While Wilder’s diary is in essence autobiographical, it fits the genre only in the broadest of definitions. It does, after all, cover only a six-week-long period of a life of ninety years. The diary is simply an accounting of each day of their journey set down in succinct form. It contains much about the land and its topography, the crops, the weather, the places they camped, the people they met, and the towns through which they passed.
There is no indication that Wilder ever intended the diary for publication; it is not the carefully crafted work of her later books. There is an occasional flash of humor: “Mrs. Cooley and I went to a house to buy milk. It was swarming with children and pigs; they looked a good deal alike.” There is also an occasional anecdote rich in human interest that foreshadows the writing that Wilder would do later in the Little House books. She and Manly visited a Russian settlement, and she reports thatwhen we were leaving a woman opened the front of her dress and took out a baking of cold biscuits from right against her bare skin and gave them to me. The man told me to put them in my shirt, but I carried them in Manly’s clean handkerchief instead. A pity to waste the biscuits but we could not eat them.
For the most part, however, the writing is mundane and repetitive, such as “Cooked breakfast and bathed and lay around in the shade of the wagons. Temperature 96°. Rested all day and went to bed early.” Neither Wilder nor Lane takes...
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To understand the importance of On the Way Home for the young adult reader, one must view it as an extension to the Little House books and examine the additions it makes to “Lauraism.” The reader with no exposure to Wilder’s other works may find the diary lackluster at best. The brevity of the entries, the lack of development of the people mentioned, and the mundane listings of such daily events as weather and time of departure make for dull reading. True aficionados of the Little House books, however, view the Ingalls as intimate friends and clamor for more information about their beloved Laura. It does not matter to them that the book is unpolished and reads like a travelogue when there are actual photographs of Wilder and her family and of the house that Manly built for her in Missouri. To her admirers, the diary is important because it is Wilder’s diary, and Lane’s additions are important because they were written about Laura—not Wilder, but the Laura that they have loved since she was five years old in Little House in the Big Woods (1932).
Interestingly, the curator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, has stated that visitors to the museum rarely think of the artifacts as belonging to Wilder, the writer. Rather, they come to see Laura’s sewing box, Laura’s comb, and Laura’s white dress. Wilder is known over the world as the author of the Little House books. She has won plaudits, awards, and international acclaim, but for her legions of readers, it is Laura who has won their hearts.