Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name is synonymous with children’s books. Her “Little House on the Prairie” stories, based loosely on her own growing up years in frontier plains America, likely are unknown to only a few, rare individuals.
But one literary group says she just isn’t up to today’s politically correct standards.
The American Library Association over the weekend renamed what has been known as the Wilder Medal for Excellence in Children’s literature, a designation giving work prestige in the children’s literary world.
“Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward indigenous people and people of color,” the organization said in a prepared statement.
Her books were written in the 1930s, in the Depression time period between World Wars I and II.
CBS in Chicago reported the abrupt action was a puzzle to some.
“I absolutely would (read the books again),” said Heather Miller, the director of Chicago’s American Indian Center, who first perused them during her childhood and didn’t see her ethnicity reflected in the stories.
“But it’s also important to provide the education needed to explain why those words were used and what was happening at that time in history,” she told CBS.
“To me they are just about wholesome living and families working together,” Louise Tait of Melbourne told CBS about the books including “The Long Winter,” “and “Farmer Boy.”
Wilder wrote in one book, of Indians, “Their faces were bold and fierce and terrible.”
And reflecting the times in which they were created, one of her characters says, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
CBS said the ALA changed the award’s name to Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
But Grady wrote, “Wilder’s books aren’t just lovely and gripping. They aren’t just detailed descriptions of what it’s like to lay railway track or blow up a pig’s bladder like a balloon and throw it around. They’re also racist, riddled with depictions of American Indians as violent ‘savages’ and with minstrel shows.”
The librarians said they demand “inclusiveness” now, and that was among the reasons for the change.
Grady described her perception of racism and sexism in the books from nearly 100 years ago.
“By the time I got to ‘Little Town on the Prairie,’ in which Pa performs in a minstrel show and Laura raves about the hilarity of the ‘darkies,’ I was old enough that I had grasped without help that minstrel shows were racist, and had developed a strategy for reading such passages: I would say, ‘Oh my god, Laura,’ and then skim past to get to the good part about all the girls at Laura’s school playing cliquish power games with their calling cards.”
Notwithstanding whatever faults found in the books, still in reruns are the television shows starring Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson which portrayed the family living on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, during the 1870s and 1880s.
It ran from 1974 to 1983 and even now is on multiple times daily on various channels.