(Not So Little) Controversy on the Prairie

The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, has voted to remove author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from the award the previously carried it. The award will now be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, though it was established in 1954 as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. From NPR:

An illustration by Helen Sewell from one of the first Little House books, published in the 1930s.

Wilder, who wrote the Little House book series, was the first recipient of the award, which was established in 1954 and intended to honor books published in the U.S. that have had a big impact on children’s literature.

The Little House series was based on Wilder’s own life and told the story of the Ingalls family as it moved around the Great Plains in the 19th century. While many of the Little House books became widely read, critics said her work included many stereotypical and reductive depictions of Native Americans and people of color.

In 1935’s Little House on the Prairie, for example, Wilder described one setting as a place where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” That description was changed in later editions of the book. And multiple characters in the Little House series intone that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

The organization had been talking about removing Wilder’s name from the award since earlier this year, stating that the author’s legacy “may no longer be consistent with the intention of the award named for her.”

Not everyone agrees.

… some Wilder scholars say the author’s work shouldn’t be downplayed. Instead, they say, it should be scrutinized — and taken as an opportunity to inform children of the context surrounding it.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association released a statement defending Wilder’s work, saying that while her writing included “the perspectives of racism that were representative of her time and place,” it also made “positive contributions to children’s literature”:

“We believe it is not beneficial to the body of literature to sweep away her name as though the perspectives in her books never existed. Those perspectives are teaching moments to show generations to come how the past was and how we, as a society, must move forward with a more inclusive and diverse perspective.”

The full piece is here.

News Reporter

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