After 64 years the American Library Association has decided to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a major children’s literature award.
The decision comes following controversy about racist comments about Native Americans and African Americans that appear in her books.
“We were very displeased. We heard way back in February. We sent a letter to Association asking them to rethink that but as you can see it hasn’t worked,” Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society’s Tessa Flak said.
Tessa Flak is part of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, where Wilder lived for almost 15 years.
She says removing Wilder’s name from the award may put other classic novels at risk.
“They’re going to start rethinking all of these things and then our libraries will have no books left. If we start getting rid of one of the classics, they’re all going to be gone,” Flak said.
Wilder fans visiting her former South Dakota home are also disappointed.
“Frankly I think it’s a travesty. Her books reflect the current and prevailing attitudes of the times. She fought for many rights and I don’t think we should blame historical figures for being products of their time,” JoAnna Wahlund said.
“When Laura is talking about this in her stories, you have to remember it was a different time, place and culture. Laura’s talking about her childhood in the 1880s, 1890s. It’s not today,” Flak said.
The Laura Ingles Wilder Memorial Society says that her books can be a way for teachers and parents to teach their kids about historical context.
“Talk about the displacement of Native Americans, what was going on with African Americans in the Civil War. Talk about that. Be open with them. We have to learn from history. We have to learn from our mistakes,” Flak said.
ALA President Jim Neal and ALSC President Nina Lindsay released the following joint statement:
“Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books have been and will continue to be deeply meaningful to many readers. Although Wilder’s work holds a significant place in the history of children’s literature and continues to be read today, ALSC has had to grapple with the inconsistency between Wilder’s legacy and its core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness through an award that bears Wilder’s name.
“Wilder’s books are a product of her life experiences and perspective as a settler in America’s 1800s. Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.
“ALSC works within the context of our society as a whole, where the conversations taking place inform our work and help us articulate our core values and support of diverse populations.
“Changing the name of the award should not be viewed as an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access to Wilder’s books and materials, but rather as an effort to align the award’s title with ALSC’s core values. This change should not be viewed as a call for readers to change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books. Updating the award’s name should not be construed as censorship, as we are not demanding that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children. We hope adults think critically about Wilder’s books and the discussions that can take place around them.
“It also should be noted that changing the name of the ALSC award for significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature has no reflection on past winners or their achievements, and does not negate the honor they have received for making a ‘significant and lasting contribution to literature for children.’
“This decision was made after much consideration and fact-finding. It is one that we believe serves the best interests of ALSC and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but also in the long-term.”