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.