Little House in the Big Woods describes the homesteading skills Laura observed and began to practice during her fifth year. This first volume does not contain the more mature (yet real) themes addressed in later books of the series (danger from Indians, serious illness, death, drought, crop destruction). Hard work is the rule, though fun is often made in the midst of it. Laura gathers woodchips, and helps Ma and Pa when they butcher animals. Laura also helps Ma preserve the meat. This is all in preparation for the upcoming winter. Fall is a very busy time, because the harvest from the garden and fields must be brought in as well.
The cousins come for Christmas that year, and Laura receives a doll, which she names Charlotte. Later that winter, the family goes to Grandma Ingalls’ and has a “sugaring off,” when they harvest sap and make maple syrup. They return home with buckets of syrup, enough to last the year. Laura remembered that sugaring off, and the dance that followed, for the rest of her life.
Each season has its work, which the author makes attractive by the good things that result. In the spring, the cow has a calf, so there are milk, butter and cheese. Everyday housework is also described in detail.
That summer and fall, the Ingalls again plant a garden and fields, and store food for the winter. Laura’s Pa trades labor with other farmers so that his own crops will be harvested faster when it is time. Not all work was farming. Hunting and gathering were important parts of providing for the family as well. When Pa went into the woods to hunt, he usually came home with a deer then smoked the meatfor the coming winter. One day he noticed a bee tree and returned from hunting early to get the wash tub and milk pail to collect the honey. When Pa returned in the winter evenings, Laura and Mary always begged him to play his fiddle; he was too tired from farm work to play during the summertime.In the winter, they enjoyed the comforts of their home and danced to Pa’s fiddle playing.