Gritty memoir from the author of 'Little House on the Prairie' to hit shelves this fall

Some of the material from Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography, 'Pioneer Girl,' was used as a basis for the famed children's book series, but many of the more intense scenes were considered inappropriate for children.

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    Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote an autobiography entitled 'Pioneer Girl,' which she attempted to sell during the Great Depression. The gritty story didn't sell at the time but will now appear in print.
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It seems that the "Little House on the Prairie" series will be getting a gritty reboot this fall.

The beloved children's book series, the semi-autobiographical story of a family of pioneers in the American West, has fascinated readers since the 1930s. The books have inspired plays, a TV series, and even a musical. Laura Ingalls Wilder's original stories have been a favorite of children for generations.

In November, Wilder's long-unpublished autobiography that she later adapted into the successful children's books will be published. This time, however, the story won't be completely child-friendly.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 to a pioneer family. Growing up, she and her family faced fires, terrible winters, and other hardships on the American frontier. She wrote an autobiography entitled "Pioneer Girl," which she attempted to sell during the Great Depression. But the gritty story found no takers.

"It was full of the everyday sorts of things that we don't care to think about when we think about history," Amy Lauters, an associate professor of mass media at Minnesota State University-Mankato told the Associated Press. "And it's certainly not the fantasized version we saw on `Little House on the Prairie' the television show."

Wilder was not able to publish the autobiography as it was. However, she was able to change the story somewhat to make it a more palatable series of books. "Pioneer Girl" eventually served as the basis for her first published book, "Little House in the Big Woods," which was to become the first in the immensely successful "Little House on the Prairie" series. Wilder drew heavily on her autobiography as her series of children's books grew, but she left out several scenes and characters that she considered inappropriate for children, and often fictionalized her life to make a more cohesive narrative for younger readers.

While "Little House on the Prairie" is often considered fictional, despite its autobiographical origins, "Pioneer Girl" is pure nonfiction.

The primary source includes scenes and characters that never appeared in the children's book series. One notable group of characters presented to the public for the first time is the Masters family, who stayed with the Ingalls during the winter of 1880-1881 (the same winter featured in Wilder's "The Long Winter"). According to The Pioneer Girl Project, they are not portrayed flatteringly in "Pioneer Girl." Also featured in the book are love triangles, domestic abuse, and even a drunk man who manages to set himself on fire, according to the Associated Press.

While "Pioneer Girl" clearly wasn't for kids, the idea that the original autobiography is full of shock and scandal "isn't exactly true either," according to Lauters. She told the Associated Press that the first version of the beloved classic books was more "blunt" and "honest," but isn't to be read as a scandalous tell-all version of the classic series.

According to The Pioneer Girl Project, a blog detailing the ongoing process on Wilder's book, the edition coming out this fall will feature numerous annotations to better tell the real-life story of the Ingalls family in full, historical detail.

"Pioneer Girl" will be based on the rough draft of the manuscript which has languished for decades in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. While versions of "Pioneer Girl" have been available to scholars for research purposes, this is the first time the complete, original version of the work will be available to the public.

"I am very excited to see people have access to this, because her life story has been pretty muddled because people get mixed up with the TV show and it's nice to see an interest in people seeing basically what is the primary source," said Sandra Hume, a Wilder aficionado who published an internationally distributed newsletter on Wilder for 10 years, according to the Associated Press.

The edition coming out this fall will stay true to the spirit of a primary historical resource, deleting nothing from the original rough draft. Even misspellings on the handwritten manuscript will be included to preserve the autobiography as completely as possible. Extensive annotations will be added to provide historical context for the book.

"Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography," will be released November 15.

Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.

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