The name change was made, according to this document from then ALSC President Nina Lindsay to the group’s board of directors, because “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books (the Little House on the Prairie series) reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced.”
My mind fixes on “not universally embraced” over the words “racist” and “anti-Native,” since those two elements would preclude the approval, and I ask myself, So is that what this is all about? Being approved by all? No dissension? No variety of opinion? No provocation?
Wouldn’t that make for boring reading?
Diversity in literature is what I would rather see. Latino perspectives. Native perspectives. African perspectives. European perspectives. Historical perspectives. Contemporary perspectives. I want to read it all.
And I would think the ALSC does, too. Here’s what Lindsay wrote in a bio on the organization’s website, “At its best, the public library enables a freedom of the mind that is foundational to social equity.” Sounds like an open and appreciative mind. Sounds like someone who values all perspectives.
So why the snub to Wilder? Why deny inclusion to Wilder? Because someone somewhere disagrees with her perspective? Because someone somewhere in the universe doesn’t embrace her?
If the ALSC wishes to honor only an author who is universally embraced, well, no thank you. And good luck finding one.
Even though it’s been a few months since the ALSC changed the name of its award, I’m still mulling it over. Leave a comment with your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for reading!
“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.
‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.
They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”
I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little Housebooks. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.
Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.
The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.
Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.
Until last week.
That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.
Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.
Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”
She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”
To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”
After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.
And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.
It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.
But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”
Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.
Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:
Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.
In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in.
“She can’t keep going, but she does. She and the fire column in movement, she forward. It spins upward a hallucinatory dance. The neighbor and her children have forgotten motion; their screams have left them behind
the tin ceiling
Did she take note here?
This is the moment my life changes. I can’t finish the dishes, wash my unmentionables, get dinner ready for Dirk and the children before it’s too late. It’s going to happen. It’s happening now.”
This is an excerpt from “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” one of nineteen chapters from Kin Types, a 30-page book of prose and poems by author and fellow blogger Luanne Castle. Follow her blogs here: The Family Kalamazoo and Entering the Pale.
With Kin Types, Castle enters the lives of her ancestors by exploring their pasts through genealogy and the family stories, photographs, and ephemera that reveal that genealogy. Just take a look at Luanne’s blogs to see her comprehensive family explorations.
However, because the past is often defined by what little we know of our ancestors, that knowledge can be scanty. That’s my situation.
So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project about a 1930 barnstorming airplane crash that killed my grandmother’s two younger brothers. (Read this post for more about the accident.)
All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.
Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.
If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others may find it more easily. Follow this blog for more articles and updates on my project regarding the 1930 airplane crash. If you are a middle school teacher, check out my teaching blog.
Here’s a list of books I have read off and on over the past year or so… all of which were excellent distractions from the writing I should have been doing. I have a hard time reading and writing simultaneously. I’m either reading all the time, or writing all the time.
These books are listed in no particular order. You can see that my interests are far-reaching. I can read about a TV sitcom one week, and ISIS the next. As a result, I know a little bit about a lot of things. It’s just who I am and I’ve come to accept it.
You Look Like That Girl by Lisa Jakub… memoir by former actress (she played the oldest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire, among other films); Jakub now gives workshops and blogs about “embracing your weird” from her home base in North Carolina. Totally fun and real.
The Politics of Washing by Polly Coles… an account by a British woman who is married to an Italian, who moves her family to Venice; the book tells of her experiences living an ordinary life in one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Read my review of this book here.
Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick… Discusses the roots of ISIS, including its original founders and followers. Especially focuses on the influences made on the group by the Jordanian al-Zarqawi (Al Qaeda of Iraq) and later al-Baghdadi, who founded the Islamic State of Iraq. This book was difficult to read in many ways, but it was a thorough and comprehensive background of radical Islamic terrorism.
Deep Down Dark by Hector Toban (The 33 Chilean Miners)… I read this after seeing the movie, 33. Couldn’t put it down. A truly miraculous story about the miners, their families, and the aftermath of their survival.
The Revenant by Michael Punke… I also read this book after seeing the movie. All I can say is “Wow” when I think about the creative license that was taken with Punke’s original story. It was, however, interesting to consider the story-telling liberties that are apparently made to transform a piece of literature into a motion picture.