her life beyond the prairie.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder's only daughter, novelist Rose Lane, persuaded her mother to write stories about her childhood, and Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods" was published in 1932.
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Five things you might not have known about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wilder started her writing career as a poultry columnist

Her books are considered classics now, but her literary beginnings were in a chicken coop.

Wilder's first paid writing gig was as the poultry columnist for the St. Louis Star Farmer. She had something of a golden touch when it came to raising chickens, and she shared her expertise with the wider St. Louis area.

Her autobiography came first

"Pioneer Girl" actually predates any of the "Little House" books.

At age 63, Wilder sat down and wrote out her life story. The result was "Pioneer Girl," and it began with the line "Once upon a time..."

Despite the fairy tale beginning, the manuscript was never intended to be a children's book. Certain sections were not even intended for publication — she sometimes wrote "not to be used" in the margins.The result was part private family history and part memoir. The draft went unpublished until today, more than 80 years after she wrote it.

Wilder's daughter is responsible for shaping the "Little House" books we know today

Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was actually an accomplished writer in her own right. When her mother finished the "Pioneer Girl" manuscript, Lane offered to share it with her publisher. Unfortunately, the manuscript was rejected — repeatedly.

After several no's, Lane took things into her own hands. She re-wrote a "juvenile version with dialogue and more description. She also switched point of view, from Wilder's original first-person voice to a fictionalized, third-person perspective," Hill notes. She did so without her mother's knowledge, though Wilder later embraced the change and began reworking her life story into the series we know today.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiograph 'Pioneer Girl'
Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography 'Pioneer Girl,' edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society Press

In a juicy twist, Lane may have had other motives for encouraging this change. According to Hill, Lane considered writing children's books an "inferior artistic occupation," and may have pushed Wilder into it to keep the adult material for herself. Lane did, in fact, turn sections of "Pioneer Girl" into her own novel, "Let the Hurricane Roar," without telling her mother that she had used her material.

"Little House" was almost "Trundle-bed Tales"

When Lane submitted her mother's revised manuscript for children, her suggested titles included: "Trundle-bed Tales," "Long Ago in the Big Woods," "Little Girl in the Big Woods" and "Little Pioneer Girl."

By the time the first book was published by Harper & Brothers in 1923, they had decided upon "Little House in the Big Woods."

The "Little House" books are true ... mostly

Wilder herself called them "not a history but a true story founded on historical fact." When she crafted the children's books from her own life story, she cut out a lot of events and a lot of people. She even cut out her own brother, Freddie, who died as a baby.

Grown-up fans looking for a real glimpse into life with the Ingalls will find it in "Pioneer Girl."

On Monday's Daily Circuit: Laura Ingalls Wilder's memoir

Join the editor of "Pioneer Girl," Pamela Smith Hill, during the 10 a.m. hour of The Daily Circuit on Monday, Jan. 12.

Smith Hill exposes the rough edges of Wilder's life that were smoothed over in the "Little House" books and television series.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to read that the book was released more than 50 years after the death of Laura Ingalls Wilder, not 65 years as originally written. She died in 1957.

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