Little House in the Big Woods written by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
The story, which takes place in the early 1870s, recounts the events of young Laura Ingalls Wilder's life. Her family - her Ma, her Pa, her big sister Mary and her baby sister Carrie, live in a tiny log cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin. Reading this book is a bit like traveling back in time, to a place and time where life demanded hard physical work, but also offered many joys.
Each chapter is a different story about life in the Ingalls family. One chapter tells about the hunting and harvest season, and how Pa smoked all the meat he had hunted in a hickory stump. Laura (who writes the story in the 3rd person narrative) also tells of the family storing pumpkins in the attic, or how Ma made head cheese (don't ask, you don't want to know). Some of the earlier chapters in the book were a little much for the younger and more sensitive of the Bachsters - there is a lot of talk about killing animals (or the ones that want to kill us) to prepare for the upcoming winter. But it is just this reason that this book is such a treasure: it gives us a chance to talk to our kids about life in those days and the hardships and realities of that life.
And it's not just the bigger-picture items that make good conversation starters. I loved reading about the means of transportation for the family, special occasions like the dance at Grandma & Grandpa's house (the jig dance-off was especially fun) & how the family spent quiet times together, like the evenings when Pa would tell the girls stories and play his fiddle, while Ma did her mending or rocked baby Carrie. There are also lots of stories about bear encounters, like the bear that Laura and Ma mistook for their cow, or the stump that Pa thought was a bear, or the story about Pa finding the bee tree - and the bear that was there enjoying the honey.
One thing I really appreciated about the book is that it is written for children, and focuses a great deal on Laura (therefore, we hear stories about games she and her sister played, or about her favorite doll, or about a time she got into big trouble for hitting Mary), but Laura (the author) effortlessly weaves in information about the grown-ups' lives too. She gives great detail about Pa and the threshing event, or about specific foods that Ma prepares for them, for instance. It adds a lot of fullness, I guess you could say, to the story that so much of everyone's activities and responsibilities are given so much detail.
On a bit of a side note, several years ago PBS did a show called Frontier House, in which three families were put under the same circumstances as the Ingalls family (although I think the setting was a little different - Montana instead of Wisconsin). Anyway, this was also a really fascinating look at life in the 1870s, and I remember that when the families returned to the modern world, many of them couldn't believe how big their houses were, or how much space those big houses put between family members. Also, some of the people on the show lost a lot of weight because of all the hard labor they were doing (the men in particular)!
And another side note worthy of mentioning: there is also a series of picture books available, with many of the stories that are in the novel (for instance, there is a picture book about the dance at Grandpa's). These picture books would be a perfect choice for little ones not yet ready to tackle a book of the size and scope of this one. I've read the Bachsters all the available Little House picture books from our local library over the years.