Thursday, August 8, 2013

TOS Crew: Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura

When I was 7, my Grandma bought me the complete set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Books. They were all in blue and were kept in a little blue cardboard holder all their own. 

I devoured everyone one of them. Feeding into my “Laura” obsession was the fact that the “Little House of the Prairie” television series was in full swing at the time. It was one of my favorite shows to watch (along with the A-Team and Doctor Who, but that is for another blog post). Being a fan of the Little House books and the television show, my world was constantly being challenged. “That is sooo not in the book!” Was anybody else really disappointed to find out that Doc Baker never even existed? 

This Little House Fan was recently given a treat. I was beyond thrilled to be able to review one of two Legacy Documentaries DVDs concerning my one of my favorite series of books (ever). I chose Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. This documentary was produced in partnership with the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association and is hosted by Dean Butler, who played Almanzo on the TV series.

Farmer Boy, Laura’s second book, is a glimpse into the childhood of Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder. Believe it or not, it is probably my favorite. I don’t know if it’s because I lived on a little farm, myself or because Laura painted such an endearing picture of Almanzo’s childhood (all that food!) I fully blame Farmer Boy for my warm fuzzy thoughts of hot popcorn and apple pie. Though the amount of Apple Pie Almanzo could tuck away was downright amazing. 

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura explores this treasured novel and gives the viewer an inside look at the characters involved and their real lives. It is a true piece of history. 

The documentary was filmed onsite at the Wilder Homestead in upstate New York which is, sadly, far far away from me. Thankfully, I am but an hour from Mansfield, MO which is the site of Laura and Almanzo’s home. I have yet to make my yearly pilgrimage, but plan on going soon. 

Dean Butler does a lovely job narrating this film. I had to stop myself from hollering at the screen. “Is that you, Manly?” This might be a little off topic, but did anyone else think that was Dean Butler was completely crush worthy when they were in 5th grade?

Such good memories. The documentary is so beautifully done. It is a mixture of live action footage (featuring reenactments) and photography. One of the coolest things ever is how they took the original illustrations from the books and animated them. It is like a living and moving scrapbook. 

The documentary also contains wonderful commentary from historical experts and the like. I loved hearing their “take” on things. I had never thought that Laura didn’t mention major historical events, such as the Civil War. Her books were simply about the day to day lives of ordinary people. How they lived and worked. Their values and work ethics drove them. I also wanted to know all about this older sister of Almanzo’s. Why wasn’t she mentioned in the story?  Hmm. 

Josiah loved the bit about the teacher “licking” the big bullies at the Hardscrabble School. That made for some interesting conversation. I read to him Farmer Boy when he was quite a bit younger. This documentary has inspired me to dust it off and read it again. 

The DVD itself runs 52-53 minutes long. The majority of it focuses on Almanzo’s life. The second portion talks about the Wilder Homestead in New York and its restoration. I think it is appropriate for all ages...though it will mean much more if your child is familiar with Farmer Boy or Laura Ingalls Wilder.

You can purchase the DVD from Legacy Documentaries for $21.95. Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is also available for purchase. I would love this one as well to add to my collection (hint, hint). 

I can’t say enough about this DVD. This is one that we will enjoy time and time again. It is perfect for use with the study of the Little House books or on its own. I have watched twice already just by myself! TEAM ALMANZO! I know that my family will treasure it for years to come.

This is a little clip you can check out for yourself.

You can see what other Crew members thought about this DVD and more by checking out the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog. 



  1. Your posts make me want every single thing you review. I may have to get the book from the library for the kids. I loved that book (and series) too.

    Thanks for the Big Mama Planner. It is great. I love it.

  2. I totally had a crush on Manly when I was a kid watching the Little House show. LOL I almost mentioned it in my review too - but we had the Laura dvd so I didn't. 8-)


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