Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Walnut Grove offers a kid-friendly festival at annual “Little House” celebration July 17, 2013

Pioneer prairie attire is the dress code of the day for all ages.

Pioneer prairie attire is the dress code of the day for all ages.

THE FAMILY FESTIVAL in Walnut Grove is exactly what you would expect—an event filled with family-friendly activities during the community’s annual celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Arts and crafts. Book signings. Pony rides. Laura and Nellie Look-A-Like Contests. Entertainment.

Showing Mom her art.

Showing Mom her art.

Tagging along with my 9-year-old niece, who traveled to southwestern Minnesota with her parents from Grand Forks, North Dakota, for the weekend event, I delighted in all this small town offers to families via the festival. Lots of busy and happy kids here. I’ve forgotten, though, just how quickly elementary aged youth can dart from one activity to the next.

My niece keeps a tight grip on her Laura doll while sifting through corn.

My niece keeps a tight grip on her Laura doll while sifting through corn.

And Beth did just that, with me there to hold her camera and Gatorade, but, thankfully, not her Laura doll, while I also juggled my 35 mm Canon DSLR camera and an over-sized bag. It’s not easy taking photos with your hands full and a mobile niece to watch. I shot at least a few frames one-handed.

Kids, including my niece, right, dig for objects in a tub of corn.

Kids, including my niece, right, dig for objects in a tub of corn.

I managed while observing Beth sift through tubs of corn and soybeans to find hidden objects and then weave among craft stands that held her interest, but not for long. She fingered merchandise at one booth then zoomed to another.

Creating seed art.

Creating seed art.

Earlier she’d created seed art, a craft I remember from my elementary school art days, days in which my teacher read the entire Little House book series to me and my classmates through the course of a school year. I attended school in Vesta, only 25 miles north of Walnut Grove, practically in the backyard of Plum Creek. To this day, the Little House books, and Wilder’s descriptive writing of the prairie landscape (she was the “eyes” for her blind sister, Mary) in the Minnesota-set volumes, remain among my favorite books. I once even penned a poem, “Prairie Sisters,” about my connection to the Little House books and the Ingalls sisters. (See poem at the end of this post.)

Most of the kids' activities are centered in the park shelter.

Most of the kids’ activities are centered in the park shelter.

But back to that Family Festival in Walnut Grove. Before my arrival, my niece punched a horse design onto leather at one of the many activity stations centered in and near a shelter at the city park. This festival is definitely a hands-on experience any kid, and parent, can appreciate.

The pony ride.

The pony ride.

I hoped Beth would ride a pony at the pony ride, but she didn’t follow my hint while under my supervision, opting instead to participate in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest. (You can read about that competition by clicking here.) And that was OK.

All of you parents and grandparents out there with children who are Little House fans, you have two more weekends to wend your way to Walnut Grove for a variety of activities, including the Family Festival from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20 and 27, in the one-block square city park.


Leather art.

Leather art.

Craft demonstrations, like spinning, are part of the festivities.

Craft demonstrations, like spinning, are part of the festivities.

Tools and materials for crafting beautiful wooden spoons.

Tools and materials for crafting beautiful wooden spoons.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Little House themed events in Walnut Grove during the next two weekends.

AND HERE’S MY PROMISED POEM, published in 2000 in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota:

Prairie Sisters

Laura and Mary splashed their way into my heart
as my fourth grade teacher waded into Plum Creek.
I felt the words sliding across my bare feet,
sticking to me like bloodsuckers between toes.

Prairie sisters, Laura and Mary, and me,
children of the wind and sky, we three.
The words swept me away from the brick walls
of school and of desks in orderly rows.

Across the rich, black soil, heavy with a farmer’s dream,
to Walnut Grove, twenty-five miles south and west,
I joined my prairie sisters on the banks of Plum Creek,
at home with the sweet scent of dark earth.

Together we turned the pages of our lives,
each day a new chapter, a new adventure.
Nellie Oleson, grasshoppers by the millions,
fire wheels and blinding, closed-in blizzards.

Years apart, yet years so close.
Prairie sisters, Laura and Mary, and me.
Rooted to a land that reaches into the soul,
bound forever by words in a book.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Walnut Grove offers a kid-friendly festival at annual “Little House” celebration”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    I used to avidly watch ‘Little House on the Prairie’ on TV and just wish that I was Laura. How fabulous that young girls can dress up like her and attend a festival in her honour – just what we needed down under xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s interesting that I’ve only seen a few episodes of the TV show. My enthusiasm for all things “Little House” is based solely on the books. BTW, the landscape featured in the TV series looks nothing like Walnut Grove, which is on the flat prairie.

  2. Erin Says:

    Wonderful captures of a family friendly event! I can’t wait to attend this weekend. My kids are going to love it!

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Love, love, love the poem! I never experienced such “out-loud” readings growing up, but I absolutely DID spend hours and hours in my little dormer bedroom reading the mountains of books I would check out from the library. It was a time of wonderful imaginings and daydreams (exemplified by the Anne of Green Gables books!). Hugs……..

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    I could just see your niece darting from one thing to the next!!!! So many neat things to do and so many projects to look at and decide which one would be the next one that she would delve into! Great pictures, even if one handed, that captured the excitement of all of those little girls!!! And of course I loved your poem at the end. Wonderful post!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Beth Ann. I was only one-handed doing the corn in the tub snaps. Beth had already done most of the activities when we met up with her and her parents. But she wanted to show me everything, which was just fine. Such enthusiasm, such fun.

  5. Bernie Says:

    Beautiful poem…am reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, need that “simple life” fix.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I need to dig out my copy. Makes you lonesome for Vesta, doesn’t it?

      Put My Antonia by Willa Cather on your reading pile. I just reread that after about 30 years and love her detailed descriptions of the Nebraska landscape. I think you would enjoy this story.

  6. Lanae Says:

    I think the little Laura dolls dress has the same print my teenage dress had for V-esta days back in the 70’s. Brings back wonderful memories of small town teachers who wanted us to mellow out after recess by reading the Little House books. They didn’t realize what an impact they made on some of our lives. Thank you teachers.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well said, sister, re. those teachers who read the Little House series to us at Vesta Elementary School. That post lunch time reading is one of my favorite memories of elementary school and one of the reasons I so love to read.

  7. Love arts and crafts and really love that the next generations are learning about arts and crafts:) Thanks so much sharing – Great Captures – Happy Hump Day!

  8. Oh, those wonderful Laura Ingalls Wilder books! I read them all, but haven’t thought about them for a long time. My own daughter wasn’t a big fan, leaning more toward Harry Potter and lots of fantasy/sci fi tales. Those were books that made me happy, I do remember that. A couple of years ago, I went to see Little House on the Prairie as a stage production at the Ordway in St. Paul. Of all things, I attended that play with a guest who was visiting us from Norway and she had read those books growing up!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I attended the same musical with my eldest daughter, her birthday gift to me. We were both disappointed in the production. But it was still fun to have an evening out with her at the Ordway, a place I’d never been.

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