Friday, April 6, 2018

"From Little Houses to Little Women" by Nancy McCabe

From Little Houses to Little Women:
Revisiting a Literary Childhood
by Nancy McCabe

From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood by Nancy McCabe

From Little Houses to Little Women by Nancy McCabe is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review and an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Nancy McCabe, who grew up in Kansas just a few hours from the Ingalls family’s home in Little House on the Prairie, always felt a deep connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series. McCabe read Little House on the Prairie during her childhood and visited Wilder sites around the Midwest with her aunt when she was thirteen. But then she didn’t read the series again until she decided to revisit in adulthood the books that had so influenced her childhood. It was this decision that ultimately sparked her desire to visit the places that inspired many of her childhood favorites, taking her on a journey that included stops in the Missouri of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Minnesota of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Massachusetts of Louisa May Alcott, and even the Canada of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
From Little Houses to Little Women reveals McCabe’s powerful connection to the characters and authors who inspired many generations of readers. Traveling with McCabe as she rediscovers the books that shaped her and ultimately helped her to forge her own path, readers will enjoy revisiting their own childhood favorites as well.

Book Video

Excerpt from Chapter 4
The healing powers of girls’ book heroines, the dazzling competence of Pa Ingalls, combined anew in the character of Nancy Drew.  Nothing fazed her. If someone at a neighboring table choked on raw steak, she paused from tracing clues to administer the Heimlich, add a delicious marinade to the meat, and fire up her portable grill to ensure that it was fully cooked. If Nancy’s boyfriend Ned discovered a message in Hieroglyphics, Nancy darted over to translate it—into French by way of Swahili. If her car overheated, Nancy purchased a new thermostat and installed it herself, substituting roadside sticks and rocks for more conventional tools. If Nancy’s slacks ripped while she was camping on a mountainside, she whipped out her sewing kit and stitched up a pair of new pants from tent cloth. So maybe these are exaggerations of Nancy’s prowess—but not by much.
Nancy was the original Barbie, thin and stylish and endlessly versatile, capable of assuming a new role with each new outfit, a short cultural leap to Newborn Baby Doctor Barbie, Aerospace Engineer Barbie, Sea World Trainer Barbie, and Beach Party Barbie. [Nancy] was effortlessly attractive, kind, and skillful, and we were repeatedly told how modest she was, even though she was always introducing herself by saying things like, “I’m Nancy Drew. My father is Carson Drew, the attorney.” Those words smacked to me of privilege and entitlement, an expectation that everyone should have heard of and been impressed by her father.
Sharing her first name called attention to all that I could not live up to. In contrast to the young sleuth, I was shy and awkward, and my world felt out of my control. In real life, modesty and shyness came down to the same thing, rendering me invisible. Nancy got away with so much; it wasn’t fair. She observed the faint sound of crickets on a pirated recording and concluded that it had been made at Pudding Stone Lodge because you could hear crickets there at night. I railed at this ludicrous deduction: where couldn’t you hear crickets at night?
My concept of how the world worked, with God in his heaven, the righteous vindicated, and truth and justice prevailing, was beginning to erode.
[Want more? Click below to read another excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
From Little Houses to Little Women brings a refreshing new thoughtfulness to the familiar, comforting act of revisiting our favorite childhood books. McCabe’s insightful readings and wryly observed travelogue make this an essential book for any classic children’s literature fan.” ~ Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood is a triple delight. Nancy McCabe takes her readers on nostalgic journeys back into those books that she and many of us read as children, as well as on literal journeys to the settings of those stories and the homes of their authors. At the same time, she presents her childhood responses to works by Wilder, Montgomery, Dickinson, Lovelace, and others, as well as her skillful assessment as an English professor. This layered approach to the literature is both provocative and satisfying. From Little Houses to Little Women is beautifully written, and McCabe is a frank, enlightening, down-to-earth, and immensely likeable traveling companion.” ~ Lisa Knopp, What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte
“As a practicing writer of fiction, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of childhood reading. How enlightening it has been to read Nancy McCabe's account here, to share and compare both our childhood experiences and adult ruminations! Nancy's account of her car tour with her daughter inspired me to make my own visit to Mansfield, MO, where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books. Childhood reading did more than delight; it resonates in who we are today.” ~ Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife; Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette; The Fountain of St. James Court, or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
“As McCabe’s literary journeys unfold, she explores the duality of rereading favorite childhood titles, shifting back and forth in time between her initial memories and experiences with these books, and her more informed perceptions as a critical adult reader. She also examines the contrast between real and fictional places, lingering on the sometimes disturbing gulf between the two and the more fascinating intersections where fiction and reality overlap.” ~ Pamela Smith Hill, Missouri Historical Review, July 2015 (Vol. 109, No. 4)

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
When her adopted daughter Sophie is a toddler, the author tries to recapture some of the magic of her own childhood by rereading some of her favorite childhood books. Unfortunately, she is no longer affected emotionally by them as she was as a child. Nancy recalls when, aged thirteen, she traveled with her aunt and cousin to Minnesota and South Dakota, the places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and wrote her Little House series. So, Nancy decides to take Sophie (starting when she is nine) on similar road trips. They travel to Pepin, Wisconsin, the site of Laura’s birth; Independence, Kansas, the site of the original Little House book; Mankato, Minnesota, the setting for Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy books; Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and Burr Oak, Iowa, sites of more of the Ingalls cabins; De Smet, South Dakota, and Mansfield, Missouri, settings for later Little House books; Prince Edward Island, the territory of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; Concord, Massachusetts, the setting of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; and Amherst, Massachusetts, the home of Emily Dickinson. Along the way, the author mentions such classic characters as Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy, Eunice Young Smith’s Jennifer Books, Lenora Mattingly Weber’s Beany Malone series, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy books, and authors such as E. B. White and Noel Streatfeild. The book concludes with an extensive list of footnotes, a list of books mentioned, a complete bibliography, and even an index.
This is a well-written, engaging, and insightful book, part memoir, part travelogue, part literary criticism. It’s interesting to see how the author’s perceptions of her favorite books change over time, how some of her life choices have been influenced by these books, and how Sophie has difficulty relating to the books but learns to appreciate them by seeing them through her mother’s eyes. After reading this, I don’t think I’ll revisit my favorite children’s books; I’ll just leave my childhood memories intact.

About the Author
Nancy McCabe
Nancy McCabe is the author of four memoirs about travel, books, parenting, and adoption as well as the novel Following Disasters. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, and many other magazines and anthologies, including In Fact Books’ Oh Baby! True Stories about Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love and McPherson and Company’s Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember their Fathers. Her work has received a Pushcart and been recognized on Notable lists in Best American anthologies six times.