Mary and Laura start school. Mary, always the good student, is anxious to go, but Laura isn't all too keen on attending. It doesn't help that the "city girl" Nellie is such a snob, but this is only the first of many times Nellie and Willie will make the Ingalls' girls lives miserable throughout the years.
When the children are asked to write an essay, Nellie chooses to write about how rich they are and how expensive everything they own is as Mrs. Oleson beams from the audience (Mr. Oleson shrinks in his seat at the bragging). But Laura steals the show when she gives an eloquent, heartfelt speech about her mother. When Ma Ingalls figures out Laura could not have possibly put those words to paper, she asks to see the essay and Laura sheepishly hands it over. She is forced to show the paper to Miss Beadle, who had raved about the speech. When she sees what is actually written on the paper, her only comment is - oh yes, Laura is doing much better with her penmanship, i.e. letting Mrs. Ingalls know the essay was still wonderful regardless of whether it was written or spoken from the heart.