Everyone in Walnut Grove is excited about the upcoming 100th birthday of the United States of America, and to commemmorate the occasion, the town is planning a community picnic, complete with games, fireworks, and a brand-new flagpole made by Yuli Pyatakov, a Russian immigrant who has moved to Walnut Grove with his wife and young son. Unfortunately, almost everyone’s spirits plummet in the wake of a drastic tax increase, which creates problems for hard-working families like the Ingalls. Charles joins several other adults in his anger toward America, but it all becomes quite trivial when a special friend–whose trials are even greater than anything that the rest of the town can even imagine–reminds them what life is like outside of America’s little corner of the world.
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When the mill closes due to bankruptcy, Charles loses out on two months worth of crucial wages that would have officially cleared his account at the mercantile. With a large bill left unpaid and Harriet Oleson spreading rumors about the Ingalls' financial issues, Charles takes on several odd jobs at once. Mary quits school temporarily to work overtime with seamstress Mrs. Whipple, while Laura does all the chores and assists Caroline with the crops. Despite physical exhaustion and cruel treatment from certain community members, can this family pull together in such a trying time?
As Mary's normally sparkling grades start to plummet, everyone is oblivious to the real problem until Charles realizes that she cannot read from far distances. Mary is initially thrilled when Charles buys her very first pair of glasses, and she quickly rises back to the top of her class, but this excitement is spoiled when schoolmates begin to tease her. Overwhelmed by the hurtful comments, Mary finds a way to "lose" her glasses, but her eyesight is not something she can afford to make her own choice about, and it's going to take some extra effort to give her a change of heart.
When Walnut Grove builds its very first bank, the cold and heartless Mr. Sprague settles in to run it. Charles tries to get on the man's good side right off the bat, but Mr. Sprague has been in the banking business long enough to sniff out these kinds of things, and after refusing to take the bait, he proceeds to turn Charles down flat when he requests an important loan. Meanwhile, Laura forms an unlikely bond with Mr. Sprague at the fishing hole, and against all odds, the two remain blatantly unaware of each other's identity--that is, until fate takes a turn and puts this budding friendship to a harsh test.
Laura goes into a haunted house when Nellie dares her to do it. She becomes a friend of the old man that lives there, Mr. Pike. She finds out that he is waiting for his wife to return. After Laura learns that Mrs. Pike died years ago, she helps Mr. Pike cope with the death of his wife.
Laura and Grace Snider are both in low spirits when they are left with no dates for the spring dance. Feeling that Grace is underappreciated by Isaiah Edwards, Caroline uses memories of her courtship with Charles to provide her friend with strategies to make Isaiah jealous. Laura overhears their conversation and applies it to her own experiences-- so while Grace devotes her time to "wooing" Doc Baker, Laura poses as Willie Oleson's girlfriend to earn the attention of a boy at school. When their ruthless attempts backfire and the dance draws nearer, Caroline comes up with an idea that just might work better.
It's time to play ball in Walnut Grove! After losing badly the previous year, the team knows that they need to find a more reliable pitcher than Nels Oleson, and Mr. Mumford's golden arm seems to be heaven sent as he is immediately placed on the team. Everything is going beautifully until Walnut Grove becomes overly confident of their ability to win it all, and bets are made, prompting Mr. Mumford's no-nonsense wife to forbid letting him play amidst such silly gambling. She is a woman who fiercely holds her ground with this, but Mr. Mumford is a talent that the team cannot afford to lose, so they must pull together to make the betting concept seem more appealing to Mrs. Mumford.
When Ms. Beadle assigns a leaf-gathering project to her students, Mary and Laura are excited to find all kinds of unique leaves on an upcoming camping trip with the family. Determined to see her own children receive equal opportunities, Harriet convinces her husband to let their famile tag along with the Ingalls'. Although the two families have a difficult time adjusting to this extended period of time together, they gradually come to have a deeper respect for one another--but that doesn't mean that Nellie, Willie, and Harriet won't be traveling home with a less-than-desirable surprise.
After Doc Baker gives ailing widow Julia Sanderson a disheartening health prognosis, the woman scrambles to find a home for her three young children. She enlists Charles' help to find just the right couple, and when it appears that she will not survive long enough to finish the job, Julia asks Charles to make the final decision. Meanwhile, Mary and Laura, who rescued some newborn puppies after someone dumped them in the creek, have a responsibility of their own: to find adequate homes for the three adorable pups.
Immediately following Julia's emotional funeral, Charles begins working to honor her final request. As John, Carl, and Alicia board temporarily with Mr. Edwards and Grace, Charles is approached by a few potential adoptive parents, and he is opposed by many--including his cherished daughter Laura--when he makes a controversial decision about the children's futures.
While fishing in a stream, Laura and a friend discover something shiny in the water. Believing that it is gold, Laura and Jonah take many secret trips to this spot to gather it all. Laura fantasizes about all the wonderful things she can afford for her family, but when she and Jonah haul their findings to the bank, they are both heartbroken and humiliated to learn that it is only "fool's gold." Laura feels that she has disappointed the people she loves, but Charles has an important lesson to teach her about what he and Caroline really value in their children.
Reverend Alden's birthday is coming up, and the Sunday School children have raised enough money to purchase a gift. School treasurer Mary is elected to order the gift and present it to the Reverend, but with only $1.67 to spend, it's obvious that they can't afford anything fancy...until Laura coaxes Mary into taking a dangerous gamble to double the money.
Isaiah and Grace Edwards are both delighted with their new family, but trouble soon begins between Isaiah and his oldest adopted son John. Isaiah does not understand the boy's interest in books and poetry, and he would much prefer a son with whom he could farm and hunt. That clearly is not the kind of life John enjoys, but Isaiah keeps pushing it, and when the two go on a hunting trip together, the unthinkable occurs, placing their entire relationship on the line.
Nellie and Laura both begin clamoring for the affections of a boy at school. Angered when Jason indicates a preference for Laura over her, Nellie attempts to sabotage their relationship by using her brand-new talking machine as a malicious tool for blackmail.
Mary is thrilled to learn that she has qualified for a state-wide mathematics competition, but the excitement is halted when Charles cannot afford the expenses for the trip. When Mary silently forfeits, the school board recognizes the problem (with a little heads-up from Laura, that is) and agrees to finance the whole thing. Caroline accompanies Mary on the trip, while Laura steps in at home to care for both Charles and Carrie. Mary laments over her success in the competition, and little Laura struggles with feelings of inadequacy against her older sister, but everyone is about to learn the value of pulling it together and doing their very best.
Caroline decides to stay home while Charles takes the girls on a trip, but this rare alone time is aggravated when a minor scratch on her leg flares into a major infection. Alone and with no immediate help available, a fiercely ill Caroline turns to the Bible for comfort-- only to stumble upon the words "And if thy leg offends thee, cut it off...." Caroline is close to death when Charles finally gets home to her, and in the wake of this terrifying event, the family realizes--more than ever--the invaluable role of this beloved wife and mother in their lives.
Mary, Laura, and Mr. Edwards' adopted son Carl long to get a first-hand look at the kinds of trains they learn about in school, but accompanying their fathers on an upcoming business trip would mean missing school for a day. The kids eventually con their parents into letting them go, and when everything is finally settled, the five of them head off on their way. While messing around on a caboose at the train station, the children are in for the ride of their lives when it detaches from the rest of the train and runs loose. With the caboose going increasingly faster, and another train coming full-speed in the opposite direction, it's up to Charles and Mr. Edwards to save their children.
Despite Miss Beadle's continued kindness and effective teaching, the school board calls an emergency meeting as her deteriorating classroom management hits an all-time low. It is agreed that a male teacher will be hired in her place, but the mean-spirited Mr. Applewood immediately clashes with Laura, blaming her unfairly for several incidents in the classroom. The situation flares out of control, resulting in Laura's shocking expulsion, and when Mr. Applewood's true colors are revealed to the school board, they are prompted to re-evaluate their decision.
Charles, Mr. Edwards, and two other men take a job that involves handling and transporting explosives. They must deal with many things along the road, including prejudice.
When Charles agrees to do some handy work for Widow Thurman, he forfeits any monetary compensation and works instead for Thurman's old china set--a gift that he knows Caroline would love. This does require some sneakiness on Charles' part, and as he spends increasing amounts of time at Widow Thurman's house, Mary and Laura are concerned. While Caroline struggles to maintain trust in her husband, Mrs. Oleson offers her own unsettling suspicions, but everyone gets a big surprise when Charles returns home with a special delivery.
Everyone in Walnut Grove is excited about the upcoming 100th birthday of the United States of America, and to commemmorate the occasion, the town is planning a community picnic, complete with games, fireworks, and a brand-new flagpole made by Yuli Pyatakov, a Russian immigrant who has moved to Walnut Grove with his wife and young son. Unfortunately, almost everyone's spirits plummet in the wake of a drastic tax increase, which creates problems for hard-working families like the Ingalls. Charles joins several other adults in his anger toward America, but it all becomes quite trivial when a special friend--whose trials are even greater than anything that the rest of the town can even imagine--reminds them what life is like outside of America's little corner of the world.
Mrs. Whipple is beside herself with excitement when her only son returns home. After fighting in the Civil War, Granville does his best to re-adjust to the outside world, but with so much emotional trauma to deal with, he tries to avoid it, which affects more than just himself.
Feeling pleased and hopeful about the success of his current crop, Charles and his family must confront serious devastation when it is completely destroyed by a tornado. Never one to get discouraged and throw in the towel after facing adversity, Charles stuns his wife and children with his reaction to this loss, and he makes a life-changing decision without consulting them first.