Laura Ingalls Wilder's name pulled from major kids' book award

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wilder, born in 1867, published her first "Little House on the Prairie" book in 1932; the seven subsequent novels about pioneer life in Pepin, Wis., Minnesota and elsewhere were published through 1943, 14 years before she died.

Laura Ingalls Wilder has always been a prominent author in children's literature thanks to her well-known and -loved series Little House on the Prairie, but conflict has arisen in association with her books' offensive depiction of Native Americans.

An adult re-read reveals several characters, including Wilder's mother, saying things like "The only good Indian is a dead Indian", as well as romanticizing themes of American supremacy and manifest destiny.

Wilder was given the first award in 1954, and E. B. White and Dr. Seuss are two other famous recipients of the Wilder Award.

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The association, a division of the American Library Association, voted over the weekend to remove Wilder's name from the award, the Washington Post reports, and rename it the Children's Literature Legacy Award.

"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", the association said. Fraser stated that Wilder's work "vividly, unforgettably ... still tells truths about white settlement, homesteading and the violent appropriation of Indian land and culture". The tales are so ingrained in the traditions of children's literature that it may be easy to forget or overlook that Wilder, who wrote the books in the 1930s and 40s, depicts Native Americans as inhuman and inconsequential.

Wilder's blunt depictions of settler bigotry toward Native Americans has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. In question is her handling of black and Native American characters, both in name-calling and characterization.

Still, Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, argued that the racial insensitivity in Wilder's book shouldn't mean that children shouldn't read it. While numerous Little House books became widely read, critics said her work included many stereotypical and reductive depictions of Native Americans and people of color. In 1952, she apologized amid criticism for the opening sentences of "Little House on the Prairie", which state, "there were no people".

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