Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A #ChangeTheName Moment: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is now the Children's Literature Legacy Award

On Saturday afternoon, June 23, 2018, the board of directors of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The change took place immediately. It is now the Children's Literature Legacy Award.
Update on July 21, 2018 re board of directors: when I uploaded this post on June 26 I used "executive board" by mistake. Jamie Naidoo wrote to me about that error; I subsequently corrected it but didn't note the initial error. Whenever you see errors in my posts, please let me know! I'm happy to change them. 
Today, I was over at Roger Sutton's post on the name change, and saw that Julie Corsaro had submitted a comment about the use of executive board. She didn't say who had made that error. If she was talking about my post, she could have written to me directly. In a second comment about it, Corsaro wrote 
"I’m glad to see that the error was corrected regarding the ALSC Board of Directors as the primary decision maker; regrettably, the change was not acknowledged in context as scholarship demands. As a result, this error has been replicated by others not understanding that it is incorrect nor taking the time to understand the structure of the association.  
Today's update addresses her concern that the error was "not acknowledged in context as scholarship demands." I first came across Corsaro in 2015, when, Edi Campbell organized a group of us to work on what we call the We're the People summer reading booklists. We shared the list on social media. In a comment to one of the places where we shared the list, Corsaro suggested that its emphasis discriminated against White people. I wondered, then, who she was and learned that she served as ALSC's president in 2010-2011. She was also on the 2017 Wilder committee that selected Nikki Grimes to receive what is now the Legacy Award. 
I am including her comment about the list because it illustrates the status of children's literature. Lot of people think it is a land of warm fuzzies, but it is fraught with politics. It is always interesting to see where and how people with power and influence weigh in, and what they choose to weigh in on. That goes for me, too! There is no such thing as neutrality, and those who suggest there is are, knowingly or not, advocating for a status quo that misrepresents and marginalizes those of us who have made gains in recent years. 
The vote took place at the American Library Association's 2018 Annual Conference, held in New Orleans.

As I write, I am in the New Orleans airport and reflecting on what I believe to be one of the most significant moments in children's literature. When I have more time, I will write more about why it is significant. If you have not read the books since your own childhood days, please do. Most adults I work with do not remember these pages from the book:

Those two pages were in a talk I delivered for the President's Panel on Monday afternoon. I also talked about books written today in which characters imagine themselves to be captured by Indians. I will turn my talk into a blog post as soon as I have some time to do that. I was live tweeting from the ALSC meeting when the vote took place. In news articles you will likely see some of my remarks.

As is often the case with some of the posts here at American Indians in Children's Literature, I will keep a log of items specific to the topic at hand. I advocated for the name change and support ALSC's decision.

To learn more about the name change:

Start with ALSC's website. There you will find an announcement about the change, a link to the report from the Task Force charged with taking a close look at the merits of a change. They solicited input from ALSC membership. The report is thorough. Please read it.

Here's the ALSC page: Welcome to the Children's Literature Legacy Award home page.



News outlets have done several news articles. I am also going to link to some individuals (like Melissa Gilbert, who played the part of Laura on the tv show) who have spoken up about the change. I will be adding to this list over the next few days. If you see articles that I did not list, please let me know in a comment (and let me know if any of what I've written doesn't make sense, or if there are typos). Adding a quick note: the curated list includes a wide range of responses, including some from conservative sources and people who disagree with ALSC's decision. Thanks!

Feb 27, 2018

American Indians in Children's Literature: Big News! A Possible change to the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award!

May 15, 2018

ALSC Awards Program Review Task Force Recommendation: Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

Saturday, June 23, 2018

ALSC Blog: Children's Literature Legacy Award #alaac18

Sunday, June 24, 2018
  • Video of Jacqueline Woodson, recipient of the 2018 Children's Literature Legacy Award (video played at 2018 Newbery, Caldecott, Legacy Award Banquet):

Monday, June 25, 2018
  • Melissa E. Gilbert (she played Laura on the Little House on the Prairie tv show) posted this to her Facebook page:
In my research for the musical and another Laura project I’m working on I’ve found it’s true. Caroline and many others were prejudiced against native Americans and people of color because they didn’t know or experience time around them. They were also very afraid of them. The native Americans particularly because they fought brutally. 
But let’s face it. We invaded their country, slaughtered thousands of them and stole their land. They fought back. 
It’s time for us to own that. 
In my opinion we need to have open discussions about historical atrocities to ensure they aren’t repeated. 
Especially in the current climate where a despotic dictator holds sway over so many people in our country. He feeds on people’s fears and hatred so wherever possible it’s incumbent on us to show people who we were and who we don’t ever want to be again. 
It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this but it’s a teachable moment.

June 26
  • A note from Debbie: I sure wish media would name ALSC rather than say 'book group'!
  • Another note: Overnight, the NYT changed the article title. I don't know why, or if that happens a lot, but this morning (June 27) it has a new title "Prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Renamed Over Racial Insensitivity." Here's a screen cap showing the first one, and the new one:   

June 27, 2018

June 29, 2018

July 3, 2018

July 5, 2018

July 6, 2018

July 7, 2018

July 9, 2018

July 10, 2018

July 19, 2018
July 25, 2018


Marge Loch-Wouters said...

Just wanted to send you this link to a wonderfully written blog post by a youth library consultant in northern WI who works with many small and rural library folks in and near the areas with historic sites from the books: http://keepingupwithkidsifls.blogspot.com/2018/06/changing-names.html

Perry Nodelman said...

Debbie, here’s what I posted on Facebook: I’m bewildered by the assumption I’m seeing everywhere that removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a children’s literature award somehow represents an erasure of history. In the last few days, widespread media discussion of the decision to rename the award has given me and millions of other people easy access to more information about Wilder, her life, her values, her assumptions about indigenous Americans, her parents, the libertarian anti-taxation (and therefore, presumably, anti-public-library?) daughter who collaborated with her on her books, etc., etc., than leaving her name on the award could ever have accomplished. This is the opposite of erasing history. All that’s being erased is a falsely idyllic view of who Wilder was and what she wrote. Aspects of history that a lot of people might like to forget have become much more visible, and much less easy to ignore.

Beverly Slapin said...

Hi, Debbie! I just want to congratulate you and all the strong advocates and activists who worked so long and so tirelessly (well, maybe not tirelessly) to bring this historic moment about. This is for the children!

Jean Mendoza said...

That National Review article by Dedra McDonald Birzer was... everything I expected it to be. I'll just look at two of its "points" here.
1) BIrzer writes, "The squirm-worthy descriptions of DeSmet’s minstrel show depict an unfortunate turn in entertainment, but one that should be part of our historical memory, never to be repeated." So minstrel shows with white settlers clowning around in blackface, are "an unfortunate turn in entertainment"? Are you saying that it's merely "unfortunate" that they dehumanized human beings, for laughs? Minstrel shows certainly are "part of our historical memory" -- but "never to be repeated"? Remember" 'thug' themed frat parties"? Those are not one-offs or ancient history; they reflect an underlying set of beliefs about racial superiority -- the same set of beliefs that was operating among DeSmet's "minstrels" and that can be seen hard at work today in various corridors of power. That stuff is toxic; it's not just regular (white) folks having a little fun. I wonder how Ms. Birzer imagines that African-American children have responded over the years to the Little Town minstrel scene? Does she think they felt included in the good times?

2) That word "included" ... Here's another passage that bears scrutiny. Birzer asks, "And just who is included when 'inclusivity' is touted as a core value? Whatever happened to children’s literature that told good stories that sparked children’s curiosity about history?" Challenging questions, but not impossible to address. When inclusivity is a core value, that means that any children reading the book can in some way or other see themselves, their lives, reflected in a way that does not shame, isolate, or limit them.

In Wilder's series, the good and fondly-remembered Dr. Tan does not balance out the horrible blackface images. We know this because the fact of Dr. Tan saving the Ingalls family doesn't keep Charles from putting on the blackface and having a grand old time at the expense of African-Americans.

Birzer also makes much of Charles' and Laura's sympathy for the Osage. But pity and grudging admiration are the height of the "positive" feelings about "Indians" those two characters express. Other sympathetic characters express fear, revulsion, genocidal intent re: Native people. So how is a Native kid/reader supposed to feel included in Wilder's world?

"Welcome to Little House on the Prairie, 'Indian' reader! Ma doesn't like you and Mr. Scott wants to kill you."

Ms. Birzer seems to feel that it's helpful to know that the Scotts witnessed some terrible event that Native people got the blame for, and that's why they said such horrible things. But knowing that only makes it worse; it's an attempt to excuse genocidal attitudes by framing them as a natural result of bad behavior by Indians. (In fact, genocidal attitudes toward Native people came ashore with the first Europeans.) Native children are not warmly included in the Wilder world. Native people there are represented as strange, and animal-like, and even kind of interchangeable. They are not welcome in the Ingalls cabin, and they are not welcome on the land that was supposed to be theirs. These (mis) representations add up to exclusion from the good side of history and the good side of Wilder's story.

So even though Native people and African American people do appear in Wilder's books, it's hardly the sort of "inclusivity" that lets just any child feel comfortable there. Which brings me to Birzer's question "Whatever happened to children’s literature that told good stories that sparked children’s curiosity about history?" I'll answer that question with another: If a children's story is built on (mis)representations of certain groups, then is it really a "good story"?

Ava Jarvis said...

Not much to say (apart from my anger at the thoughtless cruelty in the article) except I notice (and it's been said by you and others) that it's interesting that to quite a lot of white people, non-white children are expected to suck up racist representation and bear it, but white children need to be cushioned from feeling that historical racist representation is wrong and thus will need explanation from their teachers and parents/guardians as to how that all could have happened in the first place.

It's like the folks who argue with this defense don't view non-white children as being as worthy of consideration as white children... ah, I'll stop being coy. That's exactly what it means.

Unknown said...

Another note: Overnight, the NYT changed the article title. I don't know why, or if that happens a lot, but this morning (June 27) it has a new title "Prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Renamed Over Racial Insensitivity." Here's a screen cap showing the first one, and the new one:

In newspapers and newspaper websites it's not a title--it's a headline. Just as you have a special knowledge and sensitivity regarding Native Americans, I have one about journalism (which seems to be coming under fire quite often recently. Headlines often change to fit a new layout

-Mary Faye Randolph, BJ 1999, MLIS 2002

Library Teacher said...

Since when does every book have to suit every reader? This is the everyone gets a trophy generation. There are things in life that you won't agree with or that hurt you. People need to develop a thicker skin and learn to deal with adversity.

Unknown said...

Dr. Reese, thank you for compiling this list! Am excited to read through and more fully understand to be able to engage with conversations about this positive change.

Unknown said...

Library Teacher, believe you me, Native people and people of color in this country deal with adversity every damn day. There is no need to lionize racist representations of them with a prestigious award.

(I wish somebody would explain to me what's so wrong with giving everybody a trophy. I see it used by reactionaries all the time as some kind of sneer. God forbid kids who can't throw a ball accurately are still helped to feel good about themselves for playing sports, I guess. Clearly the fall of civilization is upon us. CHILDREN MUST BE RANKED HIERARCHICALLY WHEN IT COMES TO ATHLETIC ABILITIES.)

Thank you, Debbie, for all the hard work you did to make this happen.


Beverly Slapin said...

Just thought I'd copy Library Teacher's comment with my minor (explanatory) edits in parentheses:

"Since when does every book have to suit every (IPOC) reader? This is the everyone (who is IPOC) gets a trophy generation. There are things in life that you (IPOCs) won't agree with or that hurt you (IPOCs). (IPOC) people need to develop a thicker skin and learn to deal with adversity."

Beverly Slapin said...

Another note: For an excellent essay that presents a historical deconstruction of the LITTLE HOUSE series, people might want to read "Little House on the Osage Prairie" by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr., in Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin, eds., A BROKEN FLUTE: THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN (AltaMira Press 2005), pp. 49-52.

Ellen Fleischer said...

One more for you: https://bookriot.com/2018/07/05/laura-ingalls-wilder-award-name-change/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Riot%20Rundown&utm_term=BookRiot_TheRiotRundown_Tue-Thur

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hi Debbie!

Great compilation of material about an important change. You will want to add a link to this piece by James LaRue at the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, which appeared a few days ago and addresses important issues: https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=14879

In retrospect, I wish ALSC has simply brought the Wilder award to a close and started something new. It makes a poor impression to make an argument about harmful depiction and erasure, and then erase the fact that the Wilder award had ever existed. Overruled Supreme Court decisions like Korematsu and Dred Scott are not stricken from the books. Instead, they stand as reminders of what not to do. The Wilder award should have stood that way after the new award was promulgated.

I also hope you will be outspoken in getting ALSC to take a close look at the problematic Nikki Grimes title At Jerusalem's Gate, as she is an past award-winner who is apparently accepting the Legacy Award under its new name.

Thank you again for being an historian as well as an advocate on this.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this great record of the events and commentary involving the renaming of the award. I am going to assign this thread, along with other related materials, in my Exploring Popular Culture class this fall.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this great record of events and commentary involving the renaming of the award. I am going to assign this posting, along with other related materials, in my Exploring Popular Culture and Genre course this fall.

Happy Camper said...

Just wanted to say I'm very pleased at what Melissa Gilbert said, very.