“If we replaced every copy of Little House…”: Censorship is Bad

The excitement, in both the positive and negative senses, over the change in name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, has not died down completely.  I have already written about my ambivalence about the Little House books, which I feel have a great deal of value in spite of their undeniable racism.  I believe they should ideally be read in conjunction with other novels, poems, and primary sources which give a more accurate and complete account of the experience of Native Americans (as I have discussed here and here and here and here and here).

However, I want to make one further point, specifically about the frequently repeated qualifier that changing the name of the award is not censorship or book banning, actions which the ALA and the ALSC are on the record as opposing.

In fact, many of the most vocal and committed proponents of the name change have clearly stated their preference that Wilder’s work be essentially eliminated.  Debbie Reese, whose blog is dedicated to the mission of supporting a more truthful portrayal of Native Americans in children’s literature, has explicitly stated that she hopes that Wilder’s books are no longer read, at least by young children, their target audience. She has stated this to a reporter for The New York Times, in School Library Journal (Volume 54, Issue 11, Pages 53-60; apparently no longer available on line), and on her own blog.

Note that in the blog entry, in which Reese compares Wilder’s books unfavorably with the work of the brilliant contemporary novelist Louise Erdrich, Reese declares that “the world might be a better place if we replaced every copy of Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie with Erdrich’s series.”  This alarming suggestion fails to take note of the fact that Erdrich, in an interview in The Horn Book, recommended that her work be read along with that of Wilder.

Reese is not the only advocate of the award change to promote the idea that Wilder’s work is irredeemably toxic.  In James LaRue’s thoughtful consideration of the issue on his ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom Blog, he considers some of the change’s implications. In a lengthy comment to that post, Megan Schliesman argues in favor of the award name change from the perspective of local control, which is a tactic generally used by the right to eliminate works they deem offensive from schools and public libraries.  We don’t actually legally ban books through government action in our country, at least not yet.  When people pressure libraries and school boards to suppress or include specific books, they argue in favor of community standards. So the next time some library in a red state decides that the Harry Potter books advocate witchcraft, that science and health materials are threatening, or books about gay or transgender teens are immoral, we may all have a more difficult time fighting against their outrageous threats to everyone’s intellectual freedom.


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