from: Little House on the Prairie
written by Laura Ingalls Wilder
illustrated by Garth Williams
HarperCollins, 1935 text (illus. copyright 1953)
When my girls and I were still reading stories together, one time, we chose Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The story was engaging, the characters were interesting, and the setting … it felt like we were right there on the prairie with Pa and Ma and the girls.
Although five of Mrs. Wilder’s books won Newbery honor awards in the 1940s and 50s, Little House was not one of them. In 1954, though, she was honored by the Services to Children division of the American Library Association with a named award for the body of her work. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award recognizes an author’s lasting and substantial contribution to children’s literature.
On Monday, last week, during the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, a name change was voted in. The Board of the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award.
For anyone who thinks the decision for the name change is an attempt to discredit Mrs. Wilder or her legacy or is curious, here’s what I found.
Her books are not being censored. They are a product of the time in which she lived. Just like Mark Twain’s racism has been called out, so has Laura Ingalls Wilder’s.
Taken and taught or discussed in their historical context is crucial to defining how we see ourselves today. Recognizing the bigotry proves we are moving, however slowly, in the right direction.
Regarding the name change, the ALSC states: While we are committed to preserving access to Wilder’s work for readers, we must also consider if her legacy today does justice to this particular award for lifetime achievement, given by an organization committed to all children. http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants
ALSC recognizes the author’s legacy is complex and Wilder’s work is not universally embraced. Mrs. Wilder’s body of work continues to be a focus of scholarship and literary analysis, which often brings to light anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments in her work.
Again, according to their website: ALSC works to promote excellence in literature for children that aligns with our core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness . . .
ALA President Jim Neal and ALSC President Nina Lindsay released the following joint statement: …“This decision was made after much consideration and fact-finding. It is one that we believe serves the best interests of ALSC and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but also in the long-term.”
When I checked my library’s website, I found a copy of Little House on the Prairie on the shelf of my local branch. I waited a day, which turned out to be a day too late. When I got there, I found a long hole where all of the Wilder books had been. Oh, but this is the library. The children’s librarian told me a digital copy was available. So when I got home, I tried that angle only to be disappointed again. In just the short time it took to walk home and fire up my iPad, no available copies, again. Well, I have Libby downloaded from my library’s website and I can add lots of library cards to my record. Turns out I have lots of library cards. I downloaded a copy from CleveNet and started reading.
I found the prejudice and ugly passages, but I found child-friendly descriptive passages of real fear and its resolution. I found beautiful descriptions of the wild scenery and cooking smells and sounds of fiddles and laughter.
I’m sure, for those reasons and many others, the Little House books have found their place in history. They teach lessons of love and acceptance, if we choose to read them in their context and ours.
I’m glad I took the time to re-read one of them.