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Tell Laura I love her

I first heard about ALSC’s big news on Saturday, when I was swanning about the exhibit halls with Al, and Rita Auerbach called me over to tell me that Jacqueline Woodson was the first recipient of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. My first thought was, “well, she’s won pretty much every other damn thing so why not this award I’ve never heard of,” but Rita was quick to clarify that this was the new name of The Prize Formerly Known as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. Aha!

I support changing the name–while I’m not ready to dismiss Wilder’s books on the basis of their racist elements, there is no doubt those elements are there and were getting in the way of the award’s charge to reward “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature.” Wilder herself remains the first recipient of the prize (which was named for her) but while I have heard that past recipients or their representation on this earth may choose to have their honors renamed or not a) I don’t know if that’s true and b) how that will work without confusing everybody. The award statement has also been changed, with “through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences” added to the statement I quoted above. Now that I think about it, could Wilder’s (or Geisel’s, or Brown’s or Speare’s…) estate lay claim to the new name without incident?

What “Laura Ingalls Wilder” means in the children’s book world has changed and could therefore no longer be used as an emblem for what we value most in books for children. The change is not censorship of any kind, and I hope readers continue to be allowed their way into the Little House books without restriction or “guidance,” to judge or not as they like. I do wish the new name were not so generic (even Woodson fumbled it during her acceptance speech) but habit will shorten it to “Legacy,” which is clear if uninspired. I ran over some other possibilities on the plane home yesterday but suspect that “Honored Companion in the Realms of Gold” wouldn’t get much traction. (Jackie, you would deserve  that award as well.)

Geisel Award, I hear you’re up 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.

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Comments

  1. This has been a contentious issue; there are 150 comments on SLJ about the name change. People have strong feelings about it. I am not in favor of the decision, although I respect the reasoning behind it and the motive of making children’s literature inclusive, diverse, and respectful.
    No named award is currently above suspicion and I anticipate more changes. Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, will all need to be reconsidered to make the Wilder decision legitimate because they also have vulnerabilities. (I object strongly to the current attacks on Geisel. He was one of the most principled anti-fascists and spokesman against anti-Semitism during the xenophobic period between the World Wars.
    I am personally disturbed at one particular incidence of hypocrisy. In 2017 the Wilder award went to Nikki Grimes, a distinguished author and poet. She has one book, At Jerusalem’s Gate, which is characterized by truly awful anti-Semitic tropes related to the death of Jesus. Following the New Testament text, Grimes accuses the Jews of Jesus’s time, and by implication for all time, of venality, greed, and bloodthirsty hatred. Where were the concerns about diversity and inclusiveness when Grimes was recognized?
    https://imaginaryelevators.blog/2018/04/24/story-of-hate-not-hope/

  2. Debbie Reese says:

    Thanks for getting this news onto the Horn Book site, Roger. I’ll add it to my post.
    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2018/06/a-changethename-moment-laura-ingalls.html

  3. Julie Corsaro says:

    As reported in your sister journal, SLJ, the ALSC Board, in addition to approving the name change recommendation of the Wilder Award Task Force also approved “Option 1, Part 3, which “allows past recipients the option to be recognized under the new name.” (Look really hard and you can find the related documentation on ALAConnect). I’m not sure how this will work in practice, including whether past recipients can also get a new medal minted. Currently on the Wilder Award home page, all past medalists are listed predominately as “Children’s Literature Legacy Award winners, 1954 to present.” However, a PDF also listing everyone as “Wilder Award Winners” is available there!!

  4. Julie Corsaro says:

    Oh, and the final decision was made by the ALSC Board of Directors, not the ALSC Executive Board (there is no such thing). There is an ALSC Executive Committee, which is part of the ALSC Board of Directors. Accuracy matters.

  5. At the risk of being reminded that this is not the appropriate place to bring up antisemitism in the work of a previous Wilder winner, I would like to suggest that it is. There is continuing discussion here of how thoroughly previous winners who prefer not to be associated with Wilder’s admittedly flawed work can have their honor modified to reflect the change. Please find my piece in Tablet Magazine at the link below:
    https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/265996/as-literary-award-changes-its-name-to-escape-allegations-of-racism-instances-of-anti-semitism-go-unnoticed
    I respect the different points of view about the name change and I wholeheartedly support the commitment to make children’s literature honestly reflect the experiences of all children. I am disappointed not to have received any response from the ALSC about the contradiction discussed in my article, which I have raised previously.

  6. Julie Corsaro says:

    I’m glad to see that the error was corrected regarding the ALSC Board of Directors as the primary decision maker; regrettably, the change was not acknowledged in context as scholarship demands. As a result, this error has been replicated by others not understanding that it is incorrect nor taking the time to understand the structure of the association.

  7. Julie Corsaro says:

    Emily: I have previously responded to let you know that as a member of the Wilder Award Committee you cite, I am bound by confidentiality. However, you can bring the issue to the attention of the ALSC Board of Directors by filling out a Board Action Request Form http://www.ala.org/alsc/aboutalsc/coms/alscforms. There is a space that asks for your committee; however, I know of at least one individual not affiliated with an ALSC Committee that requested a change. I really don’t know what will happen. But it is an action you can take beyond citing your concern on social media.

  8. Julie: Thank you for your suggestion. I will try that form; I’m not sure if it will work for someone who is not a member. I do remember when you responded to my comment previously on SLJ. Thank you again for your courtesy.
    I would like to point out that readers have had many opportunities to respond to my comments, blog, and article. In fact, I received quite a lot of feedback from Tablet readers. Many, but not all, of them are Jewish and recognize that my point merited serious consideration. Why should that response be limited to Jews?
    For the record, I am not requesting that Ms. Grimes’ reward be rescinded, nor that her book be banned or removed from libraries. I don’t believe in doing that, at least not under the vast majority of circumstances. I am very concerned, however, about the pernicious falsehoods in this book, one which is meant for teaching children. Ms. Grimes’ website even includes a link to lesson plans for using At Jerusalem’s Gate to allegedly learn about Jesus’s world and his death. I would like a simple, respectful, acknowledgement that antisemitism. in the U.S. and other countries, is still an ongoing threat, and that it is hypocritical to be demanding of diversity and inclusiveness only for some groups. We should all support one another and work together.
    I think that one reason for a lack of response to my criticisms, including from many people who have been quick to voice opinions about so many other issues in children’s literature, is that the book is indefensible. It uses the most classic and ugly attacks on the Jews of Jesus’s time, which, unfortunately, became justifications for hatred and violence for centuries. When you call a Jewish historical figure “a mongrel smelling blood,” you are well into language with terrible historical resonance. Given that the change in the Wilder Award’s name was predicated on sensitivity and respect, I cannot accept that my comments and article are not relevant, or are only relevant in Jewish publications, not to the general audience of The Hornbook or SLJ.

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