The American Library Association has recently renamed the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
This change was made due to the fact that Wilder’s use of language in her books regarding indigenous people and people of color did not line up with the association’s values of inclusiveness and respect.
A longer statement released by the association said Wilder’s works “reflect dated cultural attitudes … that contradict modern acceptance, celebration and understanding of diverse communities.”
Missing is the fact that Wilder’s lived experiences dealt with standard pioneer lifestyles as a back and forth fight between Wilder’s family being threatened and robbed by Indians while settlers threatened and robbed Indians back.
Wilder explains this in child-sensitive ways to help showcase what growing up in the 1800s was like as a pioneer girl. It isn’t that she contradicts modern acceptance, but that she was a product of her times and that we, as a society, should learn from it.
It is often fashionable for Wilder to explain what she sees when it comes to indigenous people, whether she describes them as “red-brown” men or something a little more derogatory, but she placed emphasis on how a person acts rather than how a person looks.
Wilder is not the only person to do this. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is consistently being denoted, regardless of its Pulitzer Prize-winning title. Why?
Because Lee uses strong language and opens up a discussion of sexuality and rape. “Mockingbird” today is an excellent way to open discussions on racial tolerance – to think critically about the character Atticus Finch and the way black people are viewed.
Atticus is a product of his time – a time of racial uncertainty for black people and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the south. It’s historically accurate for its time and can be taught in a different light rather than denoting it for its language usage.
In fact, many books that have influenced or shaped American life have been denoted, banned or challenged. Classics like “Huckleberry Finn,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Red Badge of Courage” and more have all been challenged or banned.
Most of these are due to strong language, the use of the n-word, references to sex or an overall form of censorship about subjects that should be used to open and encourage discussions and critical thinking.
Banning books and denoting famous authors for their language use and racial stereotypes helps nobody but dangerously promotes blinders to the way things once were.
History is used to learn and grow. We learn about war so we know to never let things like that happen again. We learn about slavery and genocide to realize its role in history while also making a connection to the growth of unity within the nation.
Books promote the same benefits of learning from historical mistakes and prejudices. Banning books or erasing them from curriculum rids the opportunities to learn about how the world once was.
Books like “Flowers for Algernon,” “Forever” and “The Giver” has opened up my world to differences in society and even strong sexual language.
As a child, I did not think twice about Charlie Gordon from “Algernon” being developmentally disabled nor did I become concerned with the straightforward sexual innuendos in “Forever” or the seemingly “offensive language” in “The Giver.”
I was raised to recognize these differences and to learn and accept the characters as well as actual people for who they are. As far as sexually-explicit language goes, I mean, we’re all going to learn it at some point – raise your child to read it with maturity and understanding.
Putting blinders on children through banning literature can only hurt them. It shuts down their viewpoint of the world and all its offerings and can cause them to become ignorant towards people different than them. It also shuts down discussions about sexuality and racial injustices.
Books are supposed to teach and inspire through universes that can be true or fantasy. They can’t harm you and if it’s deemed that the maturity level isn’t present to handle a book in its entirety, just don’t read it.
Banning great literary works won’t solve any problems but can only increase them. Let your child learn, let them start discussions and let them know that language used in certain situations was merely a product of its time – you don’t have to like it, you don’t have to accept it, but you can learn and you can grow from its content.