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Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Removed From Children's Literature Award


For years, the American Library Association has given out a children's literature award named for Laura Ingalls Wilder. This weekend, a division of the ALA voted unanimously to rename the award - this over concerns about the way that Wilder portrayed Native Americans and black people. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer has the story.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Yes, "Little House On The Prairie" is a classic beloved by millions. But let's just take a minute to remember the awful way Wilder described the Native Americans her family encountered. She wrote that they smelled of skunk, had hard, glittering eyes and came constantly to the little house demanding food and tobacco. More than once, her neighbors repeat that infamous slur, the only good Indian is a dead Indian.

NINA LINDSAY: These books are painful for some readers. Because of that, having this name attached to the award meant that this award had really mixed resonance.

MAYER: Nina Lindsay is the president of the Association for Library Service to Children, which gives out what's now called the Children's Literature Legacy Award. Lindsay says the change isn't meant to erase Wilder. In fact, her work is still important.

LINDSAY: And her name is no longer the best name for this award. And we recognize both those things are true.

MAYER: Lindsay says the ALSC spent months surveying librarians and readers on their feelings about Wilder and that most of her membership supports the move, although some have struggled with it.

CAROLINE FRASER: I would caution people against reading too much into this.

MAYER: That's Caroline Fraser, the author of "Prairie Fires," a biography of Wilder. Fraser says removing Wilder's name from the award doesn't necessarily mean taking her work off the shelves, too. But she also says your average 8-year-old shouldn't have to read the "Little House" books without some background. Instead, Fraser says, we should read Wilder the same way we read other troublesome classics.

FRASER: If teachers are going to teach them in a class, they need to teach them with the relevant history.

MAYER: The ALSC's Nina Lindsay agrees that Wilder shouldn't be banished.

LINDSAY: It is precisely because people should be reading and discussing Wilder's work that we recognized that we needed to change the name of the award.

MAYER: Next up, she says, her organization will be looking at all its other awards to see if any further changes need to happen. Petra Mayer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Petra Mayer (she/her) is an editor (and the resident nerd) at NPR Books, focusing on fiction, and particularly genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads. You can also hear her on the air and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.