Boy Life on the Prairie was first published in 1899, some eighteen years before the appearance of Hamlin Garland’s A Son of the Middle Border. The broad scope of the latter book, as B. R. McElderry, Jr., tells us in the introduction to this new edition of Boy Life, has overshadowed the “earlier and better book of reminiscence dealing specifically with Garland’s boyhood experiences on an Iowa farm from 1869 to about 1881. When he wrote Boy Life on the Prairie Garland was much closer to the subject than he was in 1917, and he had the advantage of a more restricted aim: to tell directly and specifically what it was like to grow up in northeast Iowa in the years just after the Civil War. It may safely be said that no one else has given so clear and informative an account. When one considers other accounts of boyhood in nineteenth-century America—those of Aldrich, Clemens, Warner, and Howells, for example—one is impressed with the thoroughness and precision of Garland’s book. Aside from Main-Travelled Roads, Boy Life, is probably the best single book that Garland ever wrote.”
The Bison Book edition is the first in more than fifty years to reproduce in full the 1899 text. It also includes an introduction addressed “To My Young Readers” and the “Author’s Notes” which appeared in the 1926 edition published by Allyn & Bacon. The forty-seven line drawings and six full-page illustrations by E. W. Deming are reproduced from the 1899 edition. In his introduction, Dr. McElderry provides a thorough and interesting analysis of Boy Life and compares it with the sketches written in 1888 which were Garland’s first attempt at reminiscence, as well as with A Son of the Middle Border.