The Ingalls family are pioneers who are starting a new life as founding members of a community of settlers on the plains of Dakota. Their land claim is now a small house that their hard-working Pa has built himself, and there is always too much work to do in order to keep the farm going. Because the Ingalls clan arrived sooner than most of their neighbors they are also a year ahead of everyone else when it comes to plowing, planting and growing. Laura especially loves to work outside and her jobs include teaching the calf to drink for himself, away from his mother, and collecting the corn. She also loves being outside because she does not have to wear the restrictive corsets that she hates whilst she is doing farm work. Her older sister, Mary, who is blind, helps with sewing but still enjoys the beauty of the outdoors through the long walk she and Laura take every day, with Laura describing everything in great detail and Mary getting her bearings via her sense of smell and hearing.
One morning Pa wakes from a dream where someone was cutting his hair whilst he slept. It turns out not to have been a dream as mice really have been gnawing at his hair and now he has a bald patch. The same evening Pa brings home a kitten who will be a mouser when she grows up. The kitten is bold and has a natural talent for overpowering mice. It becomes a standing joke that although she adores all the Ingalls she hates everyone else.
Pa secures Laura a job as an assistant seamstress in town; Mrs Clancy has hit on the idea of making shirts to order for the flood of pioneers, prospectors and other businesses coming into town. Laura really does not want to work in town; she misses the open space and she hates the smells there. She also hates sewing, although she is good at it, and quick too. She realizes that it will be a way to earn extra money for the family and also will hopefully make it financially possible for Mary to go away to a special college for the blind located in Iowa. Not for the last time, Laura pushes her own feelings aside and does what is best for her siblings. The job is tiring, although she enjoys watching the comings and goings from the saloon across the street from the sewing store. They are kept very busy until trade gets slower as every man who needs shirts already has them now; Laura is let go but has earned nine dollars. It is put in Mary's college fund.
Speing gives way to summer with new crops and a brood of chicks; the Fourth of July celebrations in town are a little last minute in their organization but the town leaders vow to do something bigger the following year when there are more folk helping. After enjoying cold lemonade Laura and Carrie go to the racetrack with Pa where they love to see the carriage races. Laura's favorite horses are owned by Almanzo Wildet, but she does not think they will win the race as their cart seems so much heavier than all of the others. Although they lumber along at the back for a while they gradually build momentum, charging past the rest of the field to win the race.
Later in the summer Laura is collecting corn when she notices much of the crop the been stripped already. She notices a large flock of blackbirds and realizes they are responsible for this, so she fetches Ma and Carrie and thru all try to flap at the birds to make them go away. It is a temporary solution because the next day the majority of the corn is stripped. When Laura tries scaring the birds off again they try to dive at her aggressively. Pa fetches his shotgun and shoots the predatory birds. They are all despondent about the lost crop but Ma surprises them with a beautiful pie that evening; the family feast on steaming hot blackbird pie, which they all agree to be the juiciest and most delicious meat they have ever tasted.
Although money is lost with the loss of the corn crop, it is decided that there is still enough money for Mary to go to college. Laura and Ma lovingly sew Mary's entire wardrobe and make her a beautiful brown dress for "best". Although Laura is excited that her sister is going away to study she is sad that it means she won't be at home anymore. On the day Mary leaves with her parents, Laura notices Carrie Nd Grace getting tearful and distraught and so decides to direct their emotions into cleaning the house from top to bottom so that Ma won't have to do this when she gets home. They do an amazing job despite Grace being more of a hinderance than a help, and despite leaving the bedding outside to air only to have it drenched in a sudden surprise downpour. When Ma returns she is overwhelmed and delighted with their thoughtfulness.
As summer ends, school begins. The older boys are still helping with the harvest so won't attend until January, but Laura and Carrie are pleased to see some girls they already know at the schoolhouse that first morning. Laura selects a double desk at the back of the room and is happy to share it with Ida Wrigjt, the adopted daughter of their pastor and his wife. As class is starting, the door swings open and a latecomer arrives. Laura is shocked to see Nellie Oleson, a stuck-up and spiteful girl from back in Plum Creek, Minnesota, waltz in, still full of airs and graces. Nellie tells Mary Power to move seats as Nellie wants her seat. Miss Wilder, their new teacher, allows this, which Laura believes to be a mistake. Laura is a good student who is studying hard so that when she is sixteen she can get her teachers' certificate and teach school herself. Nellie is less concerned with study and more concerned about becoming teacher's pet. As a result Miss Wilder begins listening to Nellie's nasty gossip and starts to pick on Laura and Carrie.
Laura is dismayed to learn that the family will all move into town for the winter; the house simply isn't prepared for keeping them warm enough during the expected winter blizzard. As she is helping to pack up their belongings, Laura finds a beautiful book of Tennyson's poems hidden in her mother's drawer. She begins to read it at first but shuts it up quickly when she realizes it must be her Christmas gift and she does not want to spoil the surprise.
Miss Wilder continues to single out Laura and Carrie for admonishment. One day when Carrie and her friend are accidentally rocking their desk backwards and forwards as they study she gets angry and punishes Carrie by making her rock the bench on her own, continually. Carrie is a sickly child and Laura can see the punishment is taking its toll on her physically so she asks Miss Wilder to let her take Carrie's place. Laura is so angry with Miss Wilder that the rocks the desk off its hinges. Both she and Carrie are sent home from school. When she explains what happened Pa is not angry and says they should go back to school the next day and act as though nothing has happenned. When they do, the entire class is on their side except for Nellie who looks both surprised and disappointed to see them. Pa pays a surprise visit to the schoolhouse as he is a member of the a hoop board. After he and a fellow board member watch the class and talk to the children they realize that the fault is actually with Miss Wilder and she is replaced after the Christmas break.
Laura and her friends love to collect verses and signatures from their friends in their autograph books but Nellie informs them that autograph books are passé, and that the new thing is name cards. She claims to already have these but never brings them to school. Mary Power goes to the printer in town and picks out some for herself; they are pretty, with colored edging and a flower motif underneath her printed name. Nellie eventually remembers to bring hers to school and she and Mary exchange them. Knowing that money is right Laura does not mention the cards to her parents, but they surprise her by suggesting she gets some too. She is allowed to skip chores that evening and goes straight to the printer after supper, picking out plain cards with her name printed in ornate calligraphic script. She picks them up before school that week and when she leaves the printer she finds Almanzo Wilder with his beautiful horses outside. He offers her a ride to school, which she accepts, and she also gets to exchange her first name card, giving him one of hers. Nellie's face is a thundercloud as Laura arrives by carriage that day.
Mary Power and Laura decide to attend the Sociable at the church that weekend. It is not a successful plan as they are the only young people there and find the event quiet and boring, although the food is good. Laura is starting to feel hemmed in by the town and by studying hard, her frustration making her peevish. Fortunately, Pa brings news of a new Literary Society that will be holding events for all every Saturday evening. After her experience at the Sociable, Laura is not overly optimistic about the prospect of the Literary but it is tremendously fun. The adults and children compete in a spelling bee on the first gathering. Laura is a great speller and leads Pa's team to victory. The following week, two of the town's prominent lawyers lead a debate, and there is music and performance at subsequent gatherings. The final literary involves a minstrel show and although he never admits it, the Ingalls women realize that Pa was one of the performers.
Thanksgivibg does not seem the same without Mary and instead of a family meal the Ingalls attend a pig roast in town. There is so much food as everyone has brought lots of dishes to share, but as Laura has helped Ida with serving and doing dishes she misses our on alot of it. These occasions always make Mary's absence more difficult.
Laura's school friend. Ben Woodworth, has a birthday party at his house, which is large and beautifully decorated. Dinner is a seated affair and very fun. After they eat everyone watches Ben's father demonstrate the electricity he has just gotten; the trouble is nobody, including Mr Woodworth, really knows what it is for.
As spring comes around again the Ingalls family head back to the farmhouse it had not been a harsh winter at all, but there is a surprise for them in April when there is a blizzard. Mother Nature delights in unpredictability, particularly on the Dakota plains.
There is a Revival at church all week so everyone in town attends. Every Revival is crowded which Laura finds overwhelming. Trying to move towards the door with her family she finds that Almanzo Wilder is waiting for her and asks permission to walk her home. Although she is unsure why he wants to she accepts. He walks her home every night after Revival.
Laura has been asked to take on the role of reciting the entire history of the nation at the School Exhibition; this is basically an opportunity for the school board to showcase the school and to hopefully make it possible to draw in money for a second teacher so that the older and younger children can be separated by age into two classes. Laura is incredibly nervous but performs well and as she sits afterwards there is thunderous applause. That week, the Ingalls have a visitor; another member of the education board tells Pa there is an opening for a teacher in a town nine miles away and they would like Laura to take her teaching certificate early and full it. They will look the other way when it comes to her age - she is fifteen, and supposed to be sixteen before taking the examination. Laura does not really want to take the position as she will have to live away from home whilst she works, but she also knows that a steady wage like this would enable Mary to stay in college even if finances become tight, so she takes the exam, and passes, gaining her teaching certificate. Laura asks Pa if he believes she is up to the task and he tells her that yes, he believes she is ready.