“Walnut Grove Hits Home: Prairie Values for the Modern Family” is a new book by author Alicia Hogan Murphy who wrote during the pandemic. Alicia is a life-long fan of “Little House on the Prairie” and wrote her book in honor of the iconic TV show’s writer, Michael Landon. The book addresses staying positive, addressing prejudice, dealing with bullying, being honest with ourselves, and having selfless concern for others, among other things. The book has even earned praise from former cast members.
Alicia recently discussed her book via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): What was it about “Little House on the Prairie” that so intrigued you?
Alicia Hogan Murphy (AHM): Little House premiered when I was three years old and ran until I was thirteen. I grew up watching it, and I loved it from start to finish! The gentle, caring ways of the Ingalls family were similar to what I was experiencing in my own home, but their many struggles modeled how to deal with adversity. I found that I was internalizing the powerful lessons taught by the show, and its uplifting messages helped me decide what kind of person I wanted to be. “Little House on the Prairie” was way ahead of its time, in that the show addressed so many significant societal issues such as poverty, child abuse, racism, prejudice, alcoholism, drug abuse, rape, and bullying. These issues are still so relevant today, which may be one of the many reasons why the show remains popular even now, forty-seven years later.
MM: How did you discover your talent for writing and how did you break into the industry?
AHM: I have enjoyed writing since I was old enough to do it. When I was in second grade, I would complete my classwork and then turn the paper over and use the blank back to write a story or poem. My teacher noticed this and encouraged my writing by getting me my very own notebook, just for my creations. The idea that my teacher thought my writing was important enough to have its own book made me feel so special! I decided then, at the age of 8, that I would someday be a published author. I continued to write as I grew up, and as a young adult, I began to submit my work for publication. I discovered what many writers do: It’s a tough industry to break into! For years, I pitched manuscripts of all kinds to dozens and dozens of publishing houses. I had no success, but I did accumulate a fine stack of rejection letters, all on high-quality stationery!
Just as I was about to go the self-publishing route (at age forty-three), I learned of an editor who had been in the publishing business for twenty-five years and was starting her own imprint within a larger house. She was interested in reading my work and accepted two of my children’s stories. “The Muddy Foot Prince” (2015) and “Bear Hugs & Sock Bugs: A Wacky and Wonderful Collection of Poems for Kids” (2016) were both published by Curly Q Press/Applewood Books. I was so proud that I had never given up on my dream, especially because holding that first picture book in my hands was the most amazing feeling! What was also amazing? I went back to my childhood elementary school as a visiting author, and my second-grade teacher came to see me!
MM: What inspired your book and how did you make the cast of the show aware of it?
AHM: I wrote the book during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. At that isolating time, I found myself reaching for things that made me happy. “Little House on the Prairie” is definitely on that list! As a writer, I really focused on the show’s scripts; its meaningful words are among the show’s greatest gifts to us. This focus confirmed what I’ve known for decades: Michael Landon was absolutely brilliant. He was an extremely gifted writer, actor, director, and producer who knew how to touch his audience by welcoming everyone into a world of faith, family, love, and hope. I also realized that the lessons I loved as a child struck me even more as I now watched the show with the eyes of a mom. I began to jot down things I wanted to remember in my parenting. Then it occurred to me that writing about my favorite show during such a scary time made me feel better. I wondered if other fans (and parents in general) might enjoy reading about the positive lessons and uplifting messages of Little House. This prompted me to write my thoughts in book form. As the project developed, I chose to create the book in honor of Michael Landon for the 30th anniversary of his passing, which is July 1. I also knew that I’d eventually want to share it with the Little House cast. Better yet, I wondered, would they have thoughts and memories to contribute? Thus began my mission to contact them and ask! I reached out to as many cast members as I could get ahold of via email, Facebook, Cameo, and through their agents or managers. Their warm, welcoming responses blew me away! What a very special group of people! Michael Landon truly created a family on the Little House set, and the cast members greet their fans with the same open arms.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the book and why?
AHM: Aside from all of the cast thoughts and memories (which are interspersed throughout the book), my favorite part is Chapter 3: “Black and White Are Just Two Colors,” which addresses racism and prejudice. These unbelievably important topics were revisited repeatedly over the course of Little House’s ten-year run. Possibly the most profound of these episodes is called “The Wisdom of Solomon,” in which a young black boy – the son of former slaves – runs away from his home on the plantation, because he wants to go to school. He expresses his belief that being black is what killed his father, and he challenges Charles (played by Michael Landon) to try to understand the great challenges that black people face.
The character of Solomon was played by the famous childhood actor, Todd Bridges. I interviewed Todd about this episode and about his experiences on the set, and his responses were passionate and heartfelt. Among his many quotes in my book is, “The family values are just wonderful in that show . . . The great part is how long ago we did it, and it’s so relevant today.”
This chapter is probably my favorite because the issues of racism and prejudice continue to harm our country and world, and this chapter speaks to the crucial need there is to change that. Todd said with great emotion, “We were trying to bring across in that show that people have to understand it doesn’t matter what color you are or where you’re from. What matters is that you have to learn not to judge people, not to hate people, but to just love them. If you can’t love them, then have understanding for people. We don’t know what people are going through or what they’re dealing with, but the bottom line is, this country has no place for racism.” I couldn’t agree with Todd more.
MM: Was it a challenge to write this book amid the pandemic?
AHM: This project was a God-send during the pandemic. It gave me a focus, something to be happy about . . . And as the book unfolded, it provided excitement as well as a feeling of accomplishment. Combining my love of writing with my love for Little House was so much fun!
MM: What is some of the best feedback you’ve gotten about this book thus far?
AHM: It’s been extremely gratifying to receive compliments about my work from members of the cast. They commented on how detailed and devoted my words are and how well I know my Little House episodes! I know they’re touched that fans like me feel so strongly about the importance of their show and its wonderful messages. It has also been terrific to announce the book on various Little House social media outlets and to have so many people respond with excited anticipation about reading it!
MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes might you like to explore in future works?
AHM: I’m writing a chapter book now titled “Proud to Be Sky McGee!” Telling the tales of a spunky fifth grader’s everyday challenges at school and at home, this book aims to empower young girls to be themselves and be happy making their own paths in life. My wonderful illustrator is the very talented Rachael Balsaitis.
I’m excited about a picture book I’ve completed called “Crabby Abby,” which addresses ADHD and can help children who struggle with it to understand that ADHD isn’t a choice and isn’t their fault. This book is a great tool that families can use to explain ADHD upon receiving the diagnosis, and it also includes checklists and helpful strategies for everyday organization. I’m currently seeking the right publishing house for Crabby Abby to call “home.” Its vibrant illustrations were done by Michael Schweitzer, who really brought the characters to life!
In 2020, I published “MOTHERHOOD: Insert Humor Here: The Infant and Toddler Years.” A combination of anecdotal tales and healthful tips provided by my pediatrician husband, this parenting book sends the message “You aren’t alone.” This parenting gig can be tough, and it’s important to remember that others are going through the same crazy things too! I’m now writing two sequels: “MOTHERHOOD: Insert Humor Here: The School Age Years” and “MOTHERHOOD: Insert Humor Here: The Teenage Years.”
All of my writing tends to lean toward making people feel loved, special and important. Mental health issues being what they are, I want to continue to explore projects that will lift my readers up, bringing them both pride and peace.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
AHM: In the near future, I would love gain representation from a literary agent! I also look forward to being able to visit elementary schools and do speaking events again, once we are in a safe position from the pandemic. Ultimately, my goals for the future are to be the best mom I possibly can, the best writer I possibly can, and the best me I possibly can. I hope to be able to touch the world in a positive way with my writing … and while I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind if one of my books becomes a bestseller!
For more information about Alicia Hogan Murphy and her previously published works, visit her website at www.AliciaMurphyBooks.com.