Laura Ingalls Wilder Award – when is it censorship?

Awards, Banned and Challenged Books, Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: James LaRue, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Readers’ relationships with famous authors can be deeply personal and complicated.

Take that sly and subversive Mr. Clemens. One of the most challenged books in library history has been The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Challenges usually focus on the book’s so-called coarse language and uncouth characters.

In one recent case, a woman’s son was almost the only person of color in his middle school English class, and found it deeply painful to listen to his fellow students read the N-word aloud. His mother demanded the removal of the book from the curriculum.

A reporter asked me, “Don’t you think that the mother had a point?” I did. Even if the book were required reading, it was insensitive to make those students read it out loud. Huck Finn is a classic; it’s not the last book written about race in America. It could be paired with a modern book by a black author. The answer isn’t fewer books; it’s more books. Opposition to censorship isn’t an endorsement of public humiliation.

On the other hand, having these awkward and painful encounters with books is how we learn to read critically, to recognize that mores and social attitudes change over time, that authors are from and reflect their eras. That’s a good reason to keep their books around, even beyond their intrinsic literary merit.

Moreover, it would be a profound misrepresentation to summarize Twain’s works as pervasively racist. That tactic — diminishing a work to a few passages and a false narrative — is used too often by would-be censors. Beloved has too much sex in it! The Hate U Give is all about swearing. Works need to be taken in their entirety, and in context.

And that brings us to Laura Ingalls Wilder (LIW).

The works of Laura Ingalls Wilder were and continue to be much loved. I’ve even spoken with a Native American woman who treasured the Little House books as a child, if only because they reflected her own natural environment. But then she ran across “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and similar statements. Those scenes make modern readers wince. But some folks wince more than others. Many of Wilder’s readers were not offended by those passages, mostly because these scenes simply weren’t about them. (For an eye-opening read about the real background of Wilder’s times and works, see the Pulitzer Prize-winning Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser.)

ALA Laura Ingalls Wilder Award ALSCWhen the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) created a book award named after Laura Ingalls Wilder, it was intended to honor a contemporary and highly respected author. Wilder, then in her 90s, was deeply appreciative — and was the first person to receive it.

Since the creation of the award, there have been many disturbing and moving works of scholarship about settlers and indigenous people. The period of the Little House books was a time of broken treaties and deliberate genocide. Imagine, now, that a Native American were to win the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. The name of the award would raise issues that distract from, rather than honor, the author winning it.

So ALSC, at the American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual Conference in New Orleans, decided to rename its award. Before June 2018, few people in the general public even knew the award existed. Wilder’s reputation didn’t and doesn’t depend on it.

ALSC and ALA explicitly state that their action was not a call to censorship. But I do see the intellectual freedom issue. ALA called attention to Wilder’s “dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.” On the basis of this statement, will some librarians therefore consider it right to purge her works from library collections? I hope not. ALSC has the clear right to change the name of its own award. It’s not censorship when librarians point out evidence of bias, or even that historic literature does not comport with modern values.

It’s censorship when we make that issue the sole standard by which a work or author is judged, and remove books because of it.

Literature is complicated and nuanced. America doesn’t do nuance very well. But here’s the perspective of intellectual freedom: Classics endure in part because they challenge us. Libraries should keep Huck Finn. They should keep the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. People should read them. They should think and talk about them.

But don’t take any of them as the last word. And remember: Adding new books doesn’t make the old ones disappear.

Wilder told stories about the settling of the American plains from her perspective. I’m curious to hear the rest of the story. Aren’t you?

 


Jamie LaRue

James LaRue is the Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. Author of The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges, he has given countless keynotes, webinars, and workshops on intellectual freedom, advocacy, building community engagement, and other topics. Prior to his work for OIF, Jamie was a public library director for many years in Douglas County, Colorado. Find him on Twitter @jaslar.

36 comments

  • That was a long way around to “we dropped her name because we jump at every shadow that can even be remotely perceived as racism and basically do whatever activists tell us to do. Standing on principle is really something we only do when it’s easy.”

  • I think ALSC could maybe use some basic PR and marketing training. Pretty sure all they had to do was to say they were sunsetting the Wilder award, they planned to start another one, and then share why they wanted to start a new one. Focus on the new thing in a positive way, instead of the detailed (and contentious) reasons why they decided to sunset the Wilder award. A version of that was even an option ALSC considered. Might have been an easier route to go.

    Oh well!

  • Thanks for your comments. Mark, ALA, like any other professional association, responds to its member concerns. While our office champions the issues of intellectual freedom, others have a wholly understandable interest in issues of diversity and inclusion. For that matter, so do we. Like I say, nuance; Librarians have more than one value, and sometimes they rub up against each other. Laura, I don’t know if your comment was directed to me or to Mark, but either way, I appreciate your stopping by. David, the approach you describe might well have played better. There IS a larger discussion about the many ways power and privilege work their way into everything. I really am interested in those voices we haven’t heard from. And yet, the Nobel prize is named after the inventor of dynamite … At some point, awards are about today’s recipients, not the founder. My final takeaway: we’re talking about issues that should be talked about. That’s not necessarily a PR disaster, even if it gets spun that way.

  • James, you ask: “will some librarians therefore consider it right to purge her works from library collections? I hope not.” But I believe that ALSC hopes they will. Those who consider these works so potentially damaging to children know that removing the author’s name from an award will not help… this is really about sending signals that certain works have no place in the modern canon, and thus in the modern library. It sends signals to librarians, to library board members, and to the public. How will a library director fight a challenge to books by an author that no less than the American Library Association has condemned as offensive?

    No, renaming an award is not censorship. But by not-so-subtly signaling that these books are now considered unfit for consumption by children, ALSC/ALA has made itself the institutional equivalent of the community member who suggests that certain books be moved out of sight, or removed, lest they offend.

  • Dr. Debbie Reese, a prominent, influential educator and a leader of the effort to have the name of the award changed stated that children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder “could be used to educate high school or college students, but [are] inappropriate for young children.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/books/laura-ingalls-wilder-book-award.html) lt’s been a long time since I learned about intellectual freedom in library school, but that sounds an awful lot like advocating censorship to me.

  • Dan, I hear you. ALSC said that was not their intent. But I can remember that the same charge was made against the Hardy Boys, years ago. Many people remember them fondly – but whenever there was a “swarthy” character, that person was bad. Few librarians removed the books. We’ve been hearing these challenges to Huck Finn forever – and that book is still there, too. Part of the reason I wrote this is to make the point clear: ALA did NOT call for the removal of Wilder’s works. And shouldn’t.

  • I deeply respect the work of the American Library Association for Intellectual Freedom. But I find this post deeply unsettling for a couple of reasons. (Full disclosure: I am chair of the task force that forwarded recommendations to the ALSC board regarding the Wilder Award name change. I also work on and speak about intellectual freedom issues on a regular basis as part of my job.)

    First, James Larue is conjecturing a leap no one is being asked to make when he assumes that some will use this decision as reason to remove Wilder’s books from libraries. This conjecture creates a false equivalency, and suggests children’s librarians aren’t capable of independent thought. It also undermines the effort made to be clear this decision was about the award name, not the books in library collections. It validates the outrageous and often intentional misinformation around the decision that has been pushed by many.

    Based on this reasoning, it seems ALSC was either supposed to live with the former award name forever, or change it without offering transparency; in other words, be disingenuous.

    Second, in the post there is an argument made for keeping Wilder’s books and other classics. What concerns me about this (the question about who defines what is a “classic” aside) is that it is dictating desired collection development outcomes about specific books, regardless of local policies and procedures and control, which in intellectual freedom terms are a critical part putting the principles we believe in into action.

    When I talk to library school students and librarians about intellectual freedom, I often talk about the fact that we can’t have it both ways: we can’t promote the principles without also embracing the right to question and challenge books. Hand in hand with this IS the right to local control to make decisions (following board-approved policies and procedures that ideally affirm the Library Bill of Rights). The same is true of the work we do as librarians–our local, board-approved policies and procedures should be what dictates our collection development and management decisions. Principles are critical, but no one can decide for us what they look like in action when it comes to specific books.

    I am not advocating anyone remove books by Laura Ingalls Wilder or anyone else from their library. And neither is ALSC.

    What I’m saying is that it’s not my role or ALA/OIF’s role to tell you want to do regarding specific books, because we don’t know your specific policies, procedures and communities. Yes, please, keep the principles of intellectual freedom at the forefront of your thinking, but follow your locally-developed policies and procedures and the criteria outlined within them.

    Finally, I believe we can learn as a profession to hold our commitment to both intellectual freedom and equity, diversity and inclusion up together, and embrace the tensions and discomfort of doing so rather than saying one always trumps the other. Yes, it’s nuanced, and messy, but what it isn’t is a competition. What it isn’t is predestined or preordained when it comes to whether specific books have place in your library’s collection.

    I also believe–and fear–that if we aren’t willing to disrupt the status quo regarding our thinking and constantly examine this messy tension, then the work we are doing as a profession around race, diversity, and inclusion will never proceed beyond a certain point.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful piece. As others on this thread have already pointed out, the move to censor Wilder’s work has become connected to the change in the award’s name, although that need not necessarily be the case. Many of the strongest advocates for the name change have already made clear that they wish the book to be removed from circulation.
    An additional issue, and I say this as a progressive, is the need to speak out against racism and prejudice whenever we see it. Since you add in your own comment that “awards are about today’s recipients, not the founder,” I would like to point out that the 2017 recipient of the Wilder Award, distinguished poet Nikki Grimes, has one book about Easter and the death of Jesus which is profoundly antisemitic. Even if Ms. Grimes did not intend it to be so, which is my assumption, if we consider authors of earlier periods to be responsible for destructive ideals, why was this book, (At Jerusalem’s Gate, 2005), exempted from this standard when the ALSC committee selected an author to receive this high honor in 2017?
    https://imaginaryelevators.blog/2018/04/24/story-of-hate-not-hope/

  • Hi Megan, I greatly respect the Association for Library Service to Children, too, and agree with much of what you say. Collection decisions should be based on locally adopted policy, and community interests and needs. (But I would also wonder if there are any school or public libraries in which neither Twain nor Wilder can be found. What’s a classic? — a work that has made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.” That’s not completely objective, of course, but there are works that have lasted 50-100 years and continue to be recommended by librarians and teachers. That canon could, and should, get bigger, although I suppose the day might come when the perennials get shoved out by new and better books.) I agree, too, that intellectual freedom and equity, diversity and inclusion all have a place within the profession. And yes, it gets messy, and yes we should talk about it. I particularly approved of the call for critical thinking and discussion. Like you, I do a lot of speaking about these issues, too. But here’s a real case: I was doing a workshop about intellectual freedom for some school librarians back east, and two things were clear. 1. There’s a lot of respect for ALA in the field, as an articulator of best practices. Our statements matter to them. 2. They’re under a lot of pressure to avoid controversy. One librarian asked me, “Can I get a list of these controversial titles, so I can remove them BEFORE they get challenged?” That’s not saying that children’s librarians don’t have independent thought; it acknowledges the real forces they face. They often buy what other librarians recommend in reviews. They may weed based on other librarian statements. That’s not wild conjecture. In terms of content, the statement focuses only on outdated attitudes, not on the many other values that Wilder wrote about movingly and timelessly: a love of nature and awe of its power, tenderness for family, perseverance. I appreciate the ALSC perspective. I just hold it up to a slightly different lens. It has challenged me to think more deeply. I’m glad of it. Thanks for weighing in.

  • The decision to change the name of this award is still very disappointing to me, although I understand the reasoning behind it. I would say, however, that those who wish to remove LIW’s books from library shelves are wrong; nothing is ever accomplished by censorship. In fact, it closes the door on opportunities to communicate our morals and ethics with our children. Instead just shutting something down, read or watch with our children and then talk about it. There is still far more good in LIW’s books than bad.

  • James–Thanks for a well-measured discussion of this topic. I have read news articles and related comments that accuse librarians of trying to erase history by changing the name of this award. Those writers seem to forget that Wilder’s books were fiction, not history. And, as you say, changing the name of the award does not stop anyone from reading Wilder’s books.

    It is also worth noting that several years ago, the publisher of the Little House series issued new additions that lacked the racist illustrations. Thus, this is not a new issue for either libraries or the publishing industry, but one that has been brewing.

    David has a valid point in terms of identifying a way ALSC could have avoided negative PR (and this may be a model to follow if the Scott O’Dell Award changes, for example). However, I believe that ALA/ALSC made a necessary positive message of inclusivity by making this change public. Yes, ALA/ALSC and librarians are taking a bit of hit, but most people will forget about this “news” in a few weeks. However, for individuals and groups who endure racism in literature and/or are underrepresented in literature in general, this may well feel like a victory—and give a message that libraries care. For example, I recall Emily Knox—who loved the Little House books as a child—talking about realizing as an adult that “Laura would not have been my friend.” American Indians in Children’s Literature, which probably has the most extensive documentation of racism in Wilder’s books, has already recognized the award’s name change as “one of the most significant moments in children’s literature.”

    Furthermore, calling attention to the racism in these books may lead to changes in the classroom, whether in adding books as James suggests, placing racist content in context, or finding other books that would work as well or better for educational purposes. With regards to libraries, most will keep Wilder’s books as long as there is a demand.

  • Jamie, I’ve had almost the exactly same conversations with librarians multiple times, so yes, absolutely there is fear, and pressure that needs to be acknowledged. I always respond that talking about those fears, and finding a network of support –others who “get it”– is essential, because doing collection development from a place of fear is untenable. It makes understanding and internalizing policies and procedures all the more important–because being able to conversationally articulate the why of collection development from a philosophical perspective, and the “how” of collection development from a procedural perspective, is critical. And conversations around collection development as it relates to diversity and inclusion are just as critical. None of this occurs only in theory. As for books by authors who have been recognized for making a “significant and lasting contribution” : I completely disagree that such a distinction automatically renders those books “classics.” Having chaired the committee that gives the award (under its prior name), I can say for a fact that considering them as “classics” is not one of the criteria and in fact while at least some of the author’s works should be read currently (when the award is conferred) there is no expectation that they will be read in perpetuity. (Additionally, it not a “body of work” award.)

  • when i was in grad school,we were taught that a library was the last bastion of freedom. in the Great Russian Encyclopedia” said that not every one in russia should have n access except what the party line approved. they went on to say that in America,anyone could go into any library and read anything that they wanted. this was a flaw in our system. the Little house s would be an wonderful learning opportunity. ALA missed the boat while trying to be politically correct,im afraid..i know that many books have been banned for about this reason. im deeply depressed about this action an am sure that this will make no difference but maybe next time it comes,maybe it will. think im going to the library to read the Great Russian encyclopedia…

  • It is utterly disingenuous to claim that these books are so racist that the author’s name must be removed from the award, but that this in no way suggests that they be removed from the library.

    I also must take issue with several statements :

    “Many of Wilder’s readers were not offended by those passages, mostly because these scenes simply weren’t about them. ” How does Mr. LaRue know this? Any of it? Many of her readers were offended by those passages, but were intelligent and educated enough, even as children, to recognize that those passages reflected the attitudes of the time . . . just as Twain’s use of the “N-word” does in Huck Finn. Why does he understand that about a book written by a man, but not about one written by a woman?

    “Imagine, now, that a Native American were to win the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. The name of the award would raise issues that distract from, rather than honor, the author winning it.” Is he suggesting that a black author cannot win the Mark Twain Prize for Humor?

    “Before June 2018, few people in the general public even knew the award existed. Wilder’s reputation didn’t and doesn’t depend on it.” They do know about it now, and what they know is that ALSC has found her works to be so “pervasively racist” that her name must be erased. Her reputation most certainly rests on it now.

    Will they be removing Theodore Geisel’s name from the award that bears his name? His cartoons of the Japanese during WWII are blatantly racist.

    What about Andrew Carnegie? He financially supported the eugenics movement.

    It goes without saying that both Newbery and Caldecott would have held racist and sexist attitudes. They were men of their times.

    Arbuthnot’s “Basic Reader Series” is stunningly sexist. When will her name be removed?

    Naming awards after human beings means naming them after flawed individuals, as we all have flaws. If ALSC is to be intellectually honest, it must rename all of the awards and refrain from naming any after individuals in the future.

  • Call a spade a spade: this is a blatant attempt at revisionist history. The power of Wilder’s stories is that they HAPPENED. It was part of her LIFE, and a part she shared with many, many others of her generation. You can’t pretend these people never existed, you can’t pretend this country wasn’t built on their blood, sweat, and tears. You can’t minimize their experiences. By all means, INCLUDE varying points of view, but don’t attempt to erase others simply because it’s no longer politically correct to acknowledge their contributions.

  • It’s clear from the comments of many on the ALSC committee that they are chomping at the bit to remove Wilder’s work from their collections, that they consider it dangerous for children to read, beyond the pale even. This award name decision essentially gives them permission to do what they’ve been wanting to do: consign authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder to the dustbin of history.

    The furor over this award change should let them know that they do not have the support of a large majority of the country in this decision and that many everyday people don’t want them doing our thinking for us, thank you very much. We can handle being exposed to more than one viewpoint about the settling of the American West and the history of the conflict between the many tribes of American Indians and the variety of people who would eventually live on lands they claimed.

    The AlSC can name their own award, yes, but these librarians are trying to shape history going forward by excluding narratives and the histories of people they don’t like. Sounds kind of Soviet to me.

  • Again, I appreciate the comments. One wonders if any award should be named after an individual. I don’t know much about Caldecott and Newbery, which is starting to worry me! But Rachel, changing the name of an award is not revisionist history. And let’s be careful about declaring upon whose blood, sweat, and tears the country was built. The South Dakotan land was stolen in violation of treaties. DO read Prairie Fires. It is my hope that the discussion in this blog can model how we want to talk about important issues – with respect, with curiosity, with a willingness to think and learn. I begin with the premise that we’re all decent people trying to do the right thing. I didn’t write the column to excoriate any one. It was to explore that intersection of IF and diversity. I believe in BOTH.

  • I suggest that respect starts by not claiming that “Many of Wilder’s readers were not offended by those passages,” that we are unaware of the historical context in which they are set, and that we do not know the “rest of the story,” as if our reading began and ended with the Little House books.

    The award was to “honor 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.” Have her books not done that? It was not to honor an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, reflect modern attitudes toward diversity.

    Unless this action is meant to encourage librarians and teachers not to recommend or use her works in the classroom, it does not in any way address the racist elements of the works. Please understand that no one is saying that those elements are not present. They are and they are a challenge, but no more so than the challenge presented by Twain’s works. What we are saying is that this action was not the appropriate way to address these concerns.

    Given that ALSC stripped her name from the award because her works reflect their time, not today’s values, it would do well to remove the names of individuals from all awards. Not a single one of those individuals’ attitudes would reflect those we hold today — and those we hold today will have changed in another 40 years.

  • Thanks again for comments. This is what critical thinking looks like: People testing various propositions to see what stands up. Suzanne, when I write that many people didn’t see bias, that doesn’t exclude the many who did, especially today. But it includes readers throughout the history of the book, too. I believe that what I said about Twain does apply to Wilder: Her works are not pervasively racist, either. But I recognize that some passages did and do shock and offend others. It’s wise to consider that. I was seeing them as parallel situations. I’m sticking to my point: ALSC made its decision for understandable reasons, but we do need to work through intellectual freedom implications, and we also need to embrace newer and overlooked voices. Meanwhile, a lot of people (me among them) are going back to read Wilder again. That’s what I mean by her works not depending on a particular award. The books have their own power and beauty. I find her voice impressive. Having just finished Prairie Fires, I urge people to also ponder how Wilder’s daughter, Rose Lane, appropriated the books to further a libertarian agenda. Books have ALWAYS had a political subtext, and this isn’t Wilder’s first controversy.

  • I find it interesting that the author if the article, who has responded to many of the comments, has conveniently side-stepped the comment by Emily Schneider about Nikki Grimes winning the award while having written a clearly anti-Semitic book. I guess it’s easier to ignore the comments we can’t defend.

  • Emily Schneider has been trying to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to the issues with the Grimes book for months. She makes an excellent point that is highly relevant to the current discussion. If ALSC is inviting authors who have been given the Wilder accept it anew as the Legacy, there is a responsibility that those accepting authors’ work lives up to Legacy standards, right? Otherwise, it seems a little inconsistent, to say the least. I see the name of at least one Reading While White moderator here. More have read Emily’s point in other locations. But no one is taking up the cause. Weird. RWW, this is perfect issue for your blog to consider. Let’s not dodge it any longer.

  • Library Teacher and Avid RWW reader: not dodging the issue. Our office doesn’t administer the awards, and I’m not up to speed on that particular case. So I don’t have any particular insights to offer. I’d consider a separate blog post, if someone wants to send it to me. And my name is Jamie, please.

  • This change, as previously stated, should have been handled in a more positive manner. It doesn’t just affect libraries. De Smet, SD sent letters to ALSC about the name change. They are concerned about the tourism now to one of Laura’s home places. These are small towns, Walnut Grove, MN and Mansfield, MO. De Smet depends on the tourism they get because of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Changing the name in a positive way instead of coming out and saying it the way they did.

  • Jamie, no intimation at all that OIF or you are dodging anything on the Grimes book. The Legacy award is ALSC’s, not OIC or ALA. However, it is about time that the Diversity Jedi, RWW, and ALSC leadership, who have called out many more authors for much less, address the problematic material in AT JERUSALEM’S GATE, how it got there, and what it means. Does anyone disagree?

    The only good thing about the Wilder decision is that the strong negative public reaction to it means that the Geisel award is safe under its name for a few years. Maybe.

  • If anyone is interested, please find at the link below my article on Tablet Magazine about the antisemitism in Ms. Grimes’ book. I consider this to be related to the larger issues under discussion: intellectual freedom, fairness, sensitivity to oppression and prejudice whenever they appear, and historical/literary context as a relevant factor in judging books:
    https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/265996/as-literary-award-changes-its-name-to-escape-allegations-of-racism-instances-of-anti-semitism-go-unnoticed

  • It’s interesting to see the mention of the Geisel Award maybe being safe for a few years because of the negative public reaction to the changing of the Wilder Award. I did not support the changing of the name but now that ALSC has gone done that road, it is all the more imperative for ALSC to change the name of the Geisel Award as soon as possible or risk appearing like terrible hypocitres. The same justifications ALSC used for changing the name of the Wild Award are clearly applicable to the Geisel Award. See this critique on The Conscious Kid (https://www.theconsciouskid.org/blog/2018/2/18/a-critical-race-reading-of-dr-seuss). ALSC claims changing the name of the Wilder Award was necessary to stay true to its core values as an organization. Not changing the name of Geisel Award now would be the height of hypocrisy. I would consider that far worse for an organization I have been an active member of for over 20 years than negative publicity.

  • Dear Ms. Schneider and Avid RWW Reader, thank you for you input. This is Allie Jane Bruce of Reading While White. I’ve written before about how the intersection of Judaism and whiteness has played out in my life, and it’s definitely a subject we’ll consider taking up again at RWW. At the moment, however, we don’t have anything planned for the near future. In regards to the specific points raised here, I’ve addressed Ms. Schneider’s concerns several times in comments on other bog posts and articles; I have nothing to add here.

  • you are correct – I never heard of the award – what’s more never read the books, well maybe I tried but in truth they put me to sleep – now if they change the name to”Nancy Drew award” now you’re ok. There’s a independent gal ,light blue convertible(matched her eyes) 2 best friends Bess and George (a sort of boyish girl) a ha now what does that imply? anyhow this whole yakety yak is just like the statues -which I bet nobody looked at nor even knew what battles they were in — -but lets take ’em down. Heaven forbid -they are a bad influence on our children and give the wrong message, I think I’ll go take a nap..

  • I just became aware of this issue this evening while reading a recent issue of a national news magazine. Mr. LaRue–good article; thanks! The comments in response to what you wrote and to what others wrote are fascinating and enlightening. This last week, I was at the home of my son and daughter-in-law and was part of the evening reading–My son was reading Little House to 3 of my 4 grandchildren–ages 7 and 5. They’re loving the stories!

    ALA is a valuable and influential organization. The responses I’m seeing here and in other articles indicate this is a broader issue than a perceived inconsistency between Mrs. Wilder’s writings, the award and ALSC’s current core values. Mrs. Wilder met the criteria for the award as a “…writer(s) or illustrator(s) of children’s books published in the United States who have, over a period of years, made substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature.” Concern is that she brought up viewpoints that are not politically acceptable today and the ALA, by continuing to give the award with her name attached, implies acceptance. Two options–reinstate the award with the addition of the words “…from an historical perspective” added at the end of the award criteria description. Or, as has been mentioned, remove all individual names from the ALA awards.

    Great discussion…

  • Dr. Stauffer — I know better than to try to debate with you, but something you wrote made me think–what time period are we judging the Little House books by? Are we evaluating these books by the 1930s and 1940s when these books were published or by the values that LIW and her family had when she was a child? I believe that the racism in these books was known to be racist at the time that the books were published. It just that the majority of people didn’t care.

    Also, I do not see a conflict in changing the name of the award, but suggesting that libraries retaining LIW books in their collections. Especially if there is still demand for her books. There are many books in library collections whose authors do not have awards named after them. There are many books in library collections that might offend others.

    And, yes, naming awards after people almost always causes problems–advice given to me years ago.

  • The conversation about the Legacy Award and AT JERUSALEM’S GATE by Grimes has certain parallels to the conversation that Dr. Debbie Reese has initiated about Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, now underway at AICL (July 9, 2018). Responding to those who believe that Roanhorse is being critiqued because she is Native/Black, Reese writes:

    “Question 3: “Are people being racist because she’s Black?”
    My answer: That’s possible, but attributing objections to racism is also asking us to ignore the serious concerns about the content. ”

    Whatever the motivation for raising the issues about the Grimes book, it should not be asking us to ignore the serious concerns about the content, and at some point the discussion needs to shift to the substance.

  • I don’t have anything as intellectual to say like everyone else. But, I’m a black woman who DOES NOT find Laura Ingalls ‘ work, name or even that time in history offensive. Of course her books are all about whites. She was writing about her life. Sounds too much like white liberals assuming people are offended just because they are. If it were a Native American writing about all Native Americans, no one care because I he’s ethnic and being “inclusive”. The whole thing is stupid.

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