Laura Ingalls Wilder dropped from USA children's book award over racist language


In a March Washington Post piece, Caroline Fraser, a biographer of "Little House on the Prairie" author Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote that "her work and its reception are more complicated than we may once have believed, shedding light on the myths that white Americans have woven about the past".

The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, made the unanimous decision to remove the name of the author at a meeting in New Orleans on Saturday.

Examples of racist themes include multiple characters saying, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian", and a description, changed in later editions, that said: "There were no people". Wilder was presented the first award in 1954, after which it was named for her and presented every five years between 1960 and 1980, every three years between 1980 and 2001, every two years between 2001 and 2015 and annually since then. The name has been changed to the Children's Literature Legacy Award.

The editor at Harper's who received the reader's complaint wrote back saying it was "unbelievable" to her that not a single person at Harper's ever noticed, for almost 20 years, that the sentence appeared to imply that Native Americans were not people, according to a 2007 biography of Wilder by Pamela Smith Hill. The word "people" was changed to "settlers" in 1953. The decision was received with "a standing ovation by the audience in attendance", The Hill reported the board said.

Wilder's blunt depictions of settler bigotry toward Native Americans has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

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"Laura Ingalls Wilder's books have been and will continue to be deeply meaningful to many readers", the presidents of the ALSC and ALA, Nina Lindsay and Jim Neal, said in a joint statement on Monday.

"While the answer to racism is not to impose purity retroactively or to disappear titles from shelves, no 8-year-old Dakota child should have to listen to an uncritical reading of 'Little House on the Prairie", she wrote.

In an additional background document the association provided, they stated that although other past ALSC award recipients may no long live up to their current values either, the name of the award in itself holds power.

Fraser added, "Vividly, unforgettably, it still tells truth about white settlement, homesteading and the violent appropriation of Indian land and culture".