Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name stripped from children’s book award over ‘Little House’ depictions of Native Americans
Laura Ingalls Wilder was on the brink of having an award named in her honor, from the Association for Library Service to Children, when in 1952 a reader complained to the publisher of “Little House on the Prairie” about what the reader found to be a deeply offensive statement about Native Americans.
The reader pointed specifically to the book’s opening chapter, “Going West.” The 1935 tale of the pioneering family seeking unvarnished, unoccupied land opens with a character named Pa, modeled after Wilder’s own father, who tells of his desire to go “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.”
The editor at Harper’s who received the reader’s complaint wrote back saying it was “unbelievable” to her that not a single person at Harper’s ever noticed, for nearly 20 years, that the sentence appeared to imply that Native Americans were not people, according to a 2007 biography of Wilder by Pamela Smith Hill.
Yet Harper’s decision in 1953 to change “people” to “settlers” in the offending sentence did little to quell the critics in later decades, who began describing Wilder’s depictions of Native Americans and some African Americans — and her storylines evoking white settlers’ manifest-destiny beliefs — as racist.
Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award.
The decision makes Wilder the latest target of efforts to purge from the cultural landscape symbols that honor historical figures who owned slaves, espoused racist views or engaged in racist practices. Statues and flags have been removed and highways renamed across the country. Coats of arms and building names have been changed or are the object of protests to get them changed. Columbus Day is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in some places.
In its decision to remove Wilder’s name from the award, the library association had cited “anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments in her work” when it announced the review of Wilder’s award in February. The award, reserved for authors or illustrators who have made “significant and…