Books · Childhood learning · Education · Laura Ingalls Wider

In Defense of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Part One

Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I read of the decision by the ALSC, a division of the American Library Association, to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from their prestigious children’s literature award, I was outraged. Now that I think about it I am also insulted.

The seven volumes of Wilder’s Little House books trace one restless pioneer family’s journey as they push their way west. Wilder once said, “In my own life, I represented a whole period of American history. I had seen and lived it all—all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers, and the towns.”

And at the age of 63, she determined to set it all down. The eventual result was a masterful accomplishment. The books are not memoir, but historical fiction, which is 414+HGFRK1L._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_not to say they are in any way false. Quite the contrary. They tell a story that is historically and emotionally accurate, based on Wilder’s own childhood, crafted with such artistry that in 2012, The Library of America issued a two volume edition of the Little House books, acknowledging thereby Wilder’s place, along with Dreiser,  Fitzgerald, Hemingway et al. in the canon of American literature.


It seems that the ALSC believes that Wilder’s legacy is inconsistent with their “core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsivenes..”


It’s been a long time since I read these books, so I thought I’d take another look to see what on earth they were complaining about. Since their objections have largely to do with the treatment of native Americans, I decided to reread Little House on the Prairie, which covers the year the family lived on the Osage Diminished Reservation in what is now the state of Kansas.

What I found is just what one would expect in an accurate historical account of white settlers in 1870 living in Indian territory.

The point of view of the story is what English teachers like to call “limited third person.” As readers, we are only privy to what Laura can see, hear, or feel. We are notWceGgDUNlCA8RPHOz66AbHHs4RI12Vqg+OoBRGBrKx0gjMb1TSGn63!P3!BaM61Ycim7TPw2yzIaTKEqk4wNnOSIUTFPL26LZtn9KZVC7!lQ5iDKyCBWtzAWMsmQ+7PK in on adults’ private conversations or thoughts. The disparaging remarks made about Indians are fragments of adult conversation which are overheard by Laura, never elaborated or explained by her parents. It’s clear that Laura’s ma doesn’t like Indians, but she is not specific and always deflects her daughters’ questions about them. Pa is wary but consistently sees circumstances from the Indians’ perspective. Honestly, I find nothing indefensible in these pages.  As for “inconsistent with current values,” this is HISTORY, for crying out loud. Historical attitudes are not always consistent with current beliefs. And there’s no getting around that.

I am insulted because the implication is clear that the librarians consider themselves morally superior, having detected what they consider offensive racist treatment of minorities (they also object to the account of a minstrel show in a later book in the series) and so have decided that the books and their author are not entitled to the respect their children’s award signifies.

They assure us that this does not mean that they think we shouldn’t read these books if we want to or even love them if we do, but of course, it logically follows that if we do read them and love them, either we are just too insensitive to understand that these books are unacceptable or more likely we do understand and are simply bigoted racists ourselves.

The Little House books tell about people who are hard-working, self reliant, and courageous in the face of hardship. They take joy in simple pleasures and strengthened by their faith in God, they are confident in the future, always ready to move on, to see what lies ahead. These are the values that are currently under assault, most recently by the American Library Association’s supercilious dismissal of one of America’s most cherished and talented literary artists.

Come back Saturday for Part Two in which I’ll quote passages from the book to defend my position.








4 thoughts on “In Defense of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Part One

  1. This is imbecilic. Oh, dear. Is that one of the words we can’t use anymore? Well, let them sue me. How gracious of them to let me know I can still read the The Little House on the Prairie and even love it, if I do. Say, what? Keep your nose out of my books!


  2. Hello, I was very interested in this article, as it echoes an experience I had in 2013.

    In 2012, I self-published a middle-grade fantasy book entitled “Weaverworld: Grimsnipe’s Revenge”. It was the first of what eventually became a trilogy. As the book received a favorable review from Kirkus, I dared to submit it to the Canadian Childrens’ Book Centre for review.

    I was shocked and dismayed to see that the eventual review, which was posted by someone with whom I could not communicate, accused me of perpetuating negative stereotypes in its portrayal of native Americans.

    The gist was this: a Realworld boy is catapulted into the fantastical Weaverworld. This world eschews technology in favour of storytelling. Some of its inhabitants particularly enjoy reading Realworld literature.

    One such reader, a young Weaver girl, has read and become enamoured of the story of Pocahontas, the Indian princess. Consequently, when our Realworld boy is introduced to her, he notices with interest that she is wearing her long hair in braids, and is dressed in a hide dress and beaded moccasins. When he asks for an explanation, the story of Pocahontas (as it was generally accepted at that time) is summarized.

    That is the sum total of my mention of native Americans in the book. My goal throughout Weaverworld was to slyly draw attention to our own literature in the hope that a young reader might be inspired to explore these stories him/herself.

    Needless to say, the librarians and teachers who may otherwise have been interested in my books have avoided it in droves.

    I’ve often wished I could have debated that condemning review, but instead I simply avoided sending them my subsequent works. Once bitten, twice shy. But I will always believe she got it way wrong. Julia K. Rohan


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