Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Attention, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans: A new must-read book by Marta McDowell September 21, 2017


WHEN A PACKAGE LANDED on my front doorstep some 10 days ago, I wondered about its content. I hadn’t ordered anything. But inside I found a newly-released book, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books.

Ah, yes, I had been expecting this. Sort of. But I’d forgotten about the book by bestselling author Marta McDowell that includes three of my photos. More than a year had passed since Marta and I connected.

Now I was holding the results of this New Jersey writer’s intensive research, multi-state visits and hours of writing. It’s an impressive book for the information and the art published therein on the places and plants in the life of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.


Every summer, the folks of Walnut Grove produce an outdoor pageant based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. Many pageant attendees arrive at the show site dressed in period attire and then climb aboard the covered wagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I have not yet read the entire book. But I am sharing this new Timber Press release now because Marta will be at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue, in Minneapolis from 7 – 8 this evening (September 21) to present The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I expect the book to be enthusiastically received here in Minnesota and by Laura fans world-wide.


The southwestern Minnesota prairie, in the summer, is a place of remarkable beauty. I shot this image outside Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.


I am among those fans with the added bonus of having grown up only three townships north of the Charles and Caroline Ingalls’ North Hero Township home near Walnut Grove in Redwood County, Minnesota. Long before the Little House TV show, long before I realized the popularity of Laura’s book series, I loved her writing. A teacher at Vesta Elementary School read the books aloud to me and my classmates during a post-lunch reading time. That story-time instilled in me a deep love for the written word and a deep connection to The Little House books.


The prairie near Walnut Grove is especially beautiful in the summer. I took this photo at the Laura Ingalls Wilder dug-out site north of Walnut Grove in 2010.


With that background, you can understand my enthusiasm for Marta’s book which focuses on the landscapes and specific plants that surrounded Laura and her family. Laura writes with a strong sense of place, a skill I’ve often considered may trace to her blind sister, Mary. Laura became her sister’s “eyes.”


I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything. I took this photo at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna during a previous traveling exhibit on Minnesota disasters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Marta writes of specific plants and places in her book, taking the reader from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Missouri and in between—wherever Laura lived. In the section on Walnut Grove, she notes the wild plums, the morning glories and the blue flags (iris) that Laura writes about in On the Banks of Plum Creek. I’ve walked that creek and creekbank, seen the Ingalls’ dug-out, wildflowers and plums. I am of this rich black soil, these plants, this land. There’s a comfortable familiarity in reading of this land the Ingalls family eventually left because of a grasshopper infestation and resulting crop failures.


My black-eyed susan photo is published in Marta’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


To be part of Marta’s book on Laura Ingalls Wilder is an honor. The vintage botanical illustrations, original artwork by Garth Williams, historic photos, maps, ads, current day photos like my three and more make this volume a work of art.

There is much to learn therein, much to appreciate. So for all of you Laura fans out there, take note. You’ll want to add The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired the Little House Books to your collection.


DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book and was paid for publication of my three photos.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


33 Responses to “Attention, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans: A new must-read book by Marta McDowell”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    How exciting! I remember you talking about this and it is finally here. Congrats! Sharing!

  2. Truly an Honor – Congrats!!! Huge fan as a kid growing up. Part of the appeal for me was I could relate growing up on a farm. I still remember getting my first bonnet and donning it with my long country dress pajamas while I played house in my bedroom with the cat as my baby – ha! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    And the spirit that, I’m sure, resides in that publication is positively the same as is found in you. Your blog jottings declare the beauty that’s found in the prairie’s “wildness” juxtaposed with the tenacious strength found in those earliest of pioneers. You are, truly, a “Prairie Gal” and, as such, have earned the right to journal its happenings….both present and past. Sending hugs from a definitely not-prairie portion of God’s Country……………..

  4. Susan Ready Says:

    what a tribute to your photography skills to have three pictures in her book. You truly were able to captures a sense of time and place that compliment her writing with your photos. How gratifying for you.

    • Thank you, Sue. I think you would really enjoy this book. It’s packed with info and so much outstanding art. Check page 381 to see where my photos can be found. And, yes, publication in a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder is definitely gratifying given my prairie roots and love of The Little House books.

  5. Jackie Says:

    That black eyed Susan photo is stunning! What a fun surprise to receive the book when you weren’t expecting it!

  6. Go Grandma Says:

    I grew up on these books (and TV) show as well. Congrats to you – what an honor that must be.

  7. Joyce in Kansas Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. When I was attending elementary school I would check these books out. More often than not when I went to pick them up to read them my dad had them in hand and I had to wait till he put them down. I have read the series more than once – a favorite part of childhood.

  8. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I have to get my hands on a copy of this. Thank you for sharing

  9. What an honor!
    What a THRILL!
    I love your photos, dear Audrey!
    I LOVE Laura, Pa, Ma, Mary, who was the dog?
    I’ve wanted to travel there for the longest time, dig up the soil w/ my bare hands, smell the
    same air those beautiful, interesting people did.
    Thank you for this, my darling.
    ….btw, if I could go back in time, I’d want to go to that place, that time, in the spring I think…..spread a patched quilt upon myself and observe ma
    cook vittles, & apple pie,
    Listen to pa play the fiddle!!!


    • Thank you, dear Kim.

      If you’ve never been to Walnut Grove, you must journey there. The community puts on a wonderful outdoor pageant each summer. And to visit the dug-out site and walk the land that Laura walked and to splash through Plum Creek…well, you would delight in the experiences.

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Hubby bought me this book today for an extra Christmas gift. I’m sure that nothing else will be accomplished for the rest of the weekend. Prefect for the cold weather we are having. Stay warm!!!

    • What a thoughtful husband to buy this book for you. Be sure to look for my three photos. Credits are listed in the back. I’d love to hear what you think of the book.

      • Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

        I plan to snuggle in with the book after I take the kids to school. Late start today because of the weather.

      • Ah, good plan. If you’re like me, you’re more than weary of these deep freeze temps. We cancelled a planned trip to southwestern Minnesota because of the -40 windchills. Given the remoteness of the area and the lack of cell coverage in many areas, we thought it best to stay home. That means our home-from-Boston son did not get to see his grandma. He flies out today and I am a sad mama. But so happy to have had him back in Minnesota for the holidays.

      • Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

        Better safe than sorry 😐 I can’t imagine my kids not being home overnight let alone that far away. I’m sure that day will one day come. Hugs!

        Were both pictures on page 335 yours? Beautiful pictures! So many fun pictures, illustrations and maps throughout the whole book.

      • On page 335, only “Summer in a jar” (photo on the right) is mine. In my opinion, the book is packed with beautiful images and graphics.

        Yes, savor these days with your kids. They grow up and leave way too quickly.

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