Why Laura Ingalls Wilder Is Still Worth Reading

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I have hosted the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge during the month of February for the past eight years. In recent years Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and legacy have come under closer cultural scrutiny. There’s evidence that Pa knowingly homesteaded on land that belonged to Indians and skipped town to avoid debts. Last year Laura’s name was even removed from the Association for Library Service to Children’s award due to perceived “inconsistency between Wilder’s legacy and the association’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness” and “anti-Native [American] and anti-black sentiments in her work.”

Some who charge Wilder with racism fail to read the concerning passages in context. For instance, one oft-quoted passage states that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” But, in context, this statement was made by the Ingalls’ neighbor in Little House on the Prairie, and “Pa said he didn’t know about that. He figured that Indians would be as peaceable as anybody else if they were left alone.” In The Long Winter, Pa advocates believing and following the advice of an Indian predicting a severe winter ahead. Another troubling sentence in Little House on the Prairie reads, ” … there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” When an editor pointed out to Laura that the sentence made it sound as if Indians weren’t considered people, Laura had the sentence changed to “‘… there were no settlers.’ She wrote to the editor, ‘It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not.'”

Pa participates in a minstrel show in blackface. But the family enjoyed and respected a black doctor whom they credited with saving them from scarlet fever. Pamela Hill Smith has a section in Pioneer Girl explaining how blackface was viewed at the time, saying that “Before the American Civil War, many abolitionists embraced minstrelsy as a way to reach a broader American audience, and some minstrel troupes performed songs with distinctly abolitionist themes” (p. 254, note 62). It was not considered offensive then, though it is now.

Even the ALSC said that “Changing the name of the award should not be viewed as an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access to Wilder’s books and materials…This change is not a call for readers to change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books, nor does it suggest that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children. The change, however, may prompt further critical thinking about Wilder’s books and the discussions that can take place around them.”

Here on Laura’s 152nd birthday, I want to share why I believe Laura is still worth reading:

1. Her books depict accurate, if not right, views of the times. Parents and teachers who use Laura’s book should discuss the larger picture. Probably most of the settlers’ negative feelings about Native Americans sprang from fear. A major massacre by Native Americans occurred during this time in history, so naturally settlers were afraid and wary. But study can be made about why the Native Americans reacted as they did and the ways they were mistreated. Our country’s treatment of Native Americans is one of the worst marks on its record. But it would be anachronistic to have the characters of the late 1800s depicting enlightened thinking of the early 2000s.  The books can also act as a springboard to discussion of how times and attitudes have changed over the years. No time or culture has every aspect right. It takes long years to change cultural thinking. We don’t learn from history by excising the parts we disagree with today. Wrong attitudes can be viewed in light of the times, not to excuse them but to understand them and to trace how those attitudes have changed since that time. Society still has a long way to go, but we can look back and see that progress has been made.

2. Laura is not responsible for her father’s wrongdoing. She was a child when he made his decisions.

3. Laura’s books are historically based fiction. Some have faulted Laura for not including some aspects of her family’s history in the books and for changing some details. But the books were not meant to be completely autobiographical. Laura originally wrote her life story in Pioneer Girl, but then changed her focus to stories for children.

4. Laura’s books represent a significant swatch of American history. Through story Laura shares with us what is was like to travel in a covered wagon, build a homestead, establish a town, and so many other aspects of pioneer life.

5. Laura’s book depict strong family values like industriousness, independence, frugality, hospitality, community, resilience through hardships, thoughtfulness towards others.

6. Laura’s books can spark discussions, such as:

  • Every culture has its blind spots. What were some of theirs? What are some of ours?
  • Every person and culture has good and bad points. What were some good and bad attitudes in the Little House books? (Good: industriousness, frugality, hospitality. Bad: wrong views of other races, Laura’s wanting to “get back” at others, particularly Nellie Olsen).
  • What led to the hostility between settlers and Native Americans? How could things have been handled differently?
  • Look at how far society has come in its thinking about other races over the years. But our racial attitudes on an individual and national level are still not what they should be. How can we grow in this area?
  • Were there any signs in the books that attitudes were changing? (For instance, Laura’s family was treated by a black doctor at one time. Pa interacted with the Indians sometimes, assured Ma it was fine to do so, and in The Long Winter believed an Indian who came to warn the white men that a bad winter was coming).

7. Laura’s writing is realistic, not idyllic. Some have charged Laura with painting the pioneering family and life as idyllic. But…locusts? Blindness? Bilzzards? Wolves? Fire? Drought? Lack of food and resources? No, nearly every book deals with some kind of calamity. And Laura even realistically depicts sibling squabbling and parental tension.

8. Laura’s writing is excellent. Her stories would not have been read and loved all these years if they were not readable and enjoyable.

9. If we stopped reading people with flaws, we wouldn’t have anyone to read.

I agree with Katrina Trinko’s conclusion here:

Wilder — an amazing writer who poignantly and vividly depicted a crucial part of American history — deserves to remain honored as an icon of American children’s literature. By all means, let’s pair reading her with conversations about America’s past and what was right and what was not and what remains debated.

But let’s encourage critical thinking, not purging.

See also:

The Real Story Behind “The Little House on the Prairie” Controversy
Learning From Laura Ingalls Wilder
Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2019 Sign-up

It’s time for the Laura Ingalls Wilder reading Challenge for 2018! The basic idea is to read anything by, about, or relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder during February, the month of her birth and death. I have an extensive book list here if you’d like some ideas beyond the Little House series, but if course the Little House series is delightful to read or reread.

In the comments below let us know what you’re planning to read. On Feb. 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post where you can tell us how you did and what you thought, either in the comments or with a link back to your posts. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do I’d appreciate your linking back here.

Sometimes participants have done projects or made recipes from the series as well. If you do so, please do share with us! Annette at Little House Companion has some activities and other resources.

At the end I’ll draw a name from those who participate to win their choice of a prize:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

OR

Little House Coloring Book, which contains art and quotes from the books. It’s not designed as an “adult” coloring book, but adults could certainly use it. 🙂

If none of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on the wrap-up post at the end of the month telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from then to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

This year I am planning to read On the Way Home, written by Laura as she, Almanzo, and Rose traveled from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, and The Road Back, in which Laura and Almanzo traveled back to De Smet for a visit.

How about you? Will you be joining us this year? What will you be reading?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2019

With all that we’ve had going on lately, Feb. 1 is sneaking up on me. With the month of February comes the annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge, which will take place February 1-18.

The idea is to read anything by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder during the month of February since her birth and death both occurred in February. I posted a Laura-related book list here, if you’re looking for something other than the Little House books.

Some have also incorporated some LIW activities during that month! It’s not required, but I love to see and hear about it.

I’ll have a sign-up post here on February 1st. You can join in any time during the month. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do, I welcome you to post about the books you read or any activities you might do, and/or post a wrap-up of your LIW reading at the end of the month and link to our wrap-up post here on Feb. 28. If you don’t have a blog, you can let us know in the comments on that post what you read.

No need to share now what you are going to read: you can save that for our sign-up post Friday. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge is coming!

Update: this year’s sign-up is here!

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s my latest list of thought-provoking reads:

Women, Don’t Be Weak-minded, HT to True Woman. “I’m grieved every time I see another woman I care about succumb to the latest ‘Christian’ bestseller which, more often that not, is feel-good psychology scantily clad in a few decontextualized Bible verses.” “Critical reading in one thing. But, trying to glean ‘something good’ from an author who denies Christ’s supremacy, man’s depravity, or Scriptural inerrancy is entirely another thing all together and should be avoided.”

How (Not) to Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, HT to Challies.

Five Things I’d Tell My Newlywed Self.

A Slanderous Charge. Far from promoting racial prejudices and stereotypes, the Little House series shows a different side.

I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “In fact, all this opining just makes things worse. You don’t like what someone wrote and it upset you? Shouting your reaction is infantile (mere stimulus-and-response) and, worse, destructive….What we need instead is argument: inference from evidence to clear conclusions. Or, in a more right-brained approach, the setting-out of a compelling alternative.”

And finally, this cracked me up:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s another round of notable reads found recently:

How to Avoid Becoming (Heavenly) Hangry on Vacation.

What Your Child Needs More Than Self-esteem, HT to Story Warren.

A Parent’s Guide to the 5 Skeptics Who Want to Shame Your Kids for Being Christian, HT to Challies.

When You Don’t Enjoy the Little Years. Even though you love your little ones dearly, some days are hard.

Can I Trust God With My Child’s Suffering? HT to True Woman.

How to Bring the (Whole) Bible to Life for Kids, HT to True Woman. Though I chafe at the phrasing of the title (the Bible IS living – John 6:63), I know what the author meant, and there are some great ideas here.

When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee, HT to Challies.

Hope for People With Food Allergies, HT to True Woman.

The Real Story of Christopher Robin, HT to Glynn. Sad, but I hope on some level the family retained some joy that the Pooh stories were such a dear part of many people’s childhoods.

Several people have asked me if I’ve heard of the recent ruling to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a literary award. I’m not surprised, especially in today’s climate. There were characterizations and incidents in the books that we cringe at today. But I hope this does not lead to a pulling of her books from shelves or reading lists. We encounter what we would consider wrong attitudes in a number of older books, even classics. If we tossed books that had anything in them we disagreed with – well, we wouldn’t have much left. It takes long years to change cultural thinking. The better way, I believe, is to realize that every person and every generation is a mixture of good and bad and to educate about both sides. A couple of good articles I’ve seen on this are Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder is a Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance (HT to Melanie) and How to really Read Racist Books to Your Kids, (HT to 19th Century Classic Children’s Books You Might Have Overlooked, which I found through Story Warren). I wouldn’t agree with every point in the latter (mainly the evolutionary lens), but both articles make good points.

I usually like to close these posts with a funny or thoughtful picture or meme – but I don’t have one handy and need to get on to today’s tasks, so I’ll wish you a Happy Saturday!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2018 Winner

Congratulations to Rebekah for winning the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge this year! Thanks to all of those who participated. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! I already have plans for next year!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2018 Wrap-up

It’s the end of February and that means the end of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge for this year!

A week from today I’ll use random.org to draw a name from the comments on this post to win either The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker or Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, or a similarly-priced book related to Laura. A week should give some of us who are still reading time to finish up and post about our reading. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can tell us what you read in the comments here. If you have a blog, you can either let us know what you read in the comments or share the links back to any reviews or challenge-related posts from your blog or even from Goodreads if you review books there.

Before I go any further, I need to apologize for something. I had created a book list of books by, about, or somehow related to Laura. Some of them I had not read but had heard about or seen. Two of them turned out to have objectionable content. I have removed them from that list, and I feel terrible that some of you chose those books, probably because of seeing them on that list. I am going to be much more careful about that in the future, and, once again, I sincerely apologize for having books with serious problems on a recommended book list here.

For my own part, I did have to lay aside one I was reading: Death On the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst. It’s a modern-day mystery involving a quilt that might have been owned by Laura, might even have been made by Laura, being given to a historic museum curator named Chloe. She decides to go with her sister, with whom she had not been close lately, on a tour of all the Laura historical sites to consult with others and see if she can find out more information plus, as per the owner’s wishes, decide which of those sites to donate the quilt to. But early on a mysterious death occurs at the first site, which I assume later on is discovered to be a murder, and that somehow involves Chloe. I was irritated by some bad language (damns and hells), and then bothered by some vulgar words, and finally an appearance of the “f” word caused me to shut the book and give up on it. But it wasn’t grabbing me anyway. The writing was a little juvenile in places (one example: “Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy! Chloe thought with giddy glee,” p. 6) and not great in others (“Something quivered beneath Chloe’s ribs, as if one of her heart-strings had been plucked,” p. 8). And, then, it was inaccurate in at least one place: when Chloe visits the site in Burr Oak, Iowa, the tour guide tells them this segment in the Ingalls’ life, where they manage a hotel next to a saloon, is neither in the books nor the TV series. It’s not in the LH books, but it is in the TV series, in season 5. The town is called Winoka there rather than Burr Oak, and the Dakota Hotel rather than the Masters Hotel, and the timing may have been different, but they are definitely helping in a hotel next to a saloon. Anyway, for all of those reasons and a couple more, the story just wasn’t grabbing me, but the language was “the last straw” that made me put it down. It’s too bad, because it sounded like it would have been good. Most of the reviews I’ve seen are positive, so a lot of other people liked it better than I did.

Other than that, for this year’s challenge I read:

The First Four Years by Laura, about her first four years of marriage. The manuscript was found among her papers after her death and published later after Rose’s death. They had quite a rough go of it at first, but in true pioneer spirit they summon the strength to persevere. I quite enjoyed rereading this.

I looked through several of the My First Little House books, designed for 4-8-year-olds. I have not reviewed them nor had a chance to show them to Timothy, but Rebekah has an excellent review here (where I first learned of them!) They are gorgeous, illustrated by Jody Wheeler and Renee Graf, “inspired by the work of Garth Williams with his permission.” I am so glad they kept with a similar style of the books that many of us grew up with. I have not read each of the thirteen books word for word yet, but from what I did read and what Rebekah said, they seem to follow the books very closely, except, of course, for being condensed and adapted for a younger child.

I’m still working on Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell. This was not at all on my radar, but I just happened to notice it while passing through the children’s section of the library. It’s more YA than a children’s book, though, recommended for ages 12 and up. It’s about a modern-day family with several issues going for an extended “Camp Frontier,” where they are supposed to live like they did in the 1890s. The kids, of course, are not excited. The main character, Gen, manages to smuggle in a cell phone, where she texts about the experience to her friends, who put the texts on a blog which then goes viral. There’s a requisite mean girl and cute guy, along with a goth friend and several other characters. So far this seems pretty good – I hope it continues to be! I’ll review it in full when I am done. It’s not really directly related to LIW so far except to reference her a couple of times, like the mom in the family having been “a Laura Ingalls Wilder addict.” (Update: my review is here.)

So that’s my Laura reading this year. 🙂 A few years ago, I thought I might end the challenge with the last book in the LH series, but I have found more LIW books that I want to read, so we’ll look forward to continuing on next year!

In the meantime, I am looking forward to finding out what you read and what you thought about it!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2018 Sign-up

It’s time for the Laura Ingalls Wilder reading Challenge for 2018! The basic idea is to read anything by, about, or relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder during February, the month of her birth and death. I have an extensive book list here if you’d like some ideas beyond the Little House series, but if course the Little House series is delightful to read or reread.

In the comments below let us know what you’re planning to read. On Feb. 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post where you can tell us how you did and what you thought, either in the comments or with a link back to your posts. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do I’d appreciate your linking back here.

Sometimes participants have done projects or made recipes from the series as well. If you do so, please do share with us! Annette at Little House Companion has some activities and other resources.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and I decided to once again offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

If neither of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on the wrap-up post at the end of the month telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from then to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

This year I am planning to read:

  • The First Four Years, the last in the Little House series
  • Death On the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst, a modern mystery set around some of the places Laura lived.
  • Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell. I had not heard of this, but it happened to catch my eye while I was in the library. It’s about a modern family with problems going to a “Camp Frontier.”
  • Last year I bought a set of My First Little House Books, after reading Rebekah’s wonderful review. I haven’t even opened them yet, but I want to look through them and hopefully see if Timothy might sit still long enough to look at one or two.

How about you? Will you be joining us this year? What will you be reading?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Reminder: Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

Just a reminder that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge starts here a week from tomorrow on Feb. 1! More information and an extended book list is here (you don’t have to choose a book from the list: it’s just there for suggestions).

I’ll have a post here next Thursday where you can sign up to let us know you are participating and what you plan to read. I’m looking forward to seeing what your choices are!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2018 and Book List

I’ve noticed that a number of people are posting about next year’s reading challenges and plans already, so for those who like to plan ahead, I wanted to let you know that the Laura Ingalls Wilder reading Challenge will take place here next February. This will be our 6th year!

The idea is to read anything by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder during the month of February since her birth and death both occurred in February. Some have also incorporated some LIW activities during that month! It’s not required, but I love to see and hear about it.

I’ll have a sign-up post here on February 1st. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do, I welcome you to post about the books you read or any activities you might do, and/or post a wrap-up of your LIW reading at the end of the month and link to our wrap-up post here on Feb. 8. If you don’t have a blog, you can let us know in the comments on that post what you read.

A few years ago I posted a list of books that I had come across by or about Laura for those people who wanted to roam beyond just the Little House books. I’ve become aware of so many more, I thought it was time for an updated list. You’re not restricted to this list by any means – these are just some that I have read or heard of. I am sure there’s multitudes more I haven’t heard of yet. I’ve linked the ones I’ve read back to my reviews.

Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder:

  • The Little House books, of course
  • Little House in the Ozarks: the Rediscovered Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder (linked to my review), compiled and edited by Stephen Hines, a collection of newspaper columns and magazine articles she wrote before starting the Little House books
  • Saving Graces: the Inspirational Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder (linked to my review), a collection of inspirational or faith-based writings pulled from the columns in Little House in the Ozarks.
  • Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder (3 volumes) I’ve not read this yet, but it appears to be the same type of thing: some of the columns from the first book sorted into different categories.
  • On the Way Home, a diary of her move with her husband and daughter in a covered wagon from South Dakota to Missouri.
  • West From Home (linked to my review), letters Laura wrote to Almanzo while visiting their daughter in San Francisco, where she visited the World’s Fair.
  • A Little House Traveler contains the above two books plus the previously unpublished The Road Back, about the first trip she and Almonzo took back to De Smet, where Laura grew up and where they met.
  • A Little House Sampler, stories and writings of Laura as well as of Rose Wilder Lane, compiled by William T. Anderson.
  • Pioneer Girl (linked to my review), the script of Laura’s first draft of what was to become the Little House books, wonderfully and thoroughly annotated by Pamela Smith Hill.

Biographies of Laura:

  • I Remember Laura by Stephen W. Hines (linked to my review), a collection of articles and interviews of people who actually knew Laura.
  • There are several, William Anderson’s perhaps the most well known. More on Anderson’s work, and some information on MacBride, is here.

Books about the family by Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane:

  • Let the Hurricane Roar (also known as Young Pioneers)(linked to my review), a fictionalized novel about her grandparents’ “prairie life,” written without her mother’s permission or knowledge
  • Free Land: I don’t know if this is about any particular family members, but it is about the same times and situations.

Books about the rest of the family. I have not read any of these, so I don’t know about their authenticity, ow close or far they are from the facts:

  • Roger Lea MacBride, Rose’s sole heir and the co-creator and co-producer of the Little House on the Prairie TV series, published a series of books based on Rose’s childhood.
  • Little House: The Martha Years by Melissa Wiley, a series of books about Martha Morse, Laura’s great-grandmother
  • A series of books about Charlotte Tucker, Laura’s grandmother, also by Melissa Wiley: Little House by Boston Bay, On Tide Mill Lane, The Road from Roxbury, Across the Puddingstone Dam
  • Books about Caroline Quiner Ingalls, Laura’s mother, by Maria Wilkes
    Little House in Brookfield
    Little Town at the Crossroads
    Little Clearing in the Woods
    On Top of Concord Hill
    Across the Rolling River
    Little City by the Lake
    A Little House of Their Own
  • Old Town in the Green Groves (Little House) by Cynthia Rylant
  • Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls (Little House) by Heather Williams
  • Mary Ingalls on Her Own (Little House Sequel) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel.
  • (Thanks to Sherry for several of these!)

For the younger set:

Modern books related to Laura:

Others:

Music related to Laura:

The following are not books, but rather blog posts or sites related to Laura:

I have plans for a couple this February, but I see many more I’d like to get to! I hope you do, too!

(Update: Be sure to check the comments for suggestions others have added.)

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)