At the recent annual meeting of the American Library Association, the name of the heretofore named “Laura Ingalls Wilder” Award, which honored authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature, was changed to: Children’s Literature Legacy Award. The organization wished to reconcile the award with today’s sustainable values: inclusiveness, integrity, and respect. Stating that Ingalls’ “Little House” books were “dated,” the organization cited incidences from the series in which indigenous and colored people are not portrayed with modern sensibilities: acceptance, celebration and understanding of diverse communities. Board members noted that the name change was not prescribed to steer children away from reading the series, but only to align the award with modern-day values. President Jim Neal noted that the ALA was not attempting to “change anyone’s relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder herself was the first receipient of the award in 1954. For this reason, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association released an alternative statement, noting:
We believe it is not beneficial to the body of literature to sweep away her name as though the perspectives in her books never existed. Those perspectives are teaching moments to show generations to come how the past was and how we, as a society, must move forward with a more inclusive and diverse perspective.
In fact, President Barbara Bausted pointed out: “From the letters we were able to read between Laura and her daughter, it doesn’t appear she held racist attitudes.” And, Bausted added that Wilder was indeed a feminist: “Whether she saw herself as one or not, she exhibited the traits of a feminist. She is one of a number of strong and, one might say, stubborn female writers—at a time when female writers were not strongly heard.”
Jean Coday, Director of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, reflected:
However, difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today,” Coday said. “Mrs. Wilder was writing a historical account of her childhood to inform today’s children how proud they may be in their heritage and their nation.
And, a journalist from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote:
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) was not an active promoter of immoral causes. She was a most talented author, who, like Shakespeare and Mark Twain, wrote in the time in which she lived. Talented people – not racists.
No matter these opposing viewpoints and “growing pains” within the children’s literature community, the celebration of distinguished children’s book authors remains. Jacqueline Woodson was honored by the American Library Association in late June of this year as the 2018 winner of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.