The ALA Midwinter Meeting is nigh, and with it some of the most anticipated discussions of the year…. Oh, you were thinking of the youth media awards, weren’t you? How about:
Leadership & ALSC
This session is an opportunity for anyone interested in leadership within ALSC to meet and greet, get division and association updates, and engage with an invited speaker on a topic of current concern to our members.
How does toxic stress affect the families you serve, and what can you do to serve them better? Dr. Janina Fariñas and Johanna Ulloa Girón MSW (and Outreach Services Manager at Poudre River Public Library District), will introduce how current knowledge on toxic stress and its impact is shaping the way public libraries provide services and programs for children and their families, offering a brief overview of research as well as clear, practical approaches for implementing solutions that support the critical role of libraries in diverse communities.
Leadership & ALSC is Saturday February 10th, 8:30am-11:30am, Grand Hyatt Denver, Mt. Elbert Room. The program begins with division updates and introductions, and the presentation begins following a short break.
ALSC Board Meetings
Your ALSC Board of Directors meets on Saturday and Monday afternoons at Midwinter. The meetings are open, and the entire agenda and documents are posted in ALA Connect.
The meetings start with a review of our strategic progress and plans, and related broader discussions. From there we move into specific division business, including, on Monday, presentation of the preliminary proposed budget for FY19. I would like to highlight two items scheduled for Saturday Afternoon:
Next Steps for Early Literacy
If you have not yet, I strongly encourage members to read the IMLS funded report Bringing Literacy Home: An Evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program (2017). During our “Mega Issue” discussion, Board members will explore future opportunities for ALSC in early literacy, and assess our ECRR program. The document for this item is here.
ALSC Awards Program in Context
Our work to promote excellence in literature for children should align with our organization’s core values, which include inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness, as well as to our strategic plan. With this lens, the Board will consider the implications of having awards named for individuals whose currently recognized place in the canon of children’s literature is not consistent with our organizational values and goals.
We begin this examination with the Wilder Award. The ALSC Board acted in 1954 to give Laura Ingalls Wilder an award for her body of work, and requested to establish this as an ongoing award honoring a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children, named for its first recipient. Today, recognizing the complexity of Wilder’s legacy, we must consider if it still does justice to this particular award for lifetime achievement. I strongly encourage interested members to read the full document for this item.
As we undertake this discussion, we reaffirm the honor bestowed upon Wilder Award recipients, whose life work contributes essentially to ALSC’s vision of engaging communities to build healthy, successful, futures for all children.
No doubt people will look back at us some day and find very credible faults. Is Mark Twain next? Should they have all been writing Star Trek episodes instead of baring their flawed souls to eternal criticism as any artist who wishes to make a lasting contribution must?
Thank you so much for being willing to reconsider the name of the Wilder Award. Although the “Little House” books were favorites of mine growing up, they also subconsciously shaped my ideas about White settlement of North America and its displaced Indigenous peoples –ideas that I later learned were wrong. Further, now that children’s literature is an established genre (yes, partly because Wilder helped pave the way through her fiction–her books are not unadulterated fact), there are better written books that hold more interest for 21st-century kids, and many of those books are about the same time period. To give kids a real sense of history, the “Little House” books HAVE to be balanced with books like Erdrich’s “Birchbark House” series. Otherwise, we get children like the 4th and 8th-grade classes that recently visited my library, who think that all Native Americans are “extinct,” or, if still alive, that they’re living spendthrift on reservations at the U.S. government’s expense. Wilder’s books won’t disappear, or be any less popular, if ALSC changes the name of the award. But we owe it to kids to honor authors who don’t write phrases like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”.
I echo Lara Aase’s appreciation and request. The experiences of Native peoples, and interactions with White pioneers, was missing from my childhood education. It is impossible to overestimate the impact these books have on childrens’ developing sense of self and others and to set the tone for perceived understandings of the world around them. By changing the name and expanding the reading list children (and adults who continue to re-read these books over the years) will have a more complete and ethical understanding of themselves and others.
Hear hear! I am strongly in favor of renaming this award, for the reasons already articulated by those who have already commented.
I cannot attend MidWinter, so am submitting a comment here regarding Document 29, about possible changes to the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.
It had not occurred to me that a change like this was possible, but as a colleague in ALA said to me recently, society is at an inflection point. I believe the upcoming discussion of Document 29 is part in what is, actually, a sea of inflection points.
Document 29 is about inclusion. Meaningful inclusion, that is, of Native children in particular. Data tells a lot:
NCES data tells us that the school drop out rate for Native children in 2015 was 12.5 percent. That is higher than the rate for other groups. (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_coj.asp)
SPRC data tells us that the suicide rate of Native youth is higher than for other groups:
Research psychologists have studies that show that stereotypical imagery has a negative impact on Native youth:
This land was once Native land. Wilder’s books stereotype Native people and are biased in ways that are harmful to Native children and non-Native children, too, because the books misinform readers about facts of history.
If there is anything that I can do to help with this conversation, I stand ready and willing to do so.
I’m strongly in favor of the name being changed. If this award is to be given to honor inclusivity and respect, then Laura Ingalls Wilder is NOT who we should be lifting up. Debbie Reese gives a great analysis of Laura’s attitude towards indigenous people on her blog: American Indians in Children’s Literature. Here are a couple quotes taken directly from the Little House books:
In By the Shores of Silver Creek (1939), Ma recalls her fear of being scalped by “the savages” who had come into their house on the prairie (p. 100).
In The Long Winter (1940) when Pa mentions an Indian who told him that “heap bad snow come” (p. 61), Ma asks him what Indian, and she “looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian” (p. 64).
In Little Town on the Prairie, Debbie also points out, Pa does blackface. She points out that can be most visibly seen in the Kindle version which has the illustrations in color.
These are not the only problematic passages – but simply a sample.
I bring them up because I find it troubling that an award honoring contributions to children’s literature would be named after someone whose work is directly contrary to the values and mission of this organization. As such, I am in favor of the name being changed.
I am a member of ALA/ALSC/YALSA.
Laurel R. Davis-Delano
I am a sociologist who studies representation of Native Americans in U.S. (mainstream) popular culture. We know from research that contemporary Native Americans are virtually invisible in U.S. popular culture, and at the same time Native Americans are portrayed in U.S. popular culture in stereotypical ways as people of the past. We also know that this current state of affairs generates and reinforces prejudice and is harmful toward Native Americans. We all need to work to change this situation. Thus, I am writing to commend the Association for Library Service to Children for beginning a discussion of changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Wilder’s books depict racial stereotypes of and prejudice against Native Americans (e.g., portraying them as “savages), including justification for violence against Native American people (e.g., conveying killing them in positive manner). I urge the ALSC to rename this award.
Sarah Park Dahlen
I have another mandatory meeting so I cannot attend, but I strongly support ALSC’s proposal to establish a task force and update the existing Wilder page. Thank you to everyone doing this important work.
I think it’s important that every element of ALSC reflect its values and principles and I applaud the leaders who realize that this includes the people we honor by naming awards after them. The Geisel and Wilder awards are problematic not only when we realize the complexity of these legacies but also when we consider how they speak to the presence of Whiteness by honoring legacies that do not honor ALSC’s core beliefs. They also take ups space that could recognize the contributions of those who are LGBT+, Native Americans, People of Color and/or those with disabilities who have no awards named after them. These intellectual statues must crumble if this organization plans to move forward with integrity.
In these most recent times, especially with the current President in Office, it seems it is “okay” to be blatantly racist and not even be ashamed of how some members in society are behaving. I have to question why the ALSC would continue with such an award when there has been proof that the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was racist. During her “peak” in her career, perhaps it was acceptable to be openly racist but it should by no means be justifiable today. How would a child today even know who Laura Ingalls Wilder is? If I saw any of her books in our current collection, it would probably be weeded out and discarded due to it never being checked out.
I’m totally in favor of changing the name of the award. Since I won’t be at the midwinter meeting, please consider this a yes vote.
However, please consider carefully before you choose another author’s name for it, since any author may be equally flawed, and equally loved and otherwise productive.
Instead, perhaps you can simply call it the Lifetime Achievement Award? In my mind, it ought to be enough to receive the award, no single author needs to be held up so high as the epitome of it and forever be seen as its namesake.
Seconding that suggestion!
This might be for the best. It’s hard to imagine very many people being immune to some kind of flawed worldview that will seem appaling only a generation or two hence to our better informed descendants.
As a school librarian, I echo the comments above supporting re-naming the award. Last year when Nikki Grimes won, I wondered how she was feeling receiving a prestigious award with such a problematic name.
Please note that Nikki Grimes, although the author of many distinguished works, has written one book, At Jerusalem’s Gate, characterized by intense and misinformed anti-Semitic stereotypes which have been used as justification for hatred and violence over the years. As we consider the very real problems associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work, readers and ALSC members should be aware of this book:
As a children’s librarian at a public library, I also support re-naming the Wilder Award. With all due respect to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s contribution to children’s literature, we cannot in good conscience honor writers of color with her name. Even people of color in the decades of the Little House books’ publication would have felt alienated by her racist depictions of Native Americans and African Americans. How much more so will readers today? I propose an end to the Wilder Award and the institution of an award named for someone whose work and life more closely adheres to the ALA’s position of inclusion and diversity.
I’m a librarian at a community college in a community with many tribal nations, and many schools with kids needing to see themselves in the books they read, and I too support re-naming the Wilder Award. Thank you for being willing to consider this inclusive change.
I also strongly support the rename the awards (Wilder and Geisel) – I don’t have much to add to what has already been said, besides thanks to all who are doing this work.
I am also submitting a comment in support of the proposed change to the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. At a time when, after far too long, we are finally seeing the removal of Confederate statues (and violent pushback against that change) the name of the Wilder Award stands as a similar monument. I commend the Association for Library Service to Children for considering this change, and strongly hope that ALSC will embrace the moment, and move on from celebrating a racist narrative that continues to denigrate and misinform young readers in the present. By facing Wilder and this history with honesty and integrity, and by changing the name of the award, ALSC will be adhering to its mission to serve all children.
Thank you, ALSC, for listening to membership with these concerns and for taking them seriously. Each time an award is given and celebrated, it continues to show value to a legacy. If these legacies, and their messages, are in conflict with our core values, then they must go or change. This is not about trying to erase the past, but about taking ownership of it and working towards a more equitable future. Thank you.
Laura M. Jimenez, PhD
Like many others who have commented here, I cannot attend MidWinter to contribute to the discussion on doc. 29 concerning the name change of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.
I teach in a school of education. I teach children’s literature to teachers who will be in the classroom. Because the teacher population is (literally) 80% White (more if we look at elementary level teachers) but the student population is majority minority in this country the overrepresentation of the White narrative in children’s literature is a huge issue for me professionally.
As a White presenting Latinx lesbian, the issue of representation in children’s literature is also personal. When a White teacher puts a Little House in a child’s hand and says “read this, it is a classic” that sends a message of acceptance and respect of the text to the child. If that child is NOT White … like me and many of my classmates oh so long ago in Southern California in the 70s … the message was clear. Here is a book that describes just how Whites benefitted from the land grab of a colonizing force. As Chicano children, we knew about Spanish Conquistadors, the battles of independence (NOT Cinco de Mayo BTW), and the ways we were both colonizer and colonized. But that story was not told, heard, respected or even understood by our White teachers.
Yes, Wilder might be an important part of your reading life, as she is surely an important part of history but those books do not show us the same history. But, please understand, those books were and continue to be just another signal that White is Right in the United States of America.
The fact that the book award name might be changed gives me hope.
I agree that we should stop naming awards after people. Why tie your work to someone else’s achievements (and flaws, which everyone has)? Why does the work need the association with another author/figure’s legacy to be seen as important? Is there some more creative solution , other than letting a sponsor be the award name like the Smarties prize? Sorry I don’t have any answers on this front, but I’m so glad that a discussion is happening!
I admit I am not a member of ALSC (just YALSA, but I should join ALSC!), but if my comment is welcome, I also support reconsidering both of these awards. Their namesakes are revered enough without attaching them to a badge of honor for the future. As a black woman, I cannot imagine how horrible I would feel if someone wanted to honor me with, say, the Thomas Jefferson Award–leaving Wilder and Geisel up seems a rather hostile way of honoring people. I am a former school librarian and current doctoral student studying children’s and young adult literature, and I also teach pre-service teachers who are undergraduates at my same university. The children’s and YA lit courses I teach often involve conversations about the canon, and when institutions like these are in place, it makes it even harder for me to do my job of ensuring that these soon-to-be teachers know how to interrogate their own reading and forge a new future of children’s reading when they get into the classroom. I want them to learn the true history of children’s literature, absolutely, but in a way that makes it clear that knowing history doesn’t mean keeping it on a pedestal.
Thank you for starting this conversation. I think I’m going to go into my ALA account and add on an ALSC membership, which I should have done when I started my program.
I would like to point out that grouping Wilder and Dr. Seuss/Theodore Geisel together is somewhat misleading. The Little House series completely defines Wilder’s work. Regardless of what you think about how the racism in those books impacts their status as classics, Geisel’s range is much broader. Every time people bring up his anti-Japanese cartoons without historical context, I feel strongly that they need to learn much more about his role as a loud and vocal opponent of fascism and Nazism before the U.S. joined the War. Some of his caricatures of the Japanese include depictions of war criminal Tojo along with Hitler. Are the caricatures of Hitler also unacceptable? (This, of course, in no way justifies Geisel’s acceptance of the internment of Japanese Americans, which was inexcusable.)
Finally, please note that the Wilder Award went last year to Nikki Grimes, who is the author of many distinguished works, but also of one book distinguished by its horrible anti-Semitism, specifically accusing Jews of the execution of Jesus. (At Jerusalmen’s Gate).
I’m a YALSA member, but I work closely with children’s librarians and I know that ALA awards carry a lot of merit with librarians and also with the families we serve. I grew up loving Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and I appreciate that a lot of readers have fond memories of her books. However, I support changing the name of the award. As others have stated eloquently, Wilder’s books contain representations of Native Americans that are stereotyped and problematic. A new name for the award will better reflect the inclusive values of ALA and ALSC and the qualities for which we hope to recognize authors.
I also support changing the name of the Wilder Award, and agree that something general like “Lifetime Achievement” would likely be the best option.
I am a children’s librarian who will not be attending the ALSC Midwinter Meeting. One of the things that drew me to librarianship in the first place are some of its professed professional values, specifically ones dedicated to equity and inclusivity. I am glad that improving that area of our profession is part of ALSC’s strategic plan.
I’m heartened that ALSC recognizes the conflict between that aim and its Wilder Award. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, though beloved by many, also celebrate the genocides, stereotypes, and overall violence inflicted upon Native American peoples. The fact that books written in the 1800s dehumanize Native Americans is one thing – the fact that we use that author as a benchmark for lifetime achievement in children’s lit is another, a way of perpetuating and condoning that violence. If ALSC truly wants to strive towards greater inclusivity and cultural competence, this needs to happy.
Please change the name.
Megan Dowd Lambert
I’m grateful to ALSC for opening up this discussion. I won’t be at the midwinter meeting this year, so I am writing to voice my strong support for changing the name of the Wilder Award. I echo the concerns raised by Debbie Reese and others on this thread in support of the change and thank them for their advocacy.
I thought not of the toppling Confederate statues that Sarah Hamburg mentions (though I see the connection), but of renamed buildings on college campuses when I heard about this potential change, and that got me excited. I understand the caution that Erica Siskind advises above when it comes to renaming the award, and at the risk of putting the cart before the horse, I hope ALSC will accept suggestions from members when and if that time comes. Whose name might be held up instead of Wilder’s on a renamed Lifetime Achievement Award to better reflect organizational core values and goals? I look to the list of Wilder Medal recipients and see some marvelous candidates, though we might look elsewhere, too.
Anna Haase Krueger
I am so happy and hopeful that these changes are being thoughtfully considered. It makes me proud to be a member of ALSC. I will be attending the meeting in support of changes.
I fully support changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. ALSC has been on the very forefront of positive changes in the library community and I would love to see that continue. Diversity and inclusion is not a trend. Names have powerful meaning and by continuing to use her name, the kidlit community is okaying her racism. Saying nothing is equivalent to agreement. Please change the name of the award.
We must begin to teach and learn other perspectives and realities of this country’s history if we are to survive as a diverse society. We start with our children. Please consider replacement of this award in a progressive move toward truth and reconciliation. Whose history? Our Indigenous children deserve better in this day and age.
As an ALSC member, I fully support changing the name of the Wilder Award and echo the sentiments of those who’ve posted above. We are striving for inclusive libraries and always trying to help every child feel seen, valued, and loved. Throwing out the name of someone who reflects our racist and colonialist past is a good step.
Changing the name of both the Wilder & Geisel awards is both a reflection of our decision to be inclusive and a demonstration that we are learning and growing. We cannot fully serve everyone if we hold up as exemplary any author whose work diminishes the lives of others. Our young patrons depend on us to have their best interests at heart, and changing the names of these awards is an act of good faith. It signals that we see that the status quo of the past has caused irreparable damage and that we will no longer be complicit in the act of systemic, institutional racism.
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I wanted to voice my support for changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award and echo the sentiments above. Professionally, my goal is for every child to feel welcome and included in the space I provide. Promoting an award steeped in Wilder’s racism effectively alienates native american children and those who are aware of (and opposed to) the gross stereotypes Wilder promoted in her books.