This past weekend, the Association for Library Service to Children made a change to a major children’s award.
“Little House on the Prairie” author Laura Ingalls Wilder has long been the namesake of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which earned its name after it was first presented to her in 1954 to honor outstanding children’s literature in the United States.
More than six decades later, the award will henceforth be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
The reason for the name change is stereotypical and racist depictions of Native American and black individuals in Wilder’s series, which the ALSC has previously said is not “consistent with the intention of the award named for her.”
The change has sparked a variety of reaction among children’s literature readers and writers. A sampling of voices from the Twitterverse give a micro-glimpse of how folks are feeling:
1) Few books were more important to me as a child than those by Laura Ingalls Wilder*
2) I fully support and applaud @wearealsc for the name change to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award
— Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark) June 25, 2018
In a time when school librarians are struggling to defend themselves as educators, ALSC decides that it’s better to change the name of an award rather than count on us to teach about the writing in the context of the time period in which it was written. https://t.co/4T9SNthqY7
— Kimberly Darata (@kdarata) June 25, 2018
Re: the changing of the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award…I really did love her books when I was a kid. I didn’t know then that her depictions of Native Americans were racist. It’s totally fine to remove her name from that award now. Doesn’t change my childhood reading.
— Malinda Lo (@malindalo) June 25, 2018
Laura Ingalls Wilder is condemned because of racism in her books. We cannot judge the past by the standards of the present. To judge people for acting according to the customs of their day is wrong. If we erase history because we are ashamed of it, how will we learn from it?
— Christine Stobbe (@StobbeChristine) June 25, 2018
A quick point that should be obvious: naming a children’s book award after Laura Ingalls Wilder was sanitizing history. Changing that award’s name is confronting our history. #legacyawards
— Scott Westerfeld (@ScottWesterfeld) June 25, 2018
I’m very curious to know how many of the people moaning about “erasing history” had even heard of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award before this “controversy” happened. 🙄
— Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal) June 25, 2018
@wearealsc I will now start to campaign against any public funding of libraries because of your decision to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from any of your awards. If you are going to ignore history and how people thought, felt, acted the time of libraries is over.
— Sandra Neary (@Sandra32Neary) June 25, 2018
You get the idea.
I think there are two angles to this issue that are important to keep in mind:
- Renaming the award is OK. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging a societal shift in values and updating symbols of those values (in this case, the name of the award) to reflect the modern conscience. The name change isn’t about disrespecting Laura Ingalls Wilder; it’s about respecting indigenous and black Americans.
- It’s also OK to still read and appreciate the “Little House” books. They are a reflection of the attitudes of their time and of our history — positive and negative elements alike. There’s no hiding from or sanitizing the distasteful parts of our history; there’s just a responsibility upon parents, teachers, and librarians to impress context upon young readers and guide them in discerning shifting values.
The Association for Library Service to Children isn’t stripping Wilder of her award — she remains the first recipient. Instead, it’s making an effort to give the award a name that is more inclusive and reflective of its current values. Wilder remains among the ranks of honored writers, and her contributions to children’s literature are not being disavowed.
Wilder is part of the American literary legacy. At the core of the issue is that her body of work is no longer reflective of all of the values of children’s literature, so the association opted for a name more specific to the goals of the award.