If you are unfamiliar with this issue here is what the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) put on their website: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/clla
After several weeks of online discussion, I've decided to address this here on my blog. It is hotly debated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder (LIW) communities and I have remained teetering on the edge since I first heard about it. As a long time Laura fan, her books bring a lot of nostalgia for me. I felt conflicted because I wouldn't want to see parents and teachers banning these books. They are beautiful books and they truly are a product of the time they were written in. Stories about self-reliance, hard work, the importance of family, and yes, unfortunately, colonization. But we can love and adore the Little House books while addressing the many problematic parts of them.
Taking LIW's name off of the award does not erase the history. This is the slippery slope argument: "If we take LIW's name off of a literary award are we blemishing her legacy and erasing her work from history? What's next?" LIW is a beloved author of many, many Americans. Taking her name off of one award isn't banning us from reading them. It isn't banning us from loving them just as we always do. It's reminding us that those are dated ideas and we should not be turning a blind eye to the fact that they existed and continued to exist. If we ignore them it allows for them to be perpetuated.
The ALSC says:
"We acknowledge that Wilder’s books not only hold a significant place in the history of children’s literature and continue to be read today, but that they have been and continue to be deeply meaningful to many readers on a personal level. We also acknowledge that they have been deeply painful to many readers, and have been across decades alongside their popularity. Both of these things are true. Neither the option to rename the award nor the option to sunset the award and establish a new award demands that anyone change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books."
The award itself is a stamp of recognition. It is impossible to print a disclaimer on every book which holds the stamp. While taking LIW's name off of it gives many of us a knee-jerk reaction it's also the beginning of a conversation. From here we can discuss how to present them to children going forward. The books should serve as a platform for conversation as well as a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read.
I recently found THIS clip about dealing with racism in the books we love. Grace Lin says that we should treat these books like a racist relative. They aren't right, but we still love them. She says we should be keeping an ear out so that we can address the racism when it comes up, with children and with ourselves. I encourage you to watch the video yourself. She puts it clearly and beautifully in an easily approachable way.
I am sad to see Laura's name removed from the award. I love her dearly and it's hard to think about the complexities of something I love so much. That being said, I don't think it is wrong. As scholars of LIW we must step back and be willing to see the big picture. An 80+ year old book is going to be dated. Just look around and see how far we've come in science, law, and technology since the 1930s. The world has changed immensely, so it makes sense that the common idea of what is right and wrong has changed as well. We can still love and appreciate LIW's stories without ignoring the fact that they are racist.
My name is Rosalie Silliman, I'm a history enthusiast with a love for sewing and costumes.