Response to Wilder Award Name Change

30 Jun

At its meeting on Saturday, June 23, 2018, the Association for Library Service to Children Board voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness. ” (ALA website)

You don’t often hear the ALA annual conference make waves in the media, but apparently changing the name of an award is reported on a variety of news sources. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences.” (ALA website)

Many people have responded on social media both showing support for the name change as well as frustration and even some misunderstanding.

A few of the common arguments against the name change include:

  • Censorship
    No one has suggested that Wilder’s books be removed from libraries and bookstores.
  • Diminishment of Past Award Winners
    Changing the name of the award does not diminish past award winners or their contributions to children’s literature
  • Above and Beyond Political Correctness
    As you can see from the quote above, ALSC spent a lot of time discussing its core values and how having a prestigious award named for someone who has outdated views and a stereotypical attitude can be offensive and not supportive of inclusiveness and the diversity of the publishing world. Imagine receiving an award named for someone who wrote racially insensitive material if you were Black or Native American?
  • Change the Name of Other Awards
    There is already talk about changing the name of the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award as Dr. Seuss produced a number of political cartoons that were downright racist. Many people have suggested that perhaps naming awards after people isn’t the best practice as cultural views change over time.

My thoughts on the issue are that I think ALSC took a situation that could potentially be difficult to navigate and made a decision that is forward-thinking and supportive of authors and illustrators of color to create a more inclusive award that focuses on the work and not the history of the person it’s named for.

I read (and loved) the Little House books growing up and I think that when I read these books I knew that historical fiction meant that some views were antiquated and not acceptable in today’s society. I think people can make their own decision as to whether they want to read the Little House books, but there are also other titles that can be read in place of or together with Wilder’s books for viewpoints from other authors such as The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. I applaud ALSC for taking into consideration inclusivity and diversity in today’s society.

Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson the winner of the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

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