The Association for Library Service to Children—part of the American Library Association—has decided to take Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name off a prize for children’s literature, citing “stereotypical attitudes” in her work.
The Associated Press reported on the move. The group explained in a statement on their website that, “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.” It’s not just the Manifest Destiny—in case you haven’t revisited lately, a piece at the Washington Post on the change provides some examples:
The book includes multiple statements from characters saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” In 1998, an 8-year-old girl on the Upper Sioux Reservation was so disturbed after hearing her teacher read the statement aloud in class that she went home crying, leading her mother to unsuccessfully petition the school district to ban the book from its curriculum.
Elsewhere in the book, Osage tribe members are sometimes depicted as animalistic, notes the critic Philip Heldrich: In one scene, Wilder describes them as wearing a “leather thong” with “the furry skin of a small animal” hanging down in front, making “harsh sounds” and having “bold and fierce” faces with “black eyes.” Although Laura’s father espouses a more tolerant view of Native Americans, his description of a “good Indian” is one who is “no common trash.”
It is now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, which “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 through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences.” This year’s winner is Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming.
The move is part of a broader critical reevaluation of Wilder’s work that makes it harder to brush the historical facts of the homesteading era under the proverbial rug. This year Caroline Fraser won a Pulitzer for her fantastic biography of the author, Prairie Fires, which ought to be required reading for any adult with kids who’re going to encounter the Little House books.