Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the famed Little House on the Prairie books, has had her name removed from a prestigious children’s book award over concerns of her depictions of black and Indigenous Americans.
Wilder, who lived from 1867 to 1957, published eight of the family-friendly Little House novels, and they were published between 1932 and 1943. The semi-autobiographical books followed the trials and tribulations of her real-life family, the Ingalls, as they survived pioneer life in the American West.
The TV series of the same name, inspired by the books, ran from 1974 until 1983, and starred Melissa Gilbert as Wilder.
On Saturday, a division of the American Library Association voted to remove Wilder’s name from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) voted unanimously to change the name to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
The ALSC backed its decision by saying Wilder “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values.”
Wilder was given the first award in 1954, and E. B. White and Dr. Seuss are two other famous recipients of the Wilder Award. The ALSC said Wilder’s work continued to be published and read but her “legacy is complex” and “not universally embraced.”
“The novels are full of phrases that are unacceptable today,” British broadcaster Samira Ahmed wrote in the U.K.’s The Guardian in 2010. “Even in her own lifetime Wilder apologized for her thoughtlessness and amended a line in Little House on the Prairie that said Kansas had ‘no people, only Indians.’ It now reads ‘no settlers, only Indians.’”
Some of the characters and storylines in the Little House series feature racist attitudes and stereotypes that were commonplace in Wilder’s time.
“The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” one character says. At some points in the series, African-American characters are referred to as “darkies.”
A letter from the ALSC board noted the “complexity” of the issue and “the emotion surrounding it,” and also acknowledged Wilder’s books “have been deeply painful to many readers.”
Some Wilder scholars have expressed discontent about the removal of her name, saying it would be better to understand her works in context in order to teach children about historical attitudes.