Regarding the Feb. 7 Style article “A ‘Little House’ still leaves a big impression,” about the 150th birthday of “Little House” author Laura Ingalls Wilder:
This otherwise well-written article failed to mention that the “Little House” books actually have a problematic reputation among many children’s librarians these days because of racist content and stereotyped characters, particularly in Wilder’s portrayals of American Indians.
One of the most egregious examples of this racism occurs in “Little House on the Prairie,” when Wilder states that her mother believed that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” There are numerous other examples of Ma Ingalls’s racism — highlighted by the illustrations by Garth Williams of fierce-looking Indians — found in that same book. Less overt is the racism contained in the second paragraph of “Little House in the Big Woods,” when Wilder details her surroundings and neglects to mention the presence of American Indians who also lived there: “There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.”
At our library, we’ve opted to keep the books in our collection, as they still offer a window on a certain slice of Americana. However, we don’t highlight them or otherwise give them special attention, and I don’t recommend them when asked for book suggestions. When a patron asks for the books, I mention the problem of racist content and suggest that the books offer a good way to talk with children about racism and how we have worked to change things since the books were published decades ago. I also recommend reading the Birchbark series by Louise Erdrich. This critically acclaimed series is set in much the same time period as the “Little House” books but features protagonists who are Ojibwe; Erdrich herself is American Indian.
The “Little House” books are beloved by many generations of readers who grew up reading them (and I’m one of the people who grew up loving these books — I still have the set my father was able to buy me by giving up his lunches for a month). While I may have happy memories of reading the books as a child, that nostalgia doesn’t justify keeping on blinders about them as an adult.
Karen MacPherson, Takoma Park
The writer is children’s and youth services coordinator for the
Takoma Park Maryland Library.