For over seventy years, Laura Ingalls Wilder has touched the lives of her readers through her "Little House" books. For many, Laura's stories provide an escape from the harsh realities of their own lives into the life of the Ingalls family, where even the grimmest situations are met with hope, determination, and often even cheerfulness, with the loving support of a warm close-knit family to see you through.
School children, teachers, and fans alike have been writing letters to Laura Ingalls Wilder for decades to let her know how her stories have resonated with them and helped them through a difficult time or made them a better person. In her final years of life, Laura received thousands of letters, with as many as 800 cards flooding her mailbox in early February in honor of her birthday. Laura must have enjoyed hearing from her readers, as she wrote a reply to each letter until she became too feeble to do so.
A collection of children's letters written to Laura during her lifetime were published by HarperCollins as Dear Laura in 1996, and in coordination with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, Wilder researcher Sarah Sue Uthoff is currently collecting copies of the responses Laura wrote. (Click here for details.) The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, which houses the "Rose Wilder Lane" collection, even has an online feature which allows children to ask Laura a question on their website, and receive a response from their resource department.
Why have so many readers of the "Little House" books felt compelled to contact Laura personally about their experience with her books? Perhaps because it's known that the stories are largely autobiographical, so in connecting with the character of Laura, the reader feels she knows the author personally and therefore wishes for that personal contact. Whatever the reason, the letters still come, despite the fact that Laura passed away more than fifty years ago.
One such letter was written by Laurie Heber of Hemet, California, as an entry in a Writer-to-Writer contest sponsored by the California State Library. Laurie selected Laura Ingalls Wilder as the author she wished to write to because of her strong emphasis on family, something very important to Laurie herself.
Despite the many obstacles she has had to overcome, Laurie wants to be a writer too, and her hard work and persistence with the support of the Adult Literacy program at her local library have paid off. Laurie's letter placed first out of 160 contestants in her category. Her letter encourages others who wish to become writers to persevere to overcome the odds.
"Just don't give up. Keep on writing," is Heber's advice.
We are pleased to be able to share Laurie's prize-winning letter with you, and hope that you will find it as touching and inspirational as we have.
Dear Laura Ingalls Wilder,
My papa is very ill. Your book On the Banks of Plum Creek has made me realize how important family really is. Your book has touched my life. I cherish every second with my Papa. Before my Papa became ill we spent a lot of time together. His illness is hard to deal with. I struggle with watching his health decline. My family is precious to me like your family is precious to you.
On Memorial Day, we went on a family picnic. We sat at a picnic table enjoying each other’s company. Papa was enjoying his family even though he wasn’t feeling well. When your family goes on trips, everybody goes together. When your pa played the fiddle for his family and you all gathered around to hear him, I was touched. I wish we were living in those times again where family spent so much time together and just loved each other.
I have had much loss in my life. My real mother died of breast cancer and my father died of a stroke. I lost both grandparents and my godfather. After losing my parents I adopted two kind loving people as my new family who I cherish dearly. Papa is very ill and I can’t bear the thought of losing another cherished family member.
I have overcome my own set of disabilities. I was born with a problem with my hips. I had to have surgery and was put in a body cast. After that it took me a long time to learn to walk. I had to do exercises to build up my legs. I couldn’t straighten out my legs when I walked so I was made fun of from grade school all the way through high school. I cried a lot. I am working on overcoming my disabilities. I am going to succeed in life. Your strength and determination has made me realize that I can do it too.
I liked how you and your sister Mary went to school together and sat together. I can relate with your struggle with hard words. It made me happy and sad to read about how much you learned when you were growing up, because when I went to school my elementary teachers did not teach me what I needed to know. I attended special Ed classes and I was labeled as mentally retarded. I don’t believe I am mentally retarded. If I was mentally retarded I wouldn’t be able to read and write.
Now I go to Adult Literacy School to learn to read and write. I am learning what I never learned in school there. My tutors are there to help me succeed. They don’t call us failures here -- they call us achievers.
Laurie Heber to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Author of On the Banks of Plum Creek
Copyright 2008 Laurie Heber. Used with Permission