Display at Vilonia school honors American author

Carol Rolf Originally Published January 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 23, 2013 at 10:32 a.m.
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Carol Rolf

Taking a look at some of the items honoring American author Laura Ingalls Wilder, are, in the back, Carolyn Frazier, a retired second-grade teacher who taught at Vilonia Elementary School and one of the organizers of the display at the school’s library; and front, from the left, Evy McKissack and Janie Gentry, fourth-graders at the elementary school and readers of Wilder’s Little House books.

— Laura Ingalls Wilder continues to make an impression on the minds of young readers.

Students at Vilonia Elementary School have the opportunity to see the American author’s Little House books and other memorabilia on display in the school’s library, thanks to the combined efforts of Faith Fisher, the school’s librarian; Alice Gray, a paraprofessional; and Carolyn Frazier, who retired in June 2011 after 38 years of teaching, most of them spent in a second-grade classroom at the school. The display will remain on exhibit through most of February, which is the birth and death month of the acclaimed author.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder is a wonderful example of American history,” said Frazier, who is secretary of the Cadron Post Chapter of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and chairwoman of its American History Committee. “She writes about life in the pioneer days,” Frazier said. “Her vivid descriptions of life in another era open up a new world for these young students.”

Wilder was born Feb. 7, 1867, near Pepin, Wis., and died Feb., 10, 1957, at her home in Mansfield, Mo. She wrote her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, in 1932 at the age of 65, although she had been a rural journalist in Missouri prior to that. Her last book in the Little House series, These Happy Golden Years, was published in 1943, when she was 76. The majority of the eight-book series received a John Newbery Medal, which is given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

Janie Gentry, 9-year-old daughter of Chris and Melanie Gentry, said she was introduced to the American author at a young age.

“My mother read them to me when I was in second grade,” Janie said. “I thought they were really good.”

Evy McKissack, 9-year-old daughter of Martin and Kelly McKissack, said she first learned about Wilder’s work when she and her family visited Branson, Mo.

“We saw her house,” Evy said.

Wilder and her husband, Almanzo Wilder, lived in Mansfield, Mo., a short distance from Branson.

“I really want to go there, too,” Janie said.

Both girls have read the entire series. Janie said her favorite book is Little House in the Big Woods. Evy’s favorite is Farmer Boy.

Fisher said the popularity of Wilder’s books “comes and goes.”

“It depends on the teacher,” she said. “If the teacher can get them hooked on the picture books in second grade, then they usually want to read them by the time they are in the fourth grade.”

Frazier said she became interested in Wilder’s books when her daughter, Angela, was in the fourth grade.

“She had to do a report on her,” Frazier said. “So we visited her home in Mansfield during that school year. Then that summer, we visited many more of her homes. That was one of the best vacations we ever took.”

The Fraziers visited Wilder’s homes in Pepin, Wis., where she wrote her first book;

Independence, Kan.; Burr Oak, Iowa; and De Smet, S.D.

“We didn’t visit the one in Malone, N.Y.,” Frazier said, “but my husband, Tommy, wants to. I have a former student who lives in New York. Maybe we’ll get to visit there when Tommy retires.”

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