Showing posts sorted by relevance for query little house on the prairie. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query little house on the prairie. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Selective Omissions, or, What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE

In 2001, I began some in-depth research on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. I came across an article about a speech she gave on October 16, 1937, at a book fair in a Detroit department store. Her speech was published forty years later (September, 1978) in the Saturday Evening Post. I read the speech and was astonished at what she said. Moreover, I was astonished that none of the material I'd read to that point (and since) has commented on that speech... She said:

Every story in this novel, all the circumstances, each incident are true. All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth. There were some stories I wanted to tell but would not be responsible for putting in a book for children, even though I knew them as a child.

And here is an extended excerpt. I'm adding bold text to set off the portions of the speech I want you to pay particular attention to:
There was the story of the Bender family that belonged in the third volume, Little House on the Prairie. The Benders lived halfway between it and Independence, Kansas. We stopped there, on our way in to the Little House, while Pa watered the horses and brought us all a drink from the well near the door of the house. I saw Kate Bender standing in the doorway. We did not go in because we could not afford to stop at a tavern.

On his trip to Independence to sell his furs, Pa stopped again for water, but did not go in for the same reason as before.

There were Kate Bender and two men, her brothers, in the family and their tavern was the only place for travelers to stop on the road south from Independence. People disappeared on that road. Leaving Independence and going south they were never heard of again. It was thought they were killed by Indians but no bodies were ever found.

Then it was noticed that the Benders’ garden was always freshly plowed but never planted. People wondered. And then a man came from the east looking for his brother, who was missing.

He made up a party in Independence and they followed the road south, but when they came to the Bender place there was no one there. There were signs of hurried departure and they searched the place.

The front room was divided by a calico curtain against which the dining table stood. On the curtain back of the table were stains about as high as the head of a man when seated. Behind the curtain was a trap door in the floor and beside it lay a heavy hammer.

In the cellar underneath was the body of a man whose head had been crushed by the hammer. It appeared that he had been seated at the table back to the curtain and had been struck from behind it. A grave was partly dug in the garden with a shovel close by. The posse searched the garden and dug up human bones and bodies. One body was that of a little girl who had been buried alive with her murdered parents. The garden was truly a grave-yard kept plowed so it would show no signs. The night of the day the bodies were found a neighbor rode up to our house and talked earnestly with Pa. Pa took his rifle down from its place over the door and said to Ma, “The vigilantes are called out.” Then he saddled a horse and rode away with the neighbor. It was late the next day when he came back and he never told us where he had been. For several years there was more or less a hunt for the Benders and reports that they had been seen here or there. At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, “They will never be found.” They were never found and later I formed my own conclusions why.

You will agree it is not a fit story for a children’s book. But it shows there were other dangers on the frontier besides wild Indians.

Some context for why that speech is--to me--astonishing. In Little House on the Prairie, Wilder presents Indians as frightening and menacing. Through Mrs. Scott, she tells us about an Indian massacre. Three times, Wilder's characters say "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." And what about the terrifying tone at the end of Little House on the Prairie, when Pa stays up all night and the entire family listens to Indians "howling" for several nights in a row?

According to Wilder, it is "fit" for children to read about "wild Indians" but it is not "fit" for them to read about serial killers who are white, nor is it "fit" for children to read that Pa killed someone in order to protect his family from harm.

Wilder's speech was reprinted in 1988 in A Little House Sampler, edited by William T. Anderson. A Little House Sampler is cited in eleven other books (according to Amazon), and yet, nobody commented on the Bender's, or Wilder's decision not to include that story.

Think about that omission and what it means. I invite your comments, and please take a minute to read about racism in the Little House books (links below).

Update, July 5, 2008

A librarian in Kansas wrote to point me to info on the Benders, who are quite well known as serial killers. She writes:
The Bloody Benders, as they were called, represent one of Kansas' most enduring mysteries. They appeared to be a family of well-organized killers who robbed and killed unsuspecting travelers who ventured into their home/inn for a meal and whose bodies dropped through a trap door in the floor under the chair in which they were seated. Here is further information from our state historical society: Bender Knife.

There is a museum in Cherryvale, KS, which has items from the Bender home and a wreath of human hair from their victims, as well as a roadside marker near Labette, KS: The Bloody Benders.

And, another person has written, pointing me to a graphic novel called A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders.


For further reading:
Posts about racism in Little House on the Prairie series


Sunday, November 11, 2018

At last! A writer incorporates a critical take on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE! The writer? Emma Donoghue.

That's a long title for a blog post, but that's what I want people to see right now.

In 2017, Arthur A. Levine (an imprint of Scholastic) published Emma Donoghue's The Lotterys Plus One. Though I've not had time to turn my notes on that book into a blog post, it is one of the rare instances in which a non-Native writer does ok in their depictions of Native content. Here's the description of The Lotterys Plus One (I highlighted the word 'multicultural'):
Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed "good girl" of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant "Grumps," who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn't been part of any of their lives. Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps's clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household... He's worse than just tough to get along with -- Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs?

See that "multicultural household" in the description? On the first page of the book, we get the details (I highlighted the word 'Mohawk'):
Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow... and grow some more.
The household, described by some as being hippy-like, is one where there's an awareness of societal ills, like racism. We see that Donoghue take a poke at Little House on the Prairie in the sequel The Lotterys More or Less (published in 2018).  On September 24, 2018,  Dr. Rob Bittner tweeted a photo from an advanced reader copy. The book has since been published. The passage he tweeted is on page 194:
She's trying to find that wonderful Christmas scene in Little House on the Prairie, but she keeps coming across racist remarks about savages, so she gives up.
Here's a screen cap of that passage:



"She" is nine-year-old Sumac. The word "savages" is used three times in Little House on the Prairie (note: the Christmas scene occurs earlier in the book than the passages below. Before then, the ways that Native peoples are characterized as less-than-human is racist):

  • "...so many of those savages were coming together..." is on page 284
  • "...at night they heard the savage voices shouting." is on page 286
  • "...more and more savage warriors were riding..." on page 305

It is terrific to see that characterization described as racist. I wonder how readers will respond to it? Will they notice? Some will, for sure. Dr. Bittner did; I care enough to write a post about it, and I bet Native kids will notice it, too. If you have any thoughts on it or see people commenting on it, let me know!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Edit(s) to 1935 edition of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE?

While doing research on Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur, I came across information about a revision to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. When it was first published in 1935 by Harper, the illustrations were done by Helen Sewell. I knew the publisher asked Garth Williams to redo illustrations for the book in the 1950s, but I did not know text had also been changed.

In Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, is the following letter. Nordstrom was the editorial director at Harper from 1940 to 1973, and she was Wilder's editor. The letter writer's name is not provided in Dear Genius. Here is Nordstrom's response (page 53 and 54)

October 14, 1952
Dear _____
Your letter to Mrs. [Laura Ingalls] Wilder, the author of Little House on the Prairie, came several weeks ago. We took the liberty of opening it as we do many of the letters that are addressed to Mrs. Wilder. Often we can send the writers the photographs and biographical material they want. Mrs. Wilder is now in her eighties and we try to handle much of the correspondence here.

We are indeed disturbed by your letter. We knew that Mrs. Wilder had not meant to imply that Indians were not people and we did not want to distress her if we could possibly avoid it. I must admit to you that no one here realized that those words read as they did. Reading them now it seems unbelievable to me that you are the only person who has picked them up and written to us about them in the twenty years since the book was published. We were particularly disturbed because all of us here feel just as strongly as you apparently feel about such subjects, and we are proud that many of the books on the Harper list prove that. Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that though such a statement could have passed unquestioned twenty years ago it would never have appeared in anything published in recent years.

Instead of forwarding your letter to Mrs. Wilder I wrote her about the passage and said that in reprinting we hoped that she would allow us to change it. I have just received her answer. She says: "You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not." We are changing the next printing to read "There were no settlers."*

We appreciate your letter, but we are terribly sorry that ___ could not have the book for her eighth birthday. The new printing will be available for her ninth one though, and we are making a note now to be sure that you receive a complimentary copy. As a children's book editor, I was touched by your not wanting ___ to know only the Saggy, Baggy Elephant and I was therefore all the more upset by your very reasonable complaint against Mrs. Wilder's book.

I am sorry this is not a better letter and I am particularly sorry that I have not written you long before this. I wanted to wait, though, until I had written Mrs. Wilder and received her answer.

The asterisk above is actually a numeral one in Dear Genius but I can't do footnote numbering in Blogger so used an asterisk instead. That asterisk corresponds to a note at the bottom of the page that says

The passage in question appears in the opening chapter. As revised it reads as follows: "There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no settlers. Only Indians lived there."
Hmmm...  And, WOW!!! Reading all of that, I wondered what the original text said. I posted a query to LM_NET (over ten thousand librarians subscribe to LM_NET) hoping someone had a copy of the 1935 edition.

A few hours later, I had a reply (thanks, Sonja!). The 1935 edition read "a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people." Wilder and Nordstrom changed people to settlers.

Interesting, eh?

I ordered a copy of the 1935 edition and when it arrives, I'll study it closely. I wonder if additional changes were made?

I'd like to see the letter Nordstrom responded to. I wonder if the person who wrote the letter to Wilder objected to more than just that one passage? That passage appears very early in the book. In the copy I'm looking at right now, it is the fifth paragraph of the book. Perhaps the letter writer read that far and quit reading to compose her letter. I'll write to Leonard Marcus to see if he has more info. He is the editor of Dear Genius.

For now, let's go back to Nordstrom's letter.

Nordstrom says "we" (her staff, I assume) feel as strongly as the person who wrote the letter. Suggesting that Indians are not people is not ok with Nordstrom. But! There are many passages in it that equate Indians with animals. Wilder's Indians yip and yap and howl at each other. What about all those passages?

My question is, why not discontinue the entire book? If I had met with Nordstrom, would she have made more changes to the book? Or pulled it?

[Note: I've written about Little House several times. If you're interested in my (Native) perspective, scroll waaaay down to the bottom of this page and see the set of links at the bottom.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Back from Madison, and, Sewell Illustrations in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Yesterday afternoon I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Janice Rice. We were there at the invitation of Ryan Comfort of the American Indian Curriculum Services office in the School of Education.

Working with the theme "Expanding the Narrative," I talked about problems with "the Narrative" as exemplified by Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, and, uncritical observance and activities about Thanksgiving. Janice highlighted books that have been selected for the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award. We also talked about Best Practice, Censorship and Selection. 

Time sped by! The turnout was terrific, and it was wonderful to spend time with people in the Native community there---Janice, Ryan, JP, Adrienne, Crystal (I hope I've spelled your name right!)---and, friends at CCBC---KT, Janice, Megan, and Amanda.

In the CCBC, I had a few minutes to myself and realized they probably had a copy of the 1935 edition of Little House on the Prairie---the version I wrote about last week. I asked Amanda, and she got it out for me. Hurray! I started paging through it, and realized (in hindsight, I'm doing a "doh!") that Helen Sewell and Garth Williams illustrated different stories in the book. Page through your copy of the Williams-illustrated-edition and note how many times his illustrations are of Indians. Sewell, on the other hand, has a single illustration of Indians. Hers is in the chapter, "Indians Ride Away." She shows a naked Indian riding a horse. The caption reads "The little Indians did not have to wear clothes."

When I got home from Madison late this afternoon, my mail included that 1935 copy I ordered last week. Again, hurray!  I can now do a close comparison of the 1935/Sewell with the 1953/Williams editions of Little House on the Prairie, looking at text and illustration. Questions! Williams did a lot of Indian illustrations. Was this his choice? Was he cued by Nordstrom? Wilder? What prompted Williams to do so many Indians?

Thanks, Ryan, for inviting me, and thanks, Janice! I think we did a good job with our presentation. Thanks, too, to all of you who came to hear what we shared.
 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Anita Silvey's CHILDREN'S BOOK-A-DAY ALMANAC

Anita Silvey is a powerful person in children's literature. Among her many accomplishments are that she was the editor at the The Horn Book Magazine, and has been on NPR and television news programs. According to the information on her website, her lifelong conviction is that “only the very best of anything can be good enough for the young.”

Going through her Book-A-Day Almanac with that conviction in mind, I'm a bit puzzled. On one hand, or rather, on one day, she hails Morning Girl by Michael Dorris for helping her to see Christopher Columbus in a new way...  Indeed, she was so moved by Morning Girl that she no longer celebrates Columbus Day.  Here's what Silvey wrote:
Morning Girl provides a different lens for history. As the saying goes, history gets written by the winners. But in this slim book, Michael Dorris makes it possible to view events in 1492 from the point of view of the people already living in the Americas, sailing no oceans. Because Dorris accomplished his mission so brilliantly, I have not celebrated Columbus Day since I read this small gem.
Though I've not written (yet) about Morning Girl on AICL, I agree with her assessment. It is a gem. Reading comments from her readers, I think she influenced several people to revisit how they view Columbus Day, too. That's a good thing because U.S. history is too-often romanticized and glorified, and too-often, stereotypes are not challenged. Dorris challenged these stereotypes, as Silvey tells us:
As a child, Dorris had found only stereotypical Indians in books; so he set out to craft a story with authentic Native American characters that children would want to read about, get to know, and grow to love. 
What she does not tell her readers is that the stereotypical Indians Dorris found in books he read as a child are the ones in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series---which is that 'other hand' I alluded to above. On one hand, Silvey praises Dorris, and on the other, she praises Wilder. (For my response to Silvey's recommendation of the series, see my post on July 11, 2011.)

In his essay, "Trusting the Words," Dorris wrote about sitting down to read Little House in the Big Woods to his daughters:
Not one page into Little House in the Big Woods, I heard my voice saying, "As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them."

Say what? Excuse me, but weren't we forgetting the Chippewa branch of my daughters' immediate ancestry, not to mention the thousands of resident Menominees, Potawatomis, Sauks, Foxes, Winnebagos, and Ottawas who inhabited mid-nineteenth-century Wisconsin, as they had for many hundreds of years? Exactly upon whose indigenous land was Grandma and Grandpa's cozy house constructed? Had they paid for the bountiful property, teeming with wild game and fish? This fun-filled world of extended Ingallses was curiously empty, a pristine wilderness in which only white folks toiled and cavorted, ate and harvested, celebrated and were kind to each other.

My dilemma, as a raconteur, was clear. My little girls looked up to me with trusting eyes, eager to hear me continue with the first of these books I had promised with such anticipation. I had made "an event" out of their reading, an intergenerational gift, and now in the cold light of an adult perspective I realized that I was, in my reluctance to dilute the pleasure of a good story with the sober stuff of history, in the process of perpetuating a Eurocentric attitude that was still very much alive. One had only to peruse newspaper accounts of contemporary Wisconsin controversies over tribal fishing rights, bingo emporia, and legal and tax jurisdiction to realize that many of Grandpa and Grandma's descendants remained determined that there could be "no people" except those who were just like them. (p. 271-272)
Dorris closed Little House in the Big Woods at that point, deciding he'd set that book aside and try again the next night with Little House on the Prairie. In that one, he recalled that the family had moved west. There, he figured, there would be Indians. Things seemed to be going fine as he read it to his daughters, but then he got to page 46 where Ma tells Laura she doesn't like Indians. Dorris writes:
What was a responsible father to do? Stop the narrative, explain that Ma was a know-nothing racist? Describe the bitter injustice of unilateral treaty abridgment? Break into a chorus of "Oklahoma!" and then point out how American popular culture has long covered up the shame of the Dawes Act by glossing it over with Sooner folklore? (p 274)
What he did instead, was start editing and leaving out words and passages as he read, doing what he could to counter the racism until he couldn't do it any longer. There was too much of it. He ended up putting the books on a top shelf and telling them to read them later on, on their own. He closes that essay by imagining a moment sometime in the future when each of his daughters would come to him with the book in-hand, outraged at its contents.

With someone as influential as Anita Silvey recommending the books, she is making sure the books stay on the bedside table, not the top shelf. So you see why I am puzzled by her conviction and the books she writes about on Book-A-Day.  How are the stereotypes in the Little House books "the very best" for children? Or the ones in other books she recommends, like Danny and the Dinosaur?

-----
"Trusting the Words" is available in Paper Trails: Essays, by Michael Dorris, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.



Tuesday, November 09, 2010

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE - "Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)"

I am reading Elizabeth Bird's blog this morning and saw this:
Wow!  So somehow I was unaware that Lisa Brown (she of the recent picture book Vampire Boy’s Good Night) had created a large archive of three panel cartoon reviews of various works of classic literature.  Or, if not classic literature, at least well known literature.   Some of you, I know, will be fond of the Little House one.  Thanks to Educating Alice for the link.
With the mention of Little House, I clicked on it and scrolled down to find Browns review. Because her work is copyrighted w/all rights reserved, you'll need to click on this link to see the Little House review. Lisa Brown's cartoon reviews are published at the San Francisco Chronicle

In her review, the first two panels show Ma and Pa in a wagon. Ma and the ox that pulls the wagon are looking at Pa, who (from my point of view) is hanging his head. In apology? In shame? The text reads
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)...
The third panel is a log cabin in the midst of one tree and four stumps. The text for that panel is
...build a log cabin.  

On her bio page, Brown says that her presentations include "rants about historical accuracy." I think that may be part of what she's pointing to with her review of Little House. Pa built a log cabin. Thinking about that cabin and the title of the book, there's a bit of a disconnect. The word "house" summons up something quite different from a log cabin. In the book itself, Wilder gives us a lot of information about building that cabin. Its rustic, and they do their best to make it a home, but it is, nonetheless, a cabin, and we know that it is a cabin. It is given to us explicitly in the book text.  Using "House" however (in the title) brings to mind something different. It invokes civilization. I had never really thought about that before, but like her use of "papoose," I think it is another word that conveys a lot that we aren't necessarily aware of. She could have used "baby" instead of papoose, but, using papoose puts a distance between a reader thinking of Indian babies as being babies like anyone else's babies. Using papoose marks that baby as "other" and "not like me." It works, subtly, on the deep structures of knowledge that we all carry around inside of us. House works the same way. It makes Laura and her family more like the reader. 

Brown uses the word "entitlement" --- which is sure to get a lot of people fired up, for different reasons.

Another thing I see in her review is a comment on behavior of pioneers... cutting down trees. Maybe those stumps are just there to show that the logs in the cabin walls came from those trees, but I think it can also be viewed as what happens to the natural environment when a lot of people move in and set about changing it. We all do that, of course, but to varying degrees. If you're interested in a present-day story of clearcutting, a video called "Clearcut: The Story of Philomath Oregon" is one option. I haven't seen the entire video, but the trailer is provocative.

To wrap up this post, thanks, Betsy, for pointing to Lisa Brown's reviews.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Laura Ingalls Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Yesterday's assigned reading for students in my class at UIUC was Little House on the Prairie. Most of the students read the book in childhood, and some remember it being read to them by a teacher or parent. Re-reading it now as adults, they were surprised at the multiple occurrences of what they described as derogatory and racist depictions of Native people that they do not recall.

One young woman remembers the phrase in the book "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" and another remembers feeling worried that Laura and her family were in danger.

Along with the book, the students read Michael Dorris' essay "Trusting the Words," in which he describes the joy with which he set out to read Little House to his daughters, only to be taken aback by the negative portrayals. He tried to edit them out as he read aloud, but eventually gave up. His essay first appeared in Booklist 89 (June, 1993) and was reprinted in his book of essays, Paper Trail, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.

I suggest you take a second look at Little House. Note the ways that Native peoples are described, and consider whether or not the book ought to be set aside and used, perhaps, in contexts where readers are able to think critically about racism and colonization.

If you are interested in books and articles that critique Little House, there are several, including these two by Native people.

"Burning Down the House: Laura Ingalls Wilder and American Colonialism," by Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, in Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America, edited by Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs), published in 2006 by University of Texas Press.

and

"Little House on the Osage Prairie," by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr., available on line at the Oyate web site.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Letter to "American MOM"

Earlier today, "American Mom" posted this as a comment to my post about Smeltzer. I'm not sure why she posted there. She's talking specifically about my critique of historical fiction, specifically, Little House on the Prairie.

Get a life and find out there are more people than just indians. Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners of every skin color- indians, whites, blacks etc.
By not allowing Indians in literature (as your comment in Little House on the Prairie), are you trying to erase that from our history?
No it may not be a happy thing, but indians did kill whites and whites killed indians. I dont teach my children to kill anyone unless they are in defense of themselves or their family. Dont try to lie about history.
be real
American MOM


Here is my response:

Dear American MOM,

From what you said, I gather you are Christian. I trust you know that people of your faith persecuted those who were not of your faith. And, I trust you know that your faith is only one of many.

In my critique of Little House on the Prairie, I seek--not to erase Indians from history--but to rid bookshelves of incorrect images of American Indians. It is factually wrong for you to allow your children to learn that American Indians were primitive, or barbarians, or uncivilized, or simple-minded. That is precisely the way they are presented in the Little House book.

If your child is doing her math homework, and writes down "5" for the answer to 2 + 2, you would tell her that is incorrect. You would help her to understand that her answer is wrong. You'd erase the 5 and write the correct answer.

That is what I am doing with Little House. The information is wrong. In my work, and on this blog, I am trying to correct Laura Ingalls Wilder's mistake.

Was it a mistake on her part? Did she know otherwise? Perhaps. Did her editors know otherwise? Maybe. For us, adults that is, we can and should think about how it happened that she portrayed American Indians the way she did.

With regard to the education of children, we should not let those kinds of portrayals reach our children without some serious conversation. Letting them go unchallenged and unmediated leads them to feel a sense of betrayal when they find out that their books essentially lied to them.

.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anita Silvey recommends LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS

Yesterday (July 10, 2011) at "Children's Book-A-Day Almanac," Anita Silvey featured Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. She writes that the Little House books "remain one of the best-loved stories of childhood."


Best loved story for whom?

Are they "the best-loved stories of childhood" for everyone? Little Town on the Prairie has Pa in blackface. Dawn Friedman addresses it in her post "Pa in Blackface: Confronting racism in our children's books." I don't think everyone would look on this as a "best loved" story. Would you, for example, knowing it has blackface in it, call it one of your best loved stories? (Update, Feb 5, 2013: Added Garth Williams' illustration of blackface, from page 258.) Here's Pa in blackface:



Same thing with Little House in the Big Woods. On page 53, Pa regales Laura and Mary with his days of youth when he'd pretend he was "a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians." Here's the passage where he said that: 
When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.    

One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together  in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.    

I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.'
 
Would you call a book in which the characters romanticize hunting people one of your "best loved" stories?

And of course, there are multiple problems with Little House on the Prairie. (Scroll down to the "labels" section of AICL and you'll see that I've written about the book several times.)

There is no disputing the love and adoration readers shower on the series, but it is a blind love and a blind adoration that has ramifications for all of us. Thinking of a people as "wild" makes it easier to hunt and kill them. I'm thinking the uncritical embrace of these books is akin to planting seeds that will get watered later when someone deems it in America's best interests to go to war...  

I wish that Silvey would take a moment to give her readers a critical view of the Little House series. In her post about Julius Lester, she writes that Lester and Pinkney's Sam and the Tigers removed "the racial sting" associated with Little Black Sambo. "Racial sting" is a mild way to reference racist stereotypes, but she did acknowledge the problems with LBS. I wish she could do the same with LHOP.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

American Indians in Fact and Fiction: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about portrayals of American Indians in Little House on the Prairie, countering the "savage" and "primitive" imagery with information about treaties. A primary intent of this blog is to provide a different image of American Indians. Not one of perfect people, but one that is real, of mothers and fathers, grandparents and children. Caring. Thoughtful. Grumpy. Mean. Sad. Happy. All those words we use to describe people we know. Those same words can and should be used to describe American Indians.

I'm critical of Wilder and a good many other writers for the ways they describe Indians in their books. When you have a minute, read the passage in Little House where the Indians enter the house. Something about them smells bad. Laura realizes it is the "fresh" skunk skins they are wearing. They are, apparently, impervious to the pungent skunk odor! Let's back that up, though. Wouldn't they know how to skin skunks without puncturing the glands where the skunk oil is? Wouldn't they prepare the skin by tanning it before wearing it?

Those portrayals can and are defended by saying that is what people really thought about Indians at that time.

Key words: "at that time."

Certainly, newspapers created and affirmed those ideas. And, some lawmakers likely believed those images to be true.

People used to think the world was flat. We learned that was not the case, and we don't teach 'the world is flat' to children. Should we still teach books like Little House on the Prairie?

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.


****

TIMELINE

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jacqueline Joseph Pata, Exec Dir of National Congress of American Indians, on Curriculum/American Indian Students

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]
___________________________________________
Jacqueline Joseph Pata (Tlingit)
Jacqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, was on the lunchtime plenary panel yesterday at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing conference. Among her remarks was one that stood out to me.

We (American Indians) don't need, Pata said, state departments of education telling us what is, or is not, acceptable curriculum for our children. 
Pata is absolutely on-target with that remark.
Too many of the books our children are asked to read give them stereotypical portrayals of monolithic American Indians as savages who terrorized pioneers, or, tragic heroic figures of the past who fought the good fight but are now all dead and gone.
Too many of the assignments our children are asked to complete ask them to answer questions where the right answer is one in which they must agree with that point of view. 

It is no wonder American Indian students disengage from school. Wouldn't you?! It is no surprise that our children drop out at such high rates, and, that so many of them choose to end their own lives. 

We can all do a lot to interrupt that way of teaching, but we've got to have the courage to do it. 
Do you have the courage to stop teaching Little House on the Prairie? Though it is much beloved in the United States, it is full of stereotypes, bias, and errors. In it, you see savage Indians scaring Ma, and you see heroic ones who choose to protect Laura and her family from the savage ones. The thing is, both portrayals are incorrect. Embracing them, however, lets Americans feel good about what they have today. In teaching Little House, teachers are miseducating the students in their care.

Native children in those classrooms are not only miseducated, they are--in effect--assaulted. State departments of education are populated by people who love Little House. In that light, it is easy to see why Pata is calling for state departments of education to revisit their actions. 

If you're interested in critical writing about Little House on the Prairie, you're in the right place. I've written a lot about it. You can read my blog posts (there's a list of them on the right side of the page), or you can read my full text article, "Indigenizing Children's Literature."

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has video of some of Pata's remarks here:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Following up on "What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE"

On July 3, 2008, my blog post was "Selective Omissions, or, What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE."  In a nutshell, it was about a speech she gave wherein she said some things were not appropriate reading for young children, so, she left them out of her book. The example she gave was of a family named the Benders. She said they were murderers, that many bodies were found on their property, and that Pa had joined a group of men from town to go find them. 

Soon after I uploaded that post, I got comments saying that Laura and her family were not actually living in Indian Territory when that whole incident with the Benders took place.

I suggest you go to that post and read it, and then come back here and continue reading...

A few days ago, I was reading a blog called Condensery, specifically the post titled "Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Bloody Benders." There, I learned that Rose (Laura's daughter) had actually written up that Bender story and included it in Pioneer Girl, which was the unpublished memoir of Laura's life, co-written by Laura and her daughter. The Pioneer Girl website says that the hand-written manuscript is not available for viewing or study, but that it is available via microfilm. Here's an excerpt, from the blog from laura ingalls wilder to cyberbessie linked to from Condensery.

One night just about sundown a strange man came riding his horse up to the door on a run. Pa hurried out and they talked a few minutes. Then the man went away as fast as he had come, and pa came into the house in a hurry. He would not wait for supper, but asked Ma to give him a bite to eat right away, saying he must go. Something horrible had happened at Benders.

Ma put bread, meat, and some of those good pickles on the table, and Pa talked while he ate. Mary and I hung at the table's edge, looking at the pickles. I heard Pa say "dead," and thought somebody at benders was dead. Pa said, "Already twenty or more, in the cellar." He said, "Benders-- where I stopped for a drink. She asked me to come in."

Ma said, "Oh Charles, thank God!"

I did not understand and felt confused. Mary kept asking Ma why she thanked God, and Ma did not answer... Then Pa said, "They found a little girl, no bigger than Laura. They'd thrown her in on top of her father and mother and tramped the ground down on them, while the little girl was still alive."

I screamed, and Ma told Pa he should have known better.

I'd really like to see the original manuscript! Laura, in her speech, said she left out the whole Bender story because it wasn't fit for children. Did Rose put it in? And then what... Was it cut at the publishing house? Details are a little (or a lot) murky...  Made all the murkier because the Ingalls family wasn't even in that area when the Bender family murderers were exposed! 


The ins and outs of the LITTLE HOUSE saga....  There's always more to learn. I'm glad to have come upon Condensery's blog and this post in particular.



Thursday, October 07, 2021

NOT RECOMMENDED: Alan Gratz's BAN THIS BOOK



On November 3, 2019, Mike M. submitted this comment to AICL's post about Lois Lenski's Indian Captive
I've come to Dr. Reese's review of Indian Captive because of its appearance in Alan Gratz's 2017 novel Ban this Book. Gratz's story is about a schoolgirl standing up against book-banning in her grade-school library. At one point the avid young reader is suspended and grounded with nothing to read except Indian Captive. There is no commentary about the merits of the book, but it is mentioned several times, giving it a prominence above many of the books named in the story -- enough to send me to investigate. I can see no particular reason why this book was chosen for its role in the story (unless it's a very subtle indication that some books are not as good as others -- but it's quite a stretch to find that interpretation), other than mere carelessness by the author, indifference to the reasons a book may be offensive, or lack of awareness of the harm that books can perpetuate -- a naive belief in the magical goodness of every written word. It seems odd considering the theme of the story. Also odd given another theme of the story: good intentions that lead to bad consequences. As adults, we can understand the complexity of the real world, and the value of ambiguity in literature, but seeing that the issues raised by this one book's inclusion is not developed at all, and this in a novel for children, I can only see it as a flaw in an otherwise worthwhile book.
Gratz's Ban This Book came out in 2017. Published by Starscape (an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates with is part of Macmillan), the cover showed a school locker piled high with books. That same year, it was released as an ebook. The cover for the e-book showed three kids on the cover. More on that, later.

Here's the publisher's description of the book:
In Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, a fourth grader fights back when From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is challenged by a well-meaning parent and taken off the shelves of her school library. Amy Anne is shy and soft-spoken, but don’t mess with her when it comes to her favorite book in the whole world. Amy Anne and her lieutenants wage a battle for the books that will make you laugh and pump your fists as they start a secret banned books locker library, make up ridiculous reasons to ban every single book in the library to make a point, and take a stand against censorship.
The story opens with Amy Anne and her friend, Rebecca, arriving at school. Amy Anne wants to go to the library to check out her favorite book (again) From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When she gets to the library shelf where her favorite book should be, it is not there. She sees the librarian, Mrs. Jones, enter the row. She describes her as being "a big white lady" (p. 12).

That detail, that Mrs. Jones is white, gave me pause. I paged back (in my electronic copy of the book) to see if Gratz had identified Amy or Rebecca in similar ways. On page 9, I saw that Rebecca's last name is Zimmerman and her parents are lawyers. When I paged back to the cover, I saw that the child featured prominently on the cover is African American. That is probably meant to be Amy Anne. 

On page 16 we read: 
I like a lot of other books too, especially Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Hattie Big Sky, The Sign of the Beaver, and Julie of the Wolves. Basically any story where the main character gets to live alone. Indian Captive is pretty great too, even though Mary Jemison has to live in an Indian village. But I would rather live with Indian kidnappers than live with my two stupid younger sisters.
As you might imagine, I was taken aback by her list of favorites. They are full of stereotypes. And, they are old. Island of the Blue Dolphins came out in 1960, Sign of the Beaver in 1983, Julie of the Wolves in 1972, and Indian Captive in 1941. 

The other three favorites have a word or two about Native peoples. 

In Hatchet the main character, alone in the forest after a plane crash, imagines monsters he's read about, including Big Foot. He's talking about Sasquatch, a figure who has been misrepresented over and over in children's books! Sasquatch is not a monster. In chapter two of Charlene Willing McManus's Indian No More, the main character (Regina) is on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in Oregon. When Regina was little, she was afraid to play in the woods. Her dad told her that "Old Sasquatch won't bother you. First, he's shy. Second, he's over six feet tall and smells like a wet dog. And third, well, if he does bother you, you must've been misbehaving." In My Side of the Mountain the main character, Sam, imagines "feathers in an Indian quiver," thinks that "Indian bread" is flat and hard, and when looking at aspen and birch trees, sees that they are "bent like Indian bows." The main character in Hattie Big Sky moves from Iowa to work her uncles homestead in Montana. Several times, there are references to "free" land, but no mention of how or why that land is available in the first place. Hattie must know something about Native people, because when a character's face is covered in soot when a barn burns down, she imagines that he has warpaint on his face. 

I wonder how these seven books shape what Amy Anne knows about Native people?!    

There is no reason for any of these books to be named as favorites in 2017, by any reader. And yet, there they are. Why these ones, I'd like to ask Gratz. His book is well regarded by people who fight censorship, but in that fight, did he have to throw Native readers under the bus?  

There's more.

As the book description noted, Amy Anne and others get organized and start filling out the library's Request for Reconsideration forms that people submit when they believe a book is inappropriate in some way. The goal is to make up reasons to ban every book in the library. On page 212, Janna (a student) has "every one of the Little House on the Prairie books in her arms. She starts to fill out the form and pauses. Janna says this to Amy Anne: 
"But what do I say? There's nothing bad about Little House on the Prairie."
And here's what follows:
She was right. But no--that was true about all the books. I had to think like Mrs. Spencer. 
"They get malaria in that one," I said. "That's scary, right? And the settlers think it's because they ate bad watermelon! But that's not how you get malaria. That's deliberately misleading. That could make a kid think you get malaria from watermelons!"
Nothing bad in Little House on the Prairie?! It, too, is old, and full of dehumanizing stereotypes of Native peoples.  

Remember--Ban This Book--came out in 2017. What's up with the books Mrs. Jones is offering to students? Does she have no money to update the collection, adding books that would in some way, be mirrors for the Amy Anne's who are in that school, and, windows for them, too, so they could get better information about Native peoples? Does Mrs. Jones not know about the hashtag, #OwnVoices? It took off in 2015. 

My questions are really for Alan Gratz. He wrote a book about an important topic. But on the way, he just dumped stereotypes all over Native kids and non-Native kids, too. 

Did his editor notice this problem? Did any of the people who gave it positive reviews notice it? Or, any of the people on state award committees that gave it an award? I guess I know the answer. If anyone had any concerns, they probably stayed quiet. The book is about banning books, after all. 

If Amy Anne's favorites included books that have won a Coretta Scott King Book award, I wouldn't be writing this post. If one of her favorites included a book that won an award from the American Indian Library Association, I'd be giving Gratz's book a "recommended" label instead of its "not recommended" one!

But, here we are. Bummer.