The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, voted on Saturday (June 23) to rename its Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The change comes after an investigation of the racism in the “Little House on the Prairie” author’s books.
The Washington Post notes that the critiques date back to at least the 1950s, when Wilder received the inaugural award in her name for her impact on children’s literature. The pushback largely focuses on the main characters’ thoughts about Indigenous and Black people. Based on Wilder’s own family living in the sparsely populated American Midwest, several characters say things like, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” The writer also described Native Americans as “wild” and animalistic. There is also a scene that shows the father of the protagonist performing in Blackface.
The criticism motivated the ALSC to announce a task force to investigate its awards program, starting with the honor named after Wilder. It returned with a report last month that recommended changing the award title based on feedback from the ALSC’s community of librarians, parents, educators and other stakeholders.
“The ‘Little House’ books are centered around a worldview that dehumanizes Native and African Americans, and unexamined, that is a damaging portrayal not only for children from those identities, but for White children who absorb those messages,” reads a quote from one surveyed teacher in the report. “An award is a powerful signal to parents, teachers, librarians and all those that read and pass books to children. It signals that the books awarded are to be held as a pinnacle of not just quality, but of values and messages for its readers. To have an award named after a book that is degrading to many signals that those voices don’t matter, and are outweighed by the power of tradition.”
“The ALSC Board unanimously voted that the ALSC Board accept the ALSC Awards Program Review Task Force’s Recommendation about the Wilder Award, renaming the award as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award,” the ALSC said in a statement on Saturday.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Wilder’s work, released its own statement opposing the name change, saying, “We believe it is not beneficial to the body of literature to sweep away her name as though the perspectives in her books never existed. Those perspectives are teaching moments to show generations to come how the past was and how we, as a society, must move forward with a more inclusive and diverse perspective.”