A decades-old controversy over the depiction of Native Americans and African-Americans in the classic Little House on the Prairie books has resulted in the name of its author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, being removed from an award. Someone first complained back in 1952. In the first chapter of the book about pioneer life in the late 19th century, Wilder says that her father, Pa, wanted to move “where the wild animals lived without being afraid,” where “the land was level, and there were no trees,” and where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” It’s the last quote that disturbed the reader who contacted the publisher, according to The Washington Post. They responded to the offended reader, saying they couldn’t believe that in all the years people had been reading Little House on the Prairie (about 20 years at that time), no one had caught the implication that Native Americans are not people. The following year, Harper’s changed the word “people” to “settlers.”
Many people found the change unsatisfactory over the years and have made their anger known to the publisher. They found her descriptions of Native Americans, and sometimes her depictions of African-Americans, racist. They also found her storylines about white settlers’ Manifest Destiny racist. Now, almost 70 years after that first complaint, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, has voted unanimously to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award given annually to authors and illustrators who have made a “significant and long-lasting contribution to children’s literature.” The Laura Ingalls Wilder award will now be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
The vote took place Saturday in New Orleans, and the decision received a standing ovation, according to Fox News. The ALSC said that the Little House on the Prairie books which were written in the 1930s and 1940s include “expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values.” Although Wilder’s books continue to be widely read, the organization says her “legacy is complex” and “not universally embraced.”
In a March Washington Post column, Caroline Fraser, who wrote Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, argued for continuing support and reading of the Little House books. Fraser stated that Wilder’s work “vividly, unforgettably … still tells truths about white settlement, homesteading and the violent appropriation of Indian land and culture.” She added that “For decades, her legacy has been awash in sentimentality, but every American — including the children who read her books — should learn the harsh history behind her work.”