Posted on June 26, 2018 at 11:54 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

The American Library Association has a special message for panicking Laura Ingalls Wilder fans: Relax; we’re not censoring or banning her books.

Yesterday’s news that the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the ALA, had voted to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award stirred up a fan frenzy.

(That includes the comments section on our Facebook post, by the way. Lots of feedback, most of it disagreeing with the decision.)

The ALA and ALSC issued a joint statement emphasizing that the move is simply a name change, nothing more:

Changing the name of the award should not be viewed as an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access to Wilder’s books and materials, but rather as an effort to align the award’s title with ALSC’s core values.  

This change should not be viewed as a call for readers to change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books. Updating the award's name should not be construed as censorship, as we are not demanding that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children.

We hope adults think critically about Wilder’s books and the discussions that can take place around them.

Academics have expressed varying opinions on the debate as well.

The Guardian quoted Debbie Reese, whose focus is the representation of Native Americans in children’s books, as saying:

Wilder’s depictions of African Americans and Native people are flawed and racist. Some will argue that at the time she wrote the books, things like blackface and stereotyping weren’t seen as wrong. But, of course, African Americans and Native peoples knew them to be wrong.

Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote an op-ed in March for The Washington Post on the issue.

While she concluded there's no harm in changing the name of an award and acknowledged the racist elements in Wilder's books, Fraser argued:

ALA’s statement nonetheless evokes the anodyne view of literature it has sought to correct through its annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books list. Changing the name of the Wilder Award is not an act of censorship, but no book, including the Bible, has ever been “universally embraced.”

Categories: Today in Books