Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the book news again. There are calls to remove her books from children’s libraries!
ALA re-considers its award name
The American Library Association (ALA) is considering removing her name from their life-time achievement in children’s literature award. The librarians are re-considering the name of the medal based on the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans in the Little House books. Their concern is the conflict of the ALA vision to “respect and honor children’s families’ history” with the values of respect, inclusiveness and integrity with the racism depicted in the books.
Caroline Fraser, author of Wilder’s historical biography, Prairie Fires writes in an article in the March 14 issue of the Washington Post, that “no book, including the Bible, has ever been ‘universally embraced.’” Those who have decried the white supremacy which lies at the heart of so many children’s books, have demanded that the books be removed from school libraries. Some have been motivated by a story Fraser reports of an 8-year old Native American girl came home in tears after hearing the story read in school. Others have admonished publishers to address the racial imbalance in children’s literature by publishing more stories about Native Americans or African Americans.
Disapproval and devotion
Indeed, Wilder’s most famous novel, “Little House on the Prairie” (1935) has inspired both disapproval and devotion. Many of us grew up enamored by the sentimental description of family values in the Little House stories, but not all of us are white. Fraser tells about an immigrant girl born in Saigon attracted to the story and how Hmong families from Laos living in Walnut Grove were drawn by one girl’s devotion to the television show. The town features a public mural with a smiling Laura alongside a Hmong woman in traditional dress.
Cultural shifts, censorship
It is incredibly important to understand today’s diverse world. So, we should publish more books and stories for children with Native American, Hispanic, African American or other ethnic perspectives. But, should the ALA change the name of the medal. Should school libraries remove the books because they are racist? Perhaps changing the name of the medal is not wrong. It certainly is not censorship. One can argue that it acknowledges the cultural shift that no longer recognizes or rewards books with such blatant racism.
In contrast, removing the books from libraries or refusing to read them to elementary school children is not only censorship. It also denies all children the opportunity to learn through story the history of homesteading. White settlement violently took over Native American lands. I agree with Fraser that the answer to the racism of Wilder’s Little House books is not to ban them. Rather, we can provide the opportunity to learn how People interpret history from cultural definitions and perspective. How exciting it would be to have the opportunity to learn about the white cultural perspective current during Wilder’s life. Imagine adding to the conversation, with alternative cultural viewpoints. For example, Native Americans who were losing their traditional lands or the African Americans who were just freed from slavery.
What is your opinion?