Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name will be removed from an award because of her portrayal of minorities in her “Little House on the Praire” novels.
The American Library Association voted unanimously Saturday to remove Wilder’s name from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and instead call it the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, the New York Daily News reported.
“This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,” the Association for Library Service to Children said in a statement.
“Changing the name of the award should not be viewed as an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access to Wilder’s books and materials, but rather as an effort to align the award’s title with ALSC’s core values. This change should not be viewed as a call for readers to change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books. Updating the award’s name should not be construed as censorship, as we are not demanding that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children. We hope adults think critically about Wilder’s books and the discussions that can take place around them.”
The former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children,” according to the ALA website.
The group first announced its intentions to re-examine the award in February because Wilder’s legacy “may no longer be consistent with the intention of the award named for her.”
“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,” the ALA website read.
Wilder was born in 1867 in Wisconsin and published her first book “The Little House in the Big Woods” in 1932. The novel tells the story of 5-year-old Laura and her family’s pioneer life in the west.
Wilder was presented with the first award named for her in 1954. It was then presented every five years from 1960 to 1980, every three years from 1980 to 2001, every two years between 2001 and 2015, and has since been presented every year.
The racial dilemmas in the book have long been debated, especially the novel’s portrayal of Native Americans. The Washinton Post told the story of an 8-year-old girl in 1998 who cried while listening to her teacher read from the book.
The girl lived on the Upper Sioux Reservation of southwestern Minnesota and came home from school in tears after hearing the slur, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association responded to the vote on Sunday.
“We stand by our board’s consensus position that the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, though encumbered with the perspectives of racism that were representative of her time and place, also includes overwhelmingly positive contributions to children’s literature that have touched generations past and will reach into the future,” the LIWLRA Board said.
“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.”
James M. Noonan, a research affiliate with the Justice In Schools project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote on the school’s website about reading Wilder’s books to his 3-year-old daughter and how he is juggling the controversial issues.
“It would be easy to take these books off the shelf, to say that they – like many books of their time – were steeped in white supremacy and racism and therefore they do not belong in our canon. It would also be easy to read all of the pages full of wonder and wild adventure and a family’s love and skip over the parts that inconveniently don’t fit that narrative. Instead, I am trying a middle path.”
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