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Laura Ingalls Wilder's name removed from children's literature prize

Laura Ingalls Wilder's name removed from children's literature prize
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her children's book "Little House on the Prairie." (File / NY Daily News)

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a significant achievement award in children’s literature presented by a division of the American Library Assn., will be renamed because of the author’s "stereotypical attitudes" toward Native Americans and African Americans.

The Assn. for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Assn., voted Saturday that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, named for the author of "Little House on the Prairie," will now be known as the Children's Literature Legacy Award.

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The group explained the decision in a statement on its website: "This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness."

The newly renamed Children's Literature Legacy Award was first awarded in 1954 to Wilder. Past winners have included E.B. White, Beverly Cleary, Maurice Sendak and, most recently, Jacqueline Woodson.

Criticism of Wilder's attitudes toward people of color has spanned decades. The Washington Post reports that in 1952, a reader of "Little House on the Prairie" noted that the book describes the American West as a place where "there were no people. Only Indians lived there."

Despite that, Wilder's "Little House" books have remained cultural mainstays ever since their original publication in the 1930s and 1940s. The series inspired a long-running television show starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert, which has long been run in syndication.

In a May report by an association task force, the organization acknowledged that Wilder's books "hold a significant place in the history of children’s literature and continue to be read today" and "are a product of her life, experience and perspective as an individual White woman of her era."

However, the group noted, "changing the name of the award, or ending the award and establishing a new award, does not prohibit access to Wilder’s works or suppress discussion about them. Neither option asks or demands that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children."

Wilder was the subject of a 2017 biography, "Prairie Fires," by Caroline Fraser. The book was published to positive reviews, and won both the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, written in March, shortly after the organization announced it was considering renaming the award, Fraser argued that Wilder's "work and its reception are more complicated than we may once have believed, shedding light on the myths that white Americans have woven about the past."

"There’s nothing wrong with changing the name of an award," Fraser wrote. "Chagrin, however, can be short-lived, and gatekeepers like the ALA should encourage children to read all our provocative classics —critically. I’d like to think that what would matter to Wilder in this debate would be not the institutionalized glory of an award bearing her name but the needs of children."

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