Wilder Othering

I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.

In certain brief passages of her nine-volume retelling of her childhood on the post-Civil War American frontier, LIW reflected the attitude of wary dislike with regard to the presence of American Indians common to those 19th century Americans, especially those who lived in close proximity to them. In the eyes of tireless social justice warriors, which appear in oversupply in today’s hypersensitive age, this is practically the same as preaching genocide on every page. And in one single chapter, her father and several men of the town put on black-face makeup and performed a minstrel show to entertain their friends. Such a form of entertainment was as popular then as it is considered disgracefully racist today.

So, rather than look honestly at the mores of the past – and perhaps entertain the thought that many of those notions which today we accept merely as conventional wisdom will, in a hundred years or so be held in as much, or greater disfavor than those attitudes held by LIW’s family and neighbors. I wonder though, if the motivations of the members of the Association aren’t just a little more complicated than polishing their social justice credentials. The Little House series presents – more than anything else – the quiet, intimate epic of a strong traditional family; a hard-working, resourceful, loving family, equal to every imaginable hardship going, from frontier isolation, to plagues of insects, bad weather, and grinding poverty. The Ingalls do not lament their lot, as LIW presented them; they make the most of it, and eventually achieve a quiet and modest degree of prosperity.

The Little House series, originally written and published a little short of a hundred years ago, remain overwhelmingly popular. Thousands visit the places which LIW immortalized in her books – the places where she and her sisters lived and grew up, the farm which she and her husband eventually established in Missouri. The TV series very loosely based on the series continued for years. I cannot help wondering if the kind of family and community life thus portrayed in the book series runs counter to everything in those young adult novels currently being pushed upon the younger generation by teachers and the child librarians; books which revel in gloom, despair, dysfunction and nihilism, a kind of literary filboid studge, in which in every grim trope embraced on the page discourages kids from reading. So – a burnishing of social justice credentials or sabotaging a classic series to advantage contemporary but unreadable books intended for the juvenile consumer? Discuss.

20 thoughts on “Wilder Othering”

  1. ding, ding, ding, we have a winner: “I wonder though, if the motivations of the members of the Association aren’t just a little more complicated than polishing their social justice credentials.”

    You correctly identified, Mom, two threads prominent in the LHOTP series that appear to me, too, as not encouraged but actually hated by the likes of the ALA: 1) traditional family; 2) work ethic and resulting sufficiency.

    I would add two threads to that list of reasons that the ALA hates the series: it teaches foundational principles of free enterprise; it promotes both the responsibility for and sufficiency of voluntary charity, where people take care of neighbors.

    I read the series to my daughters and some to granddaughters.

    My older daughter, now a grandmother herself, instantly recalls Farmer Boy with these words, “He ate well.” She recognized the hardship realities of prairie settling. She understood from the reading and some of our conversation that I endorsed the connection between work and reward stressed by the series. As she grew a bit older we also talked about L Wilder. My daughter could tell in her own words something about how when LIW wrote, she sometimes used her recall of experience as more than a means of telling a story to sell a book. LIW also wanted readers to appreciate and agree with her perspectives on that experience.

  2. Mark Twain has suffered similarly at the hands of fools.

    She is in good company.

    It brings up the topic of college and its diminishing to zero value.

    I interviewed a young woman last week who is applying to the Navy, I think as enlisted. She has a degree in something called, “Animal Science,” which she explained to me as a sort of combined business and biology major. She said, “I’m working as personal trainer.” And joining the Navy.

    I told her my youngest, after getting her degree in French is working as a bartender as I pay off the student loan. She was the last and tuition had gotten so high, I finally had to take out a loan to pay her tuition the last year.

    I hope my grandson is wise enough, or his father is, to do hitch in the Marines before college.

  3. Roy, I’m about 90% dead certain that the ongoing theme in the Little House books – of a strong family never giving up against the odds – is the primary reason for the animus against LIW among the kiddie librarians. It’s been a constant in a couple of the author websites and blogs that I follow – that the books the librarians push, from traditional publishers – are ghastly, soul-killing downers. All the kids want – especially boys – is to reading stirring adventures, to read about strange new frontiers, and through pluck and luck, have a happy ending.
    And all the trad publishers and lefty librarians are pushing are … guh — heaping helpings of literary filboid studge.

    Dr. K., my daughter started doing college on the GI bill, and quit after two years. They kept changing the requirements for the AA degree, and finally she bailed. Better build up her own Teeny Bidness. I’m after her to audit classes in business and marketing, but she says she has no interest in sitting through hours and hours of lectures.

  4. I’m after her to audit classes in business and marketing, but she says she has no interest in sitting through hours and hours of lectures.

    I would strongly recommend Accounting as the first step. I tried to get my daughter to do that major but, as you know, kids don’t like math. Later she said she wished she had done it but I don’t hear from her since I declined to buy her a new car.

    I’m not even sure business is a decent field anymore.

  5. How do Indians/Native Americans react to Laura Ingalls Wilder? Here is an example of an author of partial Indian/Native American ancestry who was inspired by reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. The anguished life of Michael Dorris: (1945-1997)

    Ruoff said Dorris expressed his youthful alienation in semiautobiographical passages in “Cloud Chamber.” “I felt so isolated,” he wrote, in the voice of a character growing up in virtually identical circumstances to those of Dorris’ childhood; “so gagged, so stifled in the limited range of emotions they sanctioned, so wrapped in protective plastic.”

    Dorris often felt marginalized because of his mixed background: “I was either the wrong color or the wrong attitude, the wrong accent or the wrong religion, wherever I happened to land,” he later recalled. “What attachments beyond my family I formed were to books.” He fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” novels, whose encounters between settlers and Indians sparked his curiosity about his Indian ancestry. That fascination grew when Michael was sent away to spend summers with relatives on reservations in Washington and Montana.

    Michael felt like an outsider on those visits. At powwows, he was self-conscious about his curly brown hair, green eyes and pale complexion. Yet, listening to his relatives reminisce about his father helped Michael fill what he called “the baffling, enduring blankness of a missing parent.”

    The purpose of this post was to point out a positive effect that Laura Ingalls Wilder had on a person of partial Indian/Native American ancestry. The deeply flawed life of Michael Dorris is not the subject of this post.

  6. Wilder’s characters are mixed in their attitudes to the Indians. A few express empathy for the unfairness they are experiencing. I guess complexity isn’t allowed. People might get confused. Wilder changed the offending line about “no people,” in horror when someone pointed it out to her. She had not intended that meaning.

    I don’t know how much of this is hostility to traditional values. I think there is some of that, but more is simply not recognising their importance, and being willing to abandon them in favor of the modern value that certain criticisms invalidate all other considerations.

    Personal note: My great aunt was a children’s author and editor of The Horn Book. Should have won the Newbery in 1955. (Long story.) She corresponded with Wilder a few times and I had some in her personal papers when I held them.

  7. Sarge, if you think back and take note of Winston Smith’s job in ‘1984’, you’ll gain perpsective on what’s going on.

  8. Sgt. Mom reports: “They kept changing the requirements for the AA degree, and finally she bailed.”

    This was in Texas? All my teens did the Dallas Community College (I kicked each kid out of homeschooling at the earliest opportunity…) and the rule there was that the catalog as published the year they started the program applied all the way through to the year they’d anticipated for graduation. So like (IIRC) for my eldest the associates degree required both Federal and Texas government classes but 4 years later my youngest only was required to take Texas Gov. (It might have been history… I only know I, old Kansas kid, was no help to the teenagers dealing with Formally Defined Texas Chauvinism.) Anyhow though, my experience was that although the requirements did frequently change the process attempted to grandfather programs-in-progress toward completion.

    Now, tell me this was MARYLAND and I have no reason to doubt you. (U-of-M being the institution serving those of us in the military in Europe way back during the Cold War and yeah, boy howdy did “things change” often, oddly, and without notice. )

  9. Coming back to the original topic, I agree with the several who conjecture that modern librarians, as socialists, share the general socialists’ animus against the nuclear family.

    This is a fairly simple thing to understand. The socialists begin with the thesis that economic society should run “FROM each according to ability, TO each according to need.” So far, it sounds so good.

    But a stable society must necessarily produce, on average, slightly more than two children per mother. This because a few of the children will not, themselves, reproduce. So, two-point-something. Could be 2.2, could be 2.999. Doesn’t matter. It’s a fractional number. It’s math. A good scientific socialist won’t argue the math.

    But the traditional family and traditional motherhood never ever EVER produces a fraction of a child. Two, sure. Sometimes one and sometimes three and sometimes a whole litter to make up for the mothers who never are part of the “FROM” in the main idea. Integers. It’s biology. (A good scientific socialist is perfectly willing to argue biology, but they don’t usually actually win that argument. The best they can do it shut it down. Or like Lysenko, kill the opposition. The scientific socialists’ support for abortion is part of the attempt to manage the biology to make the “stable society” math work. Reduce the fractional part of the average next generation and eliminate those unlikely to productively reproduce themselves; bring 2.999 closer to the 2.1 or whatever. )

    But in the simplest theoretical approximation to reality, some mothers have two children and some mothers have three. So based on the socialist thesis “TO each according to need” some families get resources for THREE children, while others get resources for only TWO.

    Human nature in general and mothers’ nature in particular being exactly how they are and have always been, the mothers who get resources for two look at the others who get resources for three and holler “UNFAIR” very VERY loudly.

    Which, because the whole point of the thesis is the promise of fairness, bothers the socialist theorists a whole bunch. (Especially the MALE socialists. Who because of testosterone and the patriarchy tend to dominate the central committee… but I digress.)

    They way the scientific socialists hope to reconcile the paradox is not to revise the thesis. They choose instead to eliminate natural motherhood. And fatherhood, siblings, the home, and the traditional family.

    They say: Let’s do pre-K. Let’s do universal free day care. Let’s set up creches and co-ops, and let’s blend the modern family with several gays, one lesbian, a statistically calculated number of host-mothers, and a professional sex worker who services all the adults in the consortium for a small wage. Let’s get women into the workforce and then let’s allocate them long-term family leave so they can take care of somebody else’s child along with their own. Let’s do SOMETHING to put part-time “home makers” and “care givers” in charge of fractional parts of a day for each theoretically determined fractional part of a child. Let’s slop home duties around until nobody has an actual home, or a home cooked meal or help with school homework or a home to come home to when the world is dark and cold. “Home” is such an archaic and anti-revolutionary concept, anyway. Destroy the whole idea of homes, and families, and mothers. (And apple pie, along with it. )

    And, say the scientific socialists, let’s eliminate any evidence that the archaic idea ever had any advantages that our modern progressive and scientific systems lack. One way to do this is to burn the old books. Better still is to ensure the modern child never learns to read in the first place. Or, at least, never learns to love reading. So let’s burn the exciting stuff and ensure only the new boring socially correct stuff is on the shelves at the library.

  10. It comes down to this acronym I invented long ago. TWANLOC. Those Who Are No Longer Our Countrymen. We have multiple, mutually hostile, nations in our borders. This is an attempt by the Association for Library Service to Children to destroy the background of our nation, and replace it with their own politically correct one. It is part of the ongoing Second American Civil War that actually started some time ago, and which will probably go hot within the next year, if not months.

    It is what it is. They are not part of our nation. They are at war with us. Some day, we will either be at war with them, or our nation will perish.

    There is a certain simple logic that cannot be avoided.

  11. I don’t know how much of this is hostility to traditional values. I think there is some of that, but more is simply not recognising their importance, and being willing to abandon them in favor of the modern value that certain criticisms invalidate all other considerations.

    It is the teaching of Antonio Gramsci, the more modern Marxist, who recognized that Bourgeois Culture must be destroyed for Marxism to prosper, so to speak.

    By the early 20th century, no such revolution had occurred in the most advanced nations. Capitalism, it seemed, was more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also through ideology. The bourgeoisie developed a hegemonic culture, which propagated its own values and norms so that they became the “common sense” values of all. People in the working-class (and other classes) identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

    To counter the notion that bourgeois values represented “natural” or “normal” values for society, the working class needed to develop a culture of its own. Lenin held that culture was “ancillary” to political objectives, but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first. In Gramsci’s view, a class cannot dominate in modern conditions by merely advancing its own narrow economic interests; neither can it dominate purely through force and coercion. Rather, it must exert intellectual and moral leadership, and make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces

    The revolution is now called “The Resistance.”

  12. It could be fun and maybe even profitable to start a Laura Ingalls Wilder line of children’s books.

    I wonder who if anyone owns the rights to the use of her name…

  13. As it happens, I was in Durand, WI yesterday visiting relatives. It’s not far from the LIW wayside and replica cabin at the site of her birth, just outside of Pepin, WI, so my sister and I decided to visit it on the way home. We both have fond memories of how our third grade teacher, Mrs. Bergerson, used to read her books to us at the end of the school day. It’s off the beaten track, but there were a couple of other families there with children, all of whom seemed to be familiar with the Little House books. As for the SJW criticism, you have to remember, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Mark Twain was also condemned for using the N word in “Huckleberry Finn,” even though books like “Pudd’nhead Wilson” were some of the most effective attacks on racism of his day. H. L. Mencken, the great “Sage of Baltimore,” was also condemned for being “disrespectful” to blacks, even though he was one of the foremost champions of black writers and intellectuals this country has ever produced, and that in the heyday of the KKK. He published articles by the likes of W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, and many others in his “American Mercury” when few others would. He was rewarded for his trouble with credible threats to lynch him from the yokels on the eastern shore of Maryland.

    I note in passing that I saw something quite unexpected on my visit to the little town of Durand, population just under 2000. A downtown bar and restaurant decided to remodel, removing an old wall. It turns out it was part of an addition to the building dating from 1885. When they removed the wall, they found a spectacular old circus poster from the Barnum and Bailey circus. It was about eight feet high, and must have been about 60 feet long, depicting ladies in bustles and gentlemen in derbies visiting the circus, depictions of all the acts, a vignette of a salt water aquarium they had at the time with unusual fish, etc., etc. It had been put up to attract attention from passengers on the Chippewa River steamboats that stopped nearby. The owners had put the whole thing behind plate glass along one of the walls of the restaurant at their own expense. There’s no telling how long it will remain intact. Treatment to neutralize the acid and preserve it would cost around half a million dollars, and no help is coming from the state of Wisconsin. There’s no telling what you’ll find when you visit little towns in flyover country!

  14. Thanks, Helian – for that.
    One of my favorite author venues in Texas is in the little town of Goliad. When they demolished a decrepit building along Town Square (which, absent the courthouse in the middle, serves as the model for me of Town Square, Luna City, Texas) they found — all along the side of one of the surviving buildings – a freshly-painted Bull Durham advertising mural. The owners of the old building site preserved the mural by putting up a long open pavilion roof, and it is now a kind of courtyard venue for a very nice little bar at the back of the site, and a small hotel in the building on the other side.
    I mention this as the open courtyard has been the venue for the first-Saturday-in-December venue for the yearly Author Corral showcase, for local south Texas authors. The owners have been magnificent and hospitable in making it available to us.

  15. I say don’t worry about this. So some group no one in the general public has ever heard of doesn’t want to draft off the Little House Books anymore. So what? Wilder is not famous or great because this stupid award is named after her. Tolkien has no awards named after him and he’ll be read for centuries to come, as will Wilder, because parents will continue to read them to their kids. These vultures don’t matter.

  16. That just put Goliad on my bucket list, Sgt. Mom. If memory serves, its defenders laid down their arms and surrendered during the Texas War of Independence. When they were helpless and unarmed, Santa Anna’s troops shot them all down in cold blood, to the number of more than 400. And yet the leftists tell us they’re “outraged” because the Texans, who were outnumbered two to one, were “mean” to these same soldiers after beating them at the battle of San Jacinto.

  17. Helian, when you go to Goliad, try and be there for the weekend in early April when the reenact the Coleto Creek fight, where the Texians were cornered and had to surrender, and then a week later, the survivors were marched out of the presidio fortress and executed in three groups. The Goliad presidio was excavated and the walls reconstructed in the 1930s, and it is the only place surviving from the War for Independence which looks very much like it did in 1836.
    I took some lovely pictures of the reenactors – here: http://www.celiahayes.com/photo-album/more-of-celias-scrapbook

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