“Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all.”
– Laura Ingalls Wilder
From the time I read my first book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I wanted to be a writer. Her weaving of stories and sharing of feelings always brought me comfort. Her tenacity to keep writing until she was first published in her early sixties gave me hope. Her honesty in telling the stories of a sometimes tumultuous upbringing made me believe that I, too, could have a voice. Without her example before me in the Little House on the Prairie series of books, I may never have had the confidence to start writing myself.
Considering all that, you are probably not surprised to learn that Laura Ingalls Wilder has always been my number one hero. (I even forced my older sister to visit several of her homesteads when we took our cross-country road trip back in 1995!) Imagine my distress when I learned earlier this week that the American Library Association has removed Ms. Wilder’s name from one of their most prestigious awards for children’s literature because of her “racist” writing about Native Americans and blacks.
Born in 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder lived during a time in this country when people talked in a certain way that would be considered racist today, but was nothing other than innocence and ignorance then. The way she wrote her stories reflected just that – a different era in this country. As a child, I learned this very fact in history classes and from my mother, who encouraged my reading of the Little House series. I didn’t take what she wrote in her books as the way things were when I was a child, or the way things should be. Instead, I read the stories and recognized how far the world had come in less than 100 years. Not only did we treat each other better as a human race, but we also improved significantly in the areas of indoor plumbing, technology, and home heating! It was absolutely incredible for me to learn that while little Laura had to go outside to an outhouse to go to the bathroom, I could simply walk down the hall of my house and relieve myself without fending off wild animals or the harsh temperatures of a cold winter’s night! A lot had changed in those 100 years, which was for me, the most fascinating part of reading the stories.
I suppose what makes me most sad about this is the condescending nature surrounding the decision to remove Ms. Wilder’s name from the award (an award, by the way, of which she was the very first recipient in 1954). Has the American Library Association lost faith in the educational system of this country? Do the people who have voted to have Ms. Wilder’s name removed from this award think that our country’s teachers and parents don’t have any influence on today’s children? Is her work any less inventive and creative because it speaks in a language that, while offensive today, was once quite acceptable and universal? Where do we draw the line in erasing our country’s heroic figures from history?
While there are several quotes of Ms. Wilder’s with which I could have opened this post, I chose the one at the top of this page to make a point. I believe Laura Ingalls Wilder was humble enough to know that she wasn’t right about everything. I think she was open-minded enough to recognize that not everyone would like her or her approach to life. She even knew enough about people to ask only to be remembered well. Unfortunately, the American Library Association has chosen not to remember her at all. That, my fellow citizens, makes for a sad day in the history of the United States of America.