Dalton Trumbo adapted the novel by George Victor Martin about two young children in a farming community in Wisconsin.
Selma Jacobson (Margaret O'Brien) kills a squirrel with a rock and cries. She and Arnold Hanson (Butch Jenkins) get in the car with Nels Halverson (James Craig), who gives the new schoolteacher Viola Johnson (Frances Gifford) a ride. Martinius Jacobson (Edward G. Robinson) gives Selma a calf. Viola urges touched Ingeborg Jensen (Dorothy Morris) to go to school and paint her visions, but her father won't let her. Martinius and Selma visit Bjorn Bjornson (Morris Carnovsky) to see his new barn. Selma says she will pray for Martinius to have a new barn. Bruna Jacobson (Agnes Moorehead) says that Martinius would have to work harder. Selma and Arnold quarrel over her new skates. She refuses to give him a turn, and Martinius makes her give Arnold the skates. Before dawn Martinius takes Selma to see the circus and pays $4 to have the elephant brought out; Selma rides on the trunk. Viola teaches school and says they should not laugh at Ingeborg. Arnold has to stay outside because he is too young. Martinius says they are making money and that Selma earned $4.16 harvesting potatoes. Nels and Viola observe Ingeborg's funeral and discuss tolerance. He wants to marry her, but she does not want to live in a small town. Nels says he is going into the army.
In the winter Martinius takes Selma and Arnold to town in a sleigh. Selma orders presents for her parents from Nels. He and Viola asks Selma to read a story at the Christmas celebration, and she recites from memory the story of Jesus' birth. The choir sings "Joy to the World." Selma gives her father a jackknife and her mother a lamp, and she gets a coat. People come over, and Arnold brings the skates. Martinius says the bank is helping him to put up a new barn. Nels invites Viola to dinner and a show. He is in the army, and she is leaving at the end of the term. Arnold and Selma use the bath tub to play boat and float into a stream. Martinius looks for them in the flooded area. Men wait for them at the bridge and rescue them.
In the spring Selma and Arnold collect nests. Martinius tries to explain to them why Nels is going to fight to preserve peace. During a thunderstorm Bjornson's barn burns as he tries to save some animals and shoots the cattle. Martinius helps shoot the cattle. Mrs. Bjornson says they have no insurance. Martinius tells Bruna he is going to fix up the house instead of getting a new barn. At church Editor Nels quotes from his father's 1907 editorial about helping each other, and they collect money for Bjornson. Selma offers her calf, and others promise gifts too. Viola tells Nels that she wants to stay in the town, and he kisses her, glad that she will run the newspaper while he is gone. Amid blossoms Martinius tells Selma that they are all growing.
The charm of simple rural living is portrayed as the
characters learn various lessons about getting along with each
other and appreciating values that will last.