On the Children’s Literature Legacy Award

NPR just posted a piece titled Little House On the Controversy. Controversy?! Seriously, people. You’re complaining? At this moment in American history, you’re actually complaining?

I’ll be honest. I loved the series as a child. I live 30 miles from Burke, NY, and have been to the Wilder Farm. I can recite the plot of every single novel. My copies are dogeared and have broken spines. It was the first of my many loves in fiction, but founded one of the threads I’ve always loved reading: Plucky settlers/survivors rebuild society in the face of adversity. If I English Major at it, I can write a pretty great argument for why this series and The Stand are part of the same literary continuum.

I can also put my Post-Colonial Literature Focus hat on, and report that everyone complaining about this sounds like this to me: “We must remove the ugly parts of our history from our honors, statues, and memorials…. No, not THAT Part of our history. I like that part. I didn’t mean parts I LIKE. I meant Southerners. Ok, fine, yes, she lived in Missouri, but still, I meant racists. Well, OTHER racists. Not Half Pint!”

That’s just… not good enough. I believe that librarians, by and large, are better than that.

As a society and a profession, we can continue to read her work, identify with her characters, be inspired by the parts of the stories that resonate for us, acknowledge the place these stories inhabit in our national history, culture, and social consciousness, as well as dissect their flaws, speak openly with children about why she says some of the things she says, and examine the perspectives of the novels critically … and NOT name an award for her.

To put it differently, for a profession that’s supposed to be rooted in equality and egalitarian values, and has recently expressed an outpouring of compassion and non-neutrality: How would a Native American author feel if awarded an honor that is named for a woman who wrote “”there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”? I expect we can all recognize that the answer is some variation on “not good.”

I look at this, and I see that this is a place where we can do better, and so we are. I look at this, in a moment when so many of us are realizing that “what I would have done” during a pivotal moment in history is RIGHT THE HELL NOW, and I say this: Well done, ALSC Board. I hope the flak you take for this is easily shrugged off, because it was a brave and important decision.

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