American history, children's books, Culture, intriguing authors, the business of books

Little House Books victim of woke hysteria.

There have been, throughout history, many great books written; books which have rightfully earned their spot on shelves as timeless classics. If we took a microscope to each and every one of those books with the express intent of removing any and all books with language in them which offends any particular group of people, we would have to remove the vast majority of books from the shelves.

If there was ever a set of books which finds me incredulous at the idea that they are harmful, it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. Our children love those books, and we have no intention of removing them from our shelves, despite being well aware of the “offensiveness” found within their pages. The Association of Library Services to Children cannot abide Wilder’s handling of Native Americans in her stories:

Laura Ingalls Wilder was on the brink of having an award named in her honor, from the Association for Library Service to Children, when in 1952 a reader complained to the publisher of “Little House on the Prairie” about what the reader found to be a deeply offensive statement about Native Americans.

The reader pointed specifically to the book’s opening chapter, “Going West.” The 1935 tale of a pioneering family seeking unvarnished, unoccupied land opens with a character named Pa, modeled after Wilder’s own father, who tells of his desire to go “where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” Where “the land was level, and there were no trees.”

And where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”

Although the complaint didn’t spark action at the time, the American Library Association has decided to make things right:

Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award.

The decision makes Wilder the latest target of efforts to purge from the cultural landscape symbols that honor historical figures who owned slaves, espoused racist views or engaged in racist practices.

Books, as well as their authors, are products of the time and place in which they are set and in which the author lives. All of these elements are an important part of what makes books rich and interesting, providing depth and context of history. If we strip away all evidence of cultural and linguistic markers which are out of step with our modern sensibilities, we lose far more than we gain.

In exchange for the temporary and shallow pride of being able to signal our postmodern virtue, we miss out on the opportunity to discuss the why, hows, and wherefores of the cultural past. We miss out on the opportunity to explain to our children cultural and linguistic evolution, including the things which we find objectionable today.

In our home, we do not shield our children from books which contain derogatory racial terms, including or even especially terms which may be personally offensive to us as a black family. Why should we forgo an opportunity for them to learn, grow, and acknowledge the amount of progress our country has made in its treatment of black Americans, something we believe is generally true against the recent backdrop of inflammatory headlines?

When reading the Little House books, or Peter Pan, or any number of books which refer to Native Americans in ways that our current cultural iteration finds offensive, our children inevitably ask questions. These questions open the door to dialogue and understanding.

Further, I find it offensive to hold authors or anyone else who lived 100 years ago to a standard of behavior which didn’t exist when they were alive so as to retroactively smear their work and exact punitive redress. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a product of her time, and her books reflected that.

To publicly flog her for a series of books which have an imperfect presentation of current ideology, while ignoring the virtues and morals within their pages is just another example of how “wokeness” is killing our humanity, our ability to enjoy life and our ability to enjoy truly great literature.

More than that, to emphasize a cultural negative at the expense of all the hard work, family togetherness, faith, charity and community the Little House books offer does more than shield us from the bad. It shields us from the good as well.

 

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14 thoughts on “Little House Books victim of woke hysteria.”

  1. “In exchange for the temporary and shallow pride of being able to signal our postmodern virtue, we miss out on the opportunity to discuss the why, hows, and wherefores of the cultural past. We miss out on the opportunity to explain to our children cultural and linguistic evolution, including the things which we find objectionable today.”

    Well said lovely, well said!

    Why is it so hard for them? They sully almost everything …. in order for those books to be historically accurate, they needed to be written from a child’s ignorant (<—as in unknowledgeable not rude) perspective. Virtue signalling is a sign of mental decay due to severe emotional pride.

    *that last bit was part rant 😉

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  2. I just looked at the 1953 revision, and it’s worth noting that I believe Wilder herself took the feedback and changed “people” to “settlers” in that update. Gosh, how nice of the ALA to be 65 years behind in appraising her work. Can’t wait until they get to work with Shakespeare, and it boggles the mind that they go to the mat to defend smut , but get all worked up about things I cannot even quite remember, despite having read the books at least twice apiece.

    I get the attacks on Twain–there are times when I re-read the books and wanted to say “you need to learn some new words, Mr. Clemens”–but this one just puzzles me. At any rate, hats off to the ALA for making this award for the past 64 years despite issues they’ve always known about the first honoree.

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  3. Even Twain doesn’t bug me the way he does some. I’m just not convinced it was meant as an excusing of racism. It was set in the antebellum South. Again, context.

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  4. I don’t have the WashPo to get a full list of Mrs. Wilder’s offenses, but as far as I can tell from the non-WashPo articles, this action is built on the fact that (a) Ma made a statement that was common among people of the time (but is considered rude now) and (b) Laura couldn’t get over how black Dr. Tan was when the good doctor saved her life from malaria or “fever and ague” in Little House on the Prairie. Watch out, Othello! I actually found and read a doctoral thesis by a woman who started her work at more or less the ALA view, but then realized that something far more complex was going on in the book–that Wilder was actually challenging widely held racial views. It’s a lot like Huck Finn in that regard, really.

    On the light side, I have the feeling that if I wanted to cause my gracious hostess to suffer torn abdominal muscles from laughing uproariously, all I would have to do would be to become “woke” like the ALA. Either that, or she might graciously slap me silly, rhetorically speaking.

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  5. You were worried? I should pretend to be offended, because what “woke” person doesn’t choose a nom de guerre including the word “bubba”? I guess I was offensive at not decrying the anti-Scandinavian bias of O.J. Simpson’s character from “The Naked Gun”, wasn’t I? (he had the stereotypical name “Nordberg”)

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  6. To me, books like Wilder’s are historically accurate in that that reflect attitudes that were prevalent at the time. I don’t know that removing these books from shelves is helpful both because 1) as you mention, that would mean we would have very few books left to read and 2) I think they open up important discussions. Pretending that racism doesn’t exist by ignoring all authors whose views do not respect does few people any good. Acknowledging racism and then discussing how we can eradicate/overcome it is more productive.

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  7. It is vitally important that we are exposed to the attitudes and cultures of previous times. For things we need to watch out for, as well as things we can learn and emulate.

    This whole attempt to wash away all vestiges of offensive history only serves to make us ripe to repeat some of the worst mistakes from ages past.

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