This semester I taught Laura Ingalls Wilder. I first conceived the class after reading this post on Wilder over at Historiann (and the comments!). I got the Fellman book which is mentioned in the comments, and then several other books from the bibliography, and then more books from their bibliographies, and soon I was reading Wilder scholarship like a boss.
You would have thought I was one of those research professors, not a Creative at all.
Anyway, when it came time to propose classes for this Fall semester, I put forth for Major Authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, and our chair loved it (happily).
I anticipated a few possible problems for the class -- either that students wouldn't sign up, because it was a class about kids' books; or that they would come into the class having only seen the execrable 1970s TV show. (Directly responsible for electing that fucker Reagan, by the way. Okay, indirectly. But see the end of this article.)
Students signed up, y'all! Only a few of them had read the books as obsessively as I had, as a kid; more had -- as I fear -- been fans of the awful TV show; but not that many. More than a few had never even heard of Wilder. (WTF. Kids today!)
The class went brilliantly. I converted nearly all of them to Wilder fans. We didn't read any of the critical books, but there are just tons of excellent articles, and we used several of those, in particular Sharon Smulders' "The Only Good Indian: History, Race, and Representation in Little House on the Prairie," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly; Anita Clair Fellman's "Don't Expect to Depend on Anyone Else," and Claudia Mills' "From Obedience to Autonomy," both in Children's Literature).
The books teach really well, you will be glad to know, and since about half the class were English Education majors, we were able to approach the books from that standpoint as well -- how these books might be used in the elementary classroom.
We spent a lot of time talking about the history of the books -- the time they were about (1870-1880); the time they were written in (1930-1940); and the time of the TV show (1974-1982) -- as well as the political history / impact of the books. This meant a lot of time talking about The New Deal, and Libertarianism, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, FDR, Frederick Jackson Turner, and what all this had to do with a seemingly innocuous children's series.
We read all eight books. If I had the semester to do over again, I'd skip Farmer Boy, I think, since we were rushed for time here at the end of the semester. Or maybe not assign presentations. Those ate up a lot of time.
OTOH, the presentations were great. One of the students presented on the Dakota War of 1862 (which appears in Little House on the Prairie as the Minnesota Massacres); another researched the music Pa would probably have been playing and its history, and another taught us to dance the dance at Grandma's house.
I'm also getting just excellent papers.
All in all, a successful class.