Author Topic: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award  (Read 487 times)

Offline GloryAndCrumpets

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Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« on: June 25, 2018, 09:42:13 am »
So, apparently they've decided to take Laura Ingalls Wilder's name off of a major children's book award because of the "stereotypical attitudes" in her books: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/ny-ent-laura-ingalls-winder-stereotypical-attitudes-20180624-story.html

What do you all think of this decision? I have to say, I personally disagree. I loved the Little House books growing up, and I'm reading them with my two oldest kids (ages 7 and 8 ) right now (we just finished Little House on the Prairie). Are there problematic attitudes in the books? Yes, of course. But the books, like all books, are a product of their time (and honestly, reading Little House on the Prairie, Pa's attitudes towards the Indians are actually fairly progressive for the time, especially compared to those of his neighbors). And those problematic attitudes are such a small part of the books that this feels to me a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Personally, as I read through them with my kids, I've been trying to take the approach mentioned near the end of the article- using the books as a teaching opportunity, and a chance to talk with my kids about why people used to think this way, and how we now realize that that's wrong.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: June 25, 2018, 10:57:24 am by GloryAndCrumpets »

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Offline PeasInQueues

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2018, 10:30:31 am »
I feel like ignoring problematic attitudes, even in the past, is dangerous. I'd much rather us be able to have conversations about the issues than pretend they didn't happen.

What are they going to do with Huckleberry Finn?
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Offline Lynn2000

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2018, 10:42:30 am »
I agree with you, I think it's going too far. I also loved the Little House books as a kid, and reading them as an adult, especially the later ones, I see all kinds of things I completely missed as a child. They are actually very complex works--I'm sure someone has written a dissertation on the use of "shame" in them, for example. Like I remember when Laura is a teenager and automatically catches a ball thrown by some boys at school and lobs it back, then feels ashamed of herself for not being ladylike--she feels ashamed of herself, not because of anything anyone else has said or done right then. The book treats this as the right way for her to feel, but obviously that's problematic in a modern context. To me that's a jumping off point for discussion with an older child, not a reason to suppress the books or even downgrade the author's stature (because then it becomes ALL ABOUT the downgrade--like maybe you could avoid naming something NEW after her instead).

I think the books are so valuable precisely because they're a window on their time. In another scene I recall, the town has a debate society, and the two teams debate whether blacks or Native Americans have been treated worse by white society--with all the town's citizens being white. It represents something that really happened in many places, I imagine, and has so many layers to unpack for a modern audience. (Laura's team wins after she contributes a story about how when she was a child and her family was afflicted with some disease, the doctor who treated them was black--so at least one black man became a doctor, but a Native American could never do that, so the Native Americans had been treated worse.)

Also, mentions of non-white people are only a small percentage of the entire series. I think that's important because if you had a book where the main plot was about a non-white person, and it was handled really badly by today's standards (if acceptable at the time it was written), there would be a lot more reason to not celebrate that author. But, I don't think most young kids are going to pick up bad messages from reading the books on their own, and with older kids you can talk about any problematic parts and make it a learning experience.

Many older kids' books have problematic parts. Roald Dahl for instance--I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator as a kid (sequel to the Chocolate Factory) and that has a certain number of racist or at least problematic jokes in it. In the book there's an international crisis and a main character is the US President and his advisers, who are primarily idiots. They're trying to call the leader of China, but "China is so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you Wing, you get the Wong number." There's also a gag about "How long is a Chinaman's name... No, really, his name is How Long." The joke is partly about how stupid the President and his advisers are, but also feels pretty weird for the ethnic part now.

The reason I remember it so vividly is that when I was a kid, I read this on my own, and thought those jokes were absolutely the height of humor--puns, and so on. I even made a song about them, which I performed for my extended family. To this day, they still bring up that story--but they don't find the joke racist or cringe-worthy at all, they just think I was so clever as a little kid to come up with those puns (I guess they also thought I came up with them myself). It's like, could you please not remind me of the racist jokes I used to tell as a kid when I didn't know any better? Oh wait, you guys don't even think they're racist. NOW we have a problem.

So to me, having questionable content in a historical book is not the problem. It's when you don't recognize that it's there, and help your kids understand why it's outdated. That's so important and valuable, and helps kids think critically about future issues they encounter.
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Offline GloryAndCrumpets

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2018, 10:53:34 am »
I feel like ignoring problematic attitudes, even in the past, is dangerous. I'd much rather us be able to have conversations about the issues than pretend they didn't happen.

What are they going to do with Huckleberry Finn?

Lots of schools have already banned Huck Finn or taken off the reading list, and I know a couple years back there was one edition that took out every mention of "n*****" and replaced it with "slave." Which not only removes any opportunity for learning and discussion, but almost misses the whole point of the book, since Twain was trying to fight back against those attitudes.  ::)
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Offline Lynn2000

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2018, 11:11:21 am »
Agreed. We read Huckleberry Finn in high school, when we were old enough and in the right setting to discuss the attitudes displayed and what they meant. People think it's a book for kids because it's a "sequel" to Tom Sawyer, which is a kids' book. But it's not for kids at all. It's a dark story. I still remember the awful scene after this flood, where entire houses are floating by.

So there the issue is people not understanding the intended audience and message of the book. Yeah, I wouldn't give it to a little kid to read, for a lot of reasons, not just the N-word. But you wouldn't give a little kid a Stephen King horror novel, either, but that doesn't mean Stephen King needs to be "banned."

Offline Jem

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2018, 11:23:35 am »
I agree with pretty much everyone else that banning books is not the way to address past social problems. We cannot learn from past mistakes or inappropriate attitudes if we pretend they didn't happen.

I was actually talking about this concept in a broader sense this past weekend when discussing the kid/tween shows "Jessie" and "Andi Mack." Without going into too much detail, "Jessie" is in theory a great show in which a wealthy couple hires a nanny (Jessie) for their brood of kids, some biological and some adopted from India, Africa, and Latin America. While I think the show has some good qualities, I have always been disturbed by the stereotyping of the kids. For example, the boy from India speaks with a heavy accent and is book-smart but very socially awkward. It always came across as subtly racist in a way I am positive the producers did not intend.

Contrast that with "Andi Mack" which follows Andi who learns that the person she though was her mother is actually her grandmother, and the person she thought was her estranged sister is actually her mother. The cast is diverse - Andi's grandmother is Chinese and her grandfather is White, Andi's mother Bex is part Chinese and part White, and Andi's father is White. Andi's friends are White, Black, Jewish, Hispanic, one is gay.....but they address issues faced by all people on the show as mere portions of who the characters are. So for example, there are episodes in which Cyrus, who is Jewish, is realizing that he is gay. Once this is established, it is just a part of his character - not the defining part of his character, if that makes sense. And Andi is not "that girl who is part Chinese" but instead "Andi - she's a little quirky, she's a great friend, she's smart and talented."

Anyway, I got off topic, but my point is that I think we need to recognize and learn from past attitudes that are no longer "okay" rather than I guess pretend that such attitudes never existed. And I also think it is important to place things into context - I think few people believe Laura Ingalls Wilder to be a horrible and racist person, even though through the prism of today's attitudes she may seem that way at times. She didn't know better then. We do know better now. So I think talking about this makes sense, rather than pretending it never was a thing.
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guest121

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2018, 11:46:37 am »
If the people who give the award don't like her anymore, that's their business.

But there is no way to read about the past, or write realistic fiction about it, without including problematic attitudes. If all the sympathetic characters are woke and only the unsympathetuc characters are biased, thats not realistic -- even for contemporary stories!

She chronicled her times (through a rosy lens). If we decry people who tell the truth, we will have nothing left of the past at all. And those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

One of the ways I see how far we've come just in my lifetime, is that I have to explain all kinds of assumptions, phrases, and situations to my kids when they crop up in movies or books. The attitudes are so alien that they don't even understand what the characters are talking about. Far from reinforcing old attitudes, they provide learning opportunities so my kids can identify biased thinking in a "practice" context before they go out into the world and have to deal with the real thing.
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Offline GloryAndCrumpets

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2018, 12:04:18 pm »
One of the ways I see how far we've come just in my lifetime, is that I have to explain all kinds of assumptions, phrases, and situations to my kids when they crop up in movies or books. The attitudes are so alien that they don't even understand what the characters are talking about. Far from reinforcing old attitudes, they provide learning opportunities so my kids can identify biased thinking in a "practice" context before they go out into the world and have to deal with the real thing.

As we read Little House on the Prairie, I was trying to explain to my kids about why the Indians were having to leave, and how unfortunately it was not uncommon for Indians to be forced off land because settlers wanted to live there and my son (age 8 ) piped up "Well, they should just all live there together!" It was unfathomable to him that people would fight about this, when the solution was (to him) so obvious and simple.

Offline Lynn2000

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2018, 12:20:15 pm »
I also think that focusing on "obvious" problems like racist language--which you can find in a book with a keyword search, without even looking at the context--misses a lot of questionable content which is more subtle but also deserves discussion, and of courses misses things that the author omitted but should have included. Asking "why" this was the author's choice is incredibly important.

I already mentioned a "shame" attitude in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books--relating not just to "proper" behavior for a girl but also moral behavior in general. Laura carried a LOT of conflicted feelings about being inferior, not good enough, not the boy who could really help her father out on the farm. She saw the attitudes of her day that were acceptable--often epitomized by her sister Mary--and realized she didn't feel the same way inside, but felt like she was a bad person for that, and forced herself to conform outwardly. There's also things like Laura being forced to teach at a school, when she was barely older than her students, while living in a bad situation away from home, because her family needed the money--at what point is a sacrifice unreasonable? She tends to write as though things are perfectly normal, or if she resents it then she is the bad one--a modern reader will likely feel a lot of disconnect about that.

Something I realized when I started reading the books about her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was how much of the drudgery and difficulty and frustration of life Laura was actually leaving out. So that's another choice that could be discussed. Rose didn't seem to have the same inhibition about her feelings that Laura did--if Rose was mad about something, it was okay for the narration to be mad, too. (I forget if those books were actually written by Rose, or by her son based on her recollections.)

What gets me is that if someone is responsible for an award named after LIW, you would think they'd be familiar enough with her books to realize that they are so much more than just a few hot-button remarks--the whole picture of life they present is complicated, fraught with discordance to modern readers, and ripe for critical thinking and questioning by young readers. Plus, LIW's works are an entire saga spanning much of her life, growing in complexity along with the narrator and reader. I think I was introduced to Little House in the Big Woods in maybe second grade? But a kid that age isn't going to care about the adult issues in a later book like These Happy Golden Years, and something like The Long Winter would probably be too dark for them. To dismiss her entire canon instead of seeing it as an opportunity to discuss how attitudes change, but some human stories still endure across the ages, seems very short-sighted to me.

Okay, I'm sure I come off as an obsessive LIW scholar at this point; but honestly, it's been 10-15 years since I last read her books. I read them all as a kid, then reread later and was just struck by all the stuff I had missed. I think if someone only remembers them vaguely--yeah, cool stuff about making head cheese and playing catch with a pig's bladder, and nasty Nellie Olsen--they might be inclined to dismiss them as lightweight kid's stuff that can easily be jettisoned if Some Authority says it has problematic content. (One guy my age said he'd never read those books because they were only for girls. Your loss, pal.) They're really quite rich and sophisticated, especially the later ones, and it would be a shame if people never tried them because of publicity about the award downgrade.

Offline whiterose

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Re: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name Taken Off Book Award
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2018, 01:36:59 pm »
As a librarian, I am certainly not happy about this.

It is essentially saying that no matter how many good things a person may have done, saying one racist comment automatically makes them completely and totally evil with no redeeming qualities.

The books were a certainly a product of the time. Laura Ingalls Wilder even edited some as her views changed.

Banning books does not solve anything.
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Offline lowspark

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and I know a couple years back there was one edition that took out every mention of "n*****" and replaced it with "slave."

Ugh. I'm not sure which is worse, banning a book or changing the author's words. Twain chose the words he used for a reason. And though those words are not acceptable for that usage today, that doesn't change how they were used or perceived at the time they were written and to change them is tantamount to trying to whitewash the past.

I don't see how ignoring or denying the past helps anything. I can only imagine how the things we say and do today will be interpreted 50 or 100 years from now.
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guest121

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As a librarian, I am certainly not happy about this.

It is essentially saying that no matter how many good things a person may have done, saying one racist comment automatically makes them completely and totally evil with no redeeming qualities.

The books were a certainly a product of the time. Laura Ingalls Wilder even edited some as her views changed.

Banning books does not solve anything.

Well, they aren't banning her books, not at all. They are just giving the award a more neutral name. Apparently it was a unanimous vote.

As a policy decision by the board, I don't have a problem with it. If the point of their body is "the support and enhancement of library service to children," (from their website) then it makes sense to avoid potential "stumbling blocks" to kids and families. And families in marginalized communities usually need good library services the most.

But I agree that, as adults and readers, it doesn't make sense to critique historical writers through modern sensibilities without context.
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Offline Winterlight

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Why are we talking about banning books? The Association of Library Service to Children renamed an award, that's all. It's now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Wilder isn't harmed by this, nobody's saying you can't read her books. The only impact is that her name won't be in a press release twice a year.
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
Caroline Lake Ingalls
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Offline whiterose

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Why are we talking about banning books? The Association of Library Service to Children renamed an award, that's all. It's now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Wilder isn't harmed by this, nobody's saying you can't read her books. The only impact is that her name won't be in a press release twice a year.

The problem is, some people may hear "They removed her name from the award for a reason. She must be a bad person. And anyone who reads her books must be a bad person as well".
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Offline Angry Canada Goose

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Why are we talking about banning books? The Association of Library Service to Children renamed an award, that's all. It's now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Wilder isn't harmed by this, nobody's saying you can't read her books. The only impact is that her name won't be in a press release twice a year.

The problem is, some people may hear "They removed her name from the award for a reason. She must be a bad person. And anyone who reads her books must be a bad person as well".

That's a listening skill problem, and such a stretch
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