A Free Online Course on Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’m up against a deadline, so this will be brief.

If you’re a Laura fan like I am and you haven’t heard of this amazing opportunity, let me fill you in. Pamela Smith Hill of Missouri State University is teaching a free online course about Laura starting Monday, September 22. Click here to learn more. You might have heard Laura’s long-awaited autobiography has recently released. Pamela Smith Hill is its editor.

This is a class for Laura fans and for those curious about authorship (how much of a role did daughter Rose play in the creation of the Little House series?), the fuzzy lines between historical fiction and memoir, and the complex, sometimes uncomfortable portrayal of pioneers and natives.

I’ve ordered Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life (South Dakota Biography) and Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. I’ve got all the others. So looking forward to digging in!

If you’re taking the course, please let me know. I’d love to talk about it.

From the course description page:

Required Materials:

Little House In The Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0060581808
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400034
Little House On The Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400026
On The Banks Of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400042
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, Pamela Smith Hill, South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 097779556X

Recommended Reading:

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Edition, Pamela Smith Hill, South Dakota State Historical Society Press
Young Pioneers, Rose Wilder Lane, HarperCollins, 0064406989


Classroom Connections: ALWAYS, ABIGAIL by Nancy J. Cavanaugh + Giveaway

genre: contemporary fiction
setting: middle school
age range: 9 and up
educator’s guide
read an excerpt
Nancy’s website

Please tell us about your book.

Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, the pom squad doesn’t turn out exactly as she planned. Then everyone’s least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school’s biggest outcast, Gabby Marco, for a year-long “Friendly Letter Assignment.” Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck. As her so-called best friends and entire future of popularity seem to be slipping away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of fame she has left or letting it go to be a true friend.

Could you tell readers a little about your writing process?

My story ideas always come by way of a character.  Usually along with that character there is some type of premise for the story.  The part that is difficult for me is the plot.  As I write my first draft, I discover the “possibilities” for my plot and those discoveries lead to lots of revision.  It’s in the midst of those many revisions where I uncover what the plot of my story is really supposed to be.  This leads to even further revision to make the writing and the plot as strong as they can be.

What are some challenges associated with writing middle grade fiction?

I think resisting the urge to preach to readers is always a challenge.  I’m a former teacher, and I’m used to guiding young people and helping them learn.  Books do teach lessons, but the lessons readers take from books shouldn’t come from a preachy author but rather from the story itself and from the reader’s own discovery.  Young readers will learn a lot from the books they read, as long as we let them learn those things on their own.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

One of the themes in AWLAYS, ABIGAIL is bullying.  Abigail has to make some really tough choices in the book, and ultimately, she has to decide if she will sacrifice her own reputation to be a true friend to the school’s biggest outcast.  Young people make choices like that in classrooms all over the country every day, and I think as educators we often spend too much time telling young people what the right choice is, but we don’t spend enough time talking about how difficult it is to make that right choice.  ALWAYS, ABIGAIL is all about finding the kind of courage it takes to make that right choice.


One advance reader copy of ALWAYS, ABIGAIL is up for grabs. To enter, please leave a comment about why you’d like to read Nancy’s book below. Contest closes Sunday, 9/21. US residents only, please.


Congratulations to Susan Dee, our winner!

Ode to a Research Notebook

I’m in the thick of the manuscript connected to this notebook. Thought it might be fun to share again!

I wrote this a few days ago in an attempt to express a piece of my writing process — the behind-the-scenes work that goes into writing historical fiction. You guys. In four years of blogging I can honestly say this is the most fun I’ve ever had in writing a blog post. Writing this poem has reminded me I need to give myself more permission to play. There is something incredibly satisfying in starting and finishing a project in one day and in experimenting with a format I’ve never used before.

Here’s to your own creative processes and the opportunity to find joy there!

Oh, notebook mine,
the place I gather records, thoughts
before I know the way a story winds,
unsure whether or not
I’ll need what I’ve written down,
or if the scribbling of a word will be mere passing fact,
a jot to teach, inform me of the world I’m learning,
a collection of phrases to ground
me in the things I sorely lack,
to multiply my yearning.

You are a place of lists,
dates, maps, quotes, sometimes a sketch,
this novelist’s definition of bliss,
my source when I long to catch
a whiff of history, a summer berry’s hue,
a sense of place, the voice of one long dead,
the temperature when kerosene solidifies –
truths I can bend and shift, make new,
and like a ball of dough transform to bread
with heat and time. You stoke the fire in my mind’s eye.

You are a testament to months of labor,
a tribute to half-formed thoughts and starts,
a vestibule which leads to something greater,
the fresh firsts of a future art,
a net that gathers every object nearer,
sifts and filters, groups and sorts,
until like seeds that push to germination,
truth and story blend, grow clearer:
dear notebook, you help me bring forth
a story to its liberation.

Writing Links


When Choosing Themes, Write What You Don’t Know :: The Write Practice

The Gap: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner! :: Ingrid’s Notes

The Power of the Pre-Order :: Lisa Schroeder

Brava, Birdy! Kirby Larson celebrates CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY’s twenty years :: The Nerdy Book Club 

3 Insights that Lead to Successful Publishing Careers :: Writer Unboxed

Nonfiction Family Tree :: From the Mixed-Up Files

Artwork above by Maggie Steifvater


Wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson


Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt, crept in. Forget them as soon as you can, for tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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