Little House on the Prairie Books

…are FICTION.   Sure, they are BASED on the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, but “creative” license was invoked to make the stories more interesting — help them flow and such.  If they were REAL, they would be housed in the NONFICTION section of the library.  Most likely in the 900s where biographies and autobiographies are housed.

Why?  Oh honey!

Yesterday I schlepped to the library with Taed.  There’s always the section of used books so I started to peruse it.  Yes, I went to a LENDING library and went SHOPPING. Being a teacher has its own occupational hazards and one of them is always buying books for the classroom.  As I was amassing a pile, a woman started talking to me and adding books she felt were good for my age group (her daughter was with her).  She recommended I pick up Caddie Woodlawn.  I’ve never read it, but I do try to read most of the Newbery honor medals and winners so I added it to my pile.

At this point the woman starts to wax poetic about how she much preferred Caddie Woodlawn to the Little House series because it shows a “good” relationship with the Indians.  Little House is racist, plus she dislikes the obsession and guilt that Laura has about being “good.”  O.K. [note to self: in the future, run fast run far].  Apparently she missed that children’s literature, in particular, carries some pretty heavy messages.  Otherwise why would we teach “author’s message”?

I think the key reason that Laura Ingalls Wilder is hated is because she shows the very real fear and, sometimes, loathing of the American Indians felt by pioneer settlers.  She vacillates between admiring the Indians like her Pa and fearing them like her Ma.  She lays out the notion of the government’s desire for people to move west and to settle the untamed land.  She notes the injustice without actually addressing it or railing against it.  Her acquiescence, blind-eye, or ignorance upsets people who KNOW that an adult wrote these books. I think they want her to FEEL differently towards the plight of the American Indian, to have had a paradigm shift.  If she did, however, the books don’t show it.

Yet, her attitude (the one that irks so many self-righteous people who are CERTAIN they would act differently merely for having been RAISED in California) about the Indians is what is so important to the books.  As a country and a society, we’ve come a long way baby.  It’s important to read these books with your children, to discuss the ideas and the actions involved, to sort out truth from fiction, and to explain that what was ONCE acceptable now is not, and WHY or HOW that happened. One should not read fiction as gospel, nor should one ignore the ideas presented.  Books are meant to be discussed.  Even if, like so many native Californians, they are HATED.

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