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.
Pa assured her. "You've never failed anything you tried to do, have you?"
(These Happy Golden Years)
Last Monday (March 19th) I became Laura Ingalls for a half hour. I've been working on this project for almost a year now, but I feel like I've been working on it since I picked up the first Little House book. It was as if all my years of reading and studying this subject finally were coming together. And I was terrified.
I chose to perform for my homeschool co-op. This is a group of people who have known me for many years. In some ways this was great. It was all people who knew me very well and weren't going to be annoyed or unsupportive if I messed up. But it also made me more nervous because I knew every person in the room. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stay in character when I looked at one of my friends, a parent, or a kid. Truthfully though, most of my worries were in the buildup. I'd put so much work into my costume and my research and now my vision was finally becoming real.
So here are a few things I learned:
I started reading the Little House series at a very young age. My sisters and I played Little House, I built log cabins out of blocks, and made little Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, and Carrie dolls. When I was twelve, I got the chance to go on a trip through the mid-west, stopping at almost all of Laura's homes. That was when I began to see Laura as a person, not just a character. On that trip I met so many enthusiastic people who wanted to tell us all the historic and gossipy facts about the Ingalls family and the people they knew. It was fascinating, and it brought a level of reality to Laura's story that I had not seen before.
Laura’s story is a very typical American concept. It is very picturesque and beautiful, and I think that is why people are initially drawn to it. But when you get past the pretty parts, you are left with the gritty, dirty, day-to-day moments, and those are my favorite. There are beautiful moments, but there are also hard moments. Pioneer families, cowboys, and the western movement, are all romanticized by media as an "American dream" and the Little House books feed into that story. Covered wagons, cotton print dresses, and baking bread all seem very nice, but the reality was often much harsher.
I often find textbook history unexciting. Learning about wars, great events, and famous people gets dull quickly. I believe the reason so many people say that history is boring, is because it was taught to them through this widespread method. Most people don't learn to love history through big events, but through personal connection. Whether that’s local history, a museum, genealogy, etc. My hope with this project is to create a personal connection for people to Laura and to the 1880s.
I would like to share the ups and the downs of what life was like in 1880 Dakota. I want people to see the more complex character of Laura then what they see in the books and TV show. I want to show people a comparison to their 2017 lives. I want them to see the difference between the everyday items they use and the ones used in the 1880s. That’s what I find most interesting about history, and would like to pass on.