I had a conversation in a signing line with a very friendly librarian from Ohio. She said that the original Little House books have an abysmal circulation rate. That shocked me. She added that the language is now considered problematic. I have read and re-read the entire series dozens of times and decided then and there to reread it this Summer with the idea of looking for language and other biases that I have never looked for before.
I’ll admit the last time I read through the series we were in full fledged remodeling, and I’ll admit to becoming frustrated with Pa. I mean, you just built that house and got glass windows, and now you leave? WTH? I was annoyed on Ma’s behalf. But this time I read it looking for racial bias, not frustrating irresponsible remodeling behavior.
Little House in the Big Woods– “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.”
I guess the Native Americans were invisible? This problem seems like an easy fix if reading aloud- only say to your kids do you think no one lived there? I bet they figure it out. Then talk about why the author may have written it that way.
Little House on the Prairie– “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”
Sigh. Also, the illustrations make the Native Americans look pretty mean- which I’m sure is how Laura remembered them. I do have to point out that although Ma was afraid of the Native Americans, Pa was not- “They are perfectly friendly’…He often met Indians in the woods where he was hunting. There was nothing to fear from Indians.”
Another random thought that applies to the entire series: The Ingalls are only able to move around the country and settle in various prairies and lakes and towns because every place they move to is empty and cleared for them using forced resettlement and genocide.
So, that’s worth noting. I didn’t end up having enough time to read all the books again as my pile of lovely new ARCs keeps beckoning me forward. I’ll conclude with a quote an expert that I agree with:
As Fred Erisman points out, the Little House books “reflect the disparate and often conflicting attitudes present in a nation undergoing radical change.” To silence the text would be to silence an understanding of how writers like Wilder in the 1930s represented our past and responded to relations between white and Native Americans.
Whether or not this is a “teachable moment” is up to each parent to decide for themselves. We’ve already read them aloud, and I did, in fact, stop lots of times to talk about the fact that the author was born in the 1800’s and was only writing her memories down as a Children’s book and that is how she felt. Not that we feel that way or that she was right. I guess I’m just not ready to shelve these books that were so much apart of my childhood, but I understand that maybe I’m wrong. I ran across this quote from Neil Gaiman that I’ll end with as I continue to ponder the advisability of recommending these books.