It's easy to get so stuck on the subject matter of the stories Wilder tells that we fail to notice her brilliant, deceptively quiet writing. Her descriptions of scenery are gorgeous, of course, but I love the tiny sentences that tell so much, like this one when eight-year-old Mary and seven-year-old Laura are confronted by a wild herd of cattle (no, not a herd of wild
cattle -- these are domesticated, they're just being rude):
"Mary was too scared to move. Laura was too scared to stand still."
Or similarly simple descriptions of the girls waiting anxiously for their mother to come home:
"The house was empty and still, with Ma gone. Ma was so quiet and gentle that she never made any noise, but now the whole house was listening for her."
Wilder understood that the impersonal forces of nature are far more frightening than any imagined monsters can be, because the fact that nature doesn't care means it can't be pleaded with or placated. When it destroys life, it's not being cruel or even indifferent. It simply is.
As Laura learns when she thinks she can play safely in the creek after a strong rain:
"The coldness soaked into her. This was not like wolves or cattle. The creek was not alive. It was only strong and terrible and never stopping. It would pull her down and whirl her away, rolling and tossing her like a willow branch. It would not care."
Later, safe at home, Laura reflects:
"The creek would go down. It would be a gentle, pleasant place to play in again. But nobody could make it do that. Nobody could make it do anything. Laura knew now that there were things stronger than anybody. But the creek had not got her. It had not made her scream and it could not make her cry."
I love it (meaning I hate it) when people think that writing "only" for children is somehow limiting and limited. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote for the entire world, or at least those members of the world who enjoy being captured and held willing prisoner by a story. She just happened to remember that children are an integral part of that group.