When it was published in 1933, Farmer Boy was the second book in Laura’s Little House series; it would later become the third book. Telling the story of a year in Manly’s life, Farmer Boy seems greatly out of place in the entire series. To be honest, it’s probably my least favorite book. But I will admit that it probably makes the Little House series more relevant to boys. They can relate to young Manly’s boyhood motivations and desires the way many young girls (and the adult women they become) relate to young Laura.
Aside from the gender of the main character, one main theme of Farmer Boy stands out from the rest of Laura’s book: success and its results, mainly food, lots of food. Manly is really a little porker in this book; or, actually, he would be a little porker if not for all the manual labor he does (that and the calories spent keeping his body warm during the cold winters). Manly’s mother always kept a jar of donuts out on the counter; in the story, Manly would frequently stop and shove several into his mouth every trip he would take through the kitchen. Then there’s the breakfasts of large stacks of pancakes and the enormous suppers every night.
In her intro to The Little House Cookbook, Barbara Walker makes note of this difference. She concludes that after a lifetime filled with hunger, she wrote Farmer Boy as “her own fantasy of blissful youth surrounded on all sides by food.” (Quote taken from Wendy McClure’s Wilder Life.) Writing Farmer Boy, must have been both a treat and a struggle as she compared Manly’s childhood to her own.
What I Remember
Well, it’s not a big surprise, but my most clear memory of reading this as a child was the very beginning when the visiting teacher borrows Manly’s Pa’s bull whip to deal with the trashy older kids from Hardscrabble Hill. Funny how such a beating can stand out in your life, huh?
I also vaguely recalled that Manly loved horses, and, boy, did he ever. The entire book consists of him begging his father or otherwise trying to prove to him that he’s old enough to take care of the horses.
What do you think of Farmer Boy? Did you enjoy it as a child, or was it also your least favorite book?
Don’t you hate when you have stupid typos, like lease for least? That’s what I get for writing so quickly.