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First Lady Laura Bush visits the Laura Ingalls Wider home in Mansfield, Mo.

Little House on the Prairie controversy has Missouri connection

When you think of Little House on the Prairie, you normally wouldn’t think of Missouri or racism.

Now the legendary author who wrote those books has had her name stripped from a major children’s book award.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who lived in Southwest Missouri’s Mansfield for more than sixty years, is the author of the famous Little House on the Prairie novels.

The Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association, made the unanimous decision Saturday to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

This comes as a result of what the organization calls racist portrayals of black people and Native Americans in her books.

The Library Association has received complaints for many years about a passage in Wilder’s 1935 story “Going West,” about a pioneering family.

The character “Pa” explains the land his family is seeking: “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”

The term “people” to was changed to “settlers” by book editors in 1953.  Other portions of Wilder’s literary work has been criticized as portraying Native Americans, specifically Osage Tribe members, as animalistic.

Wilder wrote her Little House books between 1932 and 1943 while she was living in Mansfield.

The television series Little House on the Prairie is loosely based on her novels, reflecting her pioneer life.

In a town of less than 2,000 people, Mansfield, Missouri’s claim to fame is that it’s home to one of the most recognized women in children’s literature. The Mansfield Library Center’s Nancee Dahms-Stinson says Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books fly off the shelves.

“They’re incredibly popular novels, they’re classic in children’s literature,” says Dahms-Stinson, Youth Services Coordinator.

Their ability to relate to young readers is why the books have stood the test of time.

“They realize they’re not alone in all of the different issues they’re dealing with,” says Dahms-Stinson.

While readers are still connecting with the books, according to the ALSC, their message doesn’t resemble the times, saying they reflect racist and anti-native sentiments and are not universally embraced. Because of this, Wilder won’t have a children’s award named in her honor, something those in her hometown strongly disagree with.

“Laura Ingalls wrote about the time period she understood. She’s not writing about this time period because she’s not here, she’s not here to defend that. If she were here now and she had grown up in this time period, the books would be different, but they’re not,” says John Cosby, a business owner in Mansfield.

If Wilder was alive today, Dahms-Stinson hopes she would understand that her name being removed from the children’s literature award doesn’t reflect her contributions to them.

“The committee and the Library Association was not making a statement regarding her contributions to literature, her writing or her love that she had for children,” says Dahms-Stinson.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association released a statement, saying:

“Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the western movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then-would not be today. Mrs. Wilder was writing a historical account of her childhood to inform today’s children how proud they may be in their heritage and their nation.”

Critics of the American Library Association say the organization is on a slippery slope. By expecting long-dead authors and their works to reflect contemporary values could mean a stripping and self-censorship of books form library shelves that they have accused others of doing.

–Metro Voice and wire services