Newspaper article

Little House, Big Book: How Laura Ingalls Wilder's Annotated Autobiography Became an Unlikely Blockbuster

Newspaper article

Little House, Big Book: How Laura Ingalls Wilder's Annotated Autobiography Became an Unlikely Blockbuster

Article excerpt

Laura Ingalls Wilder never ages.

The latest sign of that is that in mid-November the South Dakota State Historical Society Press published "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder'' and within days, every book had been sold.

The success astonished all who had touched the project."It's a big, thick academic book,'' said Jennifer McIntyre, marketing director of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. "We're very proud of it, but our distributors were thrown for a loop by the demand.''

"Pioneer Girl" was written by Wilder in 1929. The non-fiction autobiography was written for an adult audience about pioneering life and times but publishers rejected the work. At the urging of her daughter, writer Rose Lane, Wilder used "Pioneer Girl'' as the basis for the "Little House'' children's novels, starting with "Little House in the Big Wood,'' which was published in 1932. In her 60s, Wilder was on her way to fame and fortune.

The Little House series has been printed in more than 40 languages, sold around the world, turned into a successful TV series (1974-1984), which was a huge hit in France, and even become a Tea Party primer. (Who could be more self-reliant than Pa Ingalls?)

This new book, edited, researched and foot-noted by Pamela Smith Hill, surrounds Wilder's "Pioneer Girl" with historical context, maps and references to the "Little House'' series. Academic it may be. But it has been by far the Historical Society's best seller ever, surpassing books about the likes of such colorful characters Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Its intially print run of 15,000 copies sold out long ago, and sales of the book have placed it up there with the big publishing companies: "Pioneer Girl" is currently No. 6 on Amazon's list of historical biographies and memoirs, a spot ahead of "Killing Patton," by a guy named Bill O'Reilly.

In an age of glitzy, expensive marketing, the "Pioneer Girl" sales push has been as old-fashioned and simple as Wilder's pioneer stories. Advanced copies were sent out to a handful of reviewers. And more reviewers started requesting the book.

Though in her "Little House" series, Wilder, who died in 1957, wrote of her experiences in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas and Dakota Territory, requests for review copies of Pioneer Girl came from all corners of the country, all segments of the media. …

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