Subscribe to The Horn Book

What’s in a name.

The proposal to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal presents some interesting questions (and congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson on winning it this year and tying with Maurice Sendak as the youngest recipients!). I don’t have a firm opinion as to whether renaming the award is a good idea, although I wish the ALSC board had at least made a nod toward acknowledging Wilder’s place in American and children’s literature’s history, her blessings as well as her sins. But as long as readers are still able to read her books and get them at the library without interference, I’m happy.

Has there been any discussion about what to rename it? Will the award be renamed retroactively, as the Newbery and Caldecott runners-up were recast as Honor Books in 1971? I wonder if it might be best to give it an abstract name (like the Odyssey Award) rather than naming it for a person, as reputations do come and go even after death. Geisel Award, you may be next!

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Share

Comments

  1. This saddens me – Wilder wrote about American history as she and her family experienced it during frontier days. It is an abomination to try and erase history – peoples of other color have “complicated” ones too; MLK Jr. was a womanizer. Let him be banished from the pages of history in the onslaught of MeToo. Enough said.

  2. Vicki Reutter says:

    I don’t think Wilder’s moral character is in question, or in her presumably accurate portrayal of the frontier, but whether she should be the namesake for this particular lifetime achievement award. Here is a current statement about the ALA committee’s concern: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/wildermedal/wilderabout. Like you, Roger, I haven’t made up my mind, but I think it teeters on the edge of a larger lack of interest in literature discussion or analysis among ELA teachers. If we curate the entire historical literature canon for “today’s” child, so they have no need for context, or to discover history’s grittiness for themselves, it is a disservice. Also note In both of authors in consideration, Geisel and Wilder may only be known through their television or movie versions. Readers of Wilder’s books would see a balance between Pa’s respect and Ma’s fear of the ‘Indians,’ and nuanced details such as Laura’s noting how she could count their ribs when they came the house, and how they ate every crumb of cornbread. What reader wouldn’t wonder why they were starving? Perhaps we don’t give our children credit enough to ask questions about the past and, as educators, we don’t think we have the time to entertain those questions.

  3. I would very much love to see the name of the award for Ms. Wilder remain AS IS.

  4. Barbara Genco says:

    Count me in as deeply ambivalent about this proposed change. Born in the early 50’s, I absolutely adored the Wilder books. They made me a book lover. I became tireless reader of historical fiction and this passion led to my abiding devotion to building collections that highlight quality informational books for kids and teens. I re-read The Long Winter regularly and even own a copy with the original Helen Sewell illustrations. I read everything I can about Wilder (including letters and journals, essays (pro/con), and meaning rich responses like Louise Edrich’s justifiably acclaimed The Birchbark House). But I still heart Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am now deep into the widely praised PRAIRIE FIRES: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. By Caroline Fraser (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt. $35). The book places Wilder in the context of American social history and does not shrink from exposing the deadly, soul killing, and abiding effects of American Exceptionalism. It also details horrors committed in the pursuit of American “Manifest Destiny”–the book opens with a violent and disturbing description of the 1862 Dakota War and the Mankato MN Massacre http://www.startribune.com/dec-26-1862-38-dakota-men-executed-in-mankato/138273909/ Yes, Wilder’s life and opus are products of our country’s sometimes brutal, sometimes courageous, history. Wilder is a product of her history, her time. I expect we all agree that history is messy, dirty, brutal, murderous. It can also concentrate our attention on resiliency and highlight transcendent acts of courage. Will retracting this ‘naming’ honor change the past?
    Today, I prefer confronting the past and developing and delivering strategies to expose kids to the brutal continuing costs of hate and fear of ‘the other’. Whatever the outcome, I have been an ALSC member for 35+ years. I will stay loyal and committed.

  5. Thank you BGenco for sharing your thoughts. I am also in the ambivalent school on this. My concern is that the award was named for her for her overall contribution and the contribution still stands. I am going to follow your trail and reread the Erdrich essay and the new biography.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*