(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 620 words.)