I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. (Not quite, actually. I stopped reading them when I was about 12, but they were definitely pivotal in the early years!)
The same is true of my daughter. Like me, she developed her love for literature beginning with that little house in the big woods.
So we were both surprised to learn that the Association for Library Service to Children has decided to rename the prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for children’s literature with this milquetoast moniker: the “Children’s Literature Legacy Award.”
The reason for the redubbing? The committee flagged a disturbing undercurrent of racist cultural imperialism against indigenous peoples which runs throughout Wilder’s books. (Source)
I’ve got mixed feelings about this decision. On the one hand, after the initial shock I read some sample excerpts of the deeply racist attitudes that inhabit the world of Little House on the Prairie. And I agree that there’s no escaping it: Wilder’s bucolic books do harbor some deeply unsettling racist attitudes.
But does that mean we should expunge Wilder’s name from a children’s literature prize in favor of a milquetoast moniker like the “Children’s Literature Legacy Award”? After all, Wilder has never been celebrated for her racism. She has been celebrated for the literature itself. Should the fact that this literature carries a racist tint in the same manner as countless other relics of the early twentieth century thereby render Wilder’s name verboten for a literature prize today?
As I mull this question, I find myself thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. As we now know, the man himself was a deeply flawed individual, one who engaged in multiple affairs with various women. Perhaps, as recently released FBI files claim, he even engaged in sexual orgies. Does that mean that we should expunge his name from all awards and acknowledgments concerning the civil rights movement?
I presume not. But then why should Laura Ingalls Wilder be expunged from a children’s literature award? Frankly, I suspect the problem is that her name never attained the mythos of Martin Luther King, Jr. If it had, I suspect this committee would have been more forgiving of her inevitable moral failings.