ALA Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Renamed

What is the fuss?

It’s been big news that the ALSC Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will be renamed in reputation of Laura’s works and her life. The basic story has been an international sensation from the United Kingdom to Denmark to all around the world.

Based on a couple of comments a few people have made to me online they expect this post to include a discussion of whether their complaints are valid or not. That is worth debating, but frankly, in this context I don’t think it matters. What is being debated right now is NOT whether there are there negative elements to the books, but if the large positive impact they have had on people and the culture as a whole should be ignored and denigrated.

The removal of the name is a slap in the face, not only for Laura herself, but also to a large part of American pop culture. Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the biggest archetypes in our culture. Don’t believe me? Try to find anything pop culture that doesn’t include references to Laura. Major snow storm/power outage – it’s like we’re Laura Ingalls Wilder. Modest dress – it’s like I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder, Literally anything about social history in any location and any time period – hey, it’s just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, anything at all having to do with picnics or camping – it’s just like Little House on the Prairie!

So why focus on this now? Don’t librarians have real problems like dropping budgets, raising numbers of visitors (yes raising), and training necessities? Of course they do! But a very real problem is that so many people today can’t find themselves in children’s books. It truly is ridiculous that in an age of so much political correctness that the children’s books industry and product are  less than diverse. (Frankly looking at some of the books from today versus the 1970s I’m not sure it isn’t getting worse instead of better.) That is worth a blog post on its own and more. This is an issue that needs addressed with what the ALA normally does – recommends more books, more voices. Instead they decided the best thing they could do was something symbolic that would do nothing to make children’s literature more diverse – they can repudiate Laura.

What is the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award?

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award – also referred to as the Wilder Medal – was given as a lifetime achievement award by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The American Library Association is the BIG, national professional organization for librarians. (Think of the ALA as the librarian equivalent of American Medical Association without nearly as many teeth.) Among other things the ALA organization, either as a whole or as a division, gives awards mostly for authors and books. The two you have probably heard of before are the Caldecott Award for picture book illustration and the Newbery Award for chapter books.

1954 was a big year for Laura as the books came out under an entirely different redesign (by Helen Gentry) using the illustrations of Garth Williams. The ALSC joined the applause by creating a lifetime achievement award, making Laura the first recipient and having Williams design the medal that went with the award. (ALA awards tend to come with literal medals that can then also be used as a design element or sticker on further editions of the book.) From then until now the award has been given out to a wide range of children’s books authors.

Why Aren’t I As Upset As I Thought I’d Be?

So last February out of nowhere the ALSC announced they were going to start a “discussion” about changing the award’s name. I knew right then that the discussion would consist of them requesting input and then changing the name. That’s just how things go in the ALA (disclosure I’ve been a member on and off since library school). It’s a very top down organization and if the top had announced that changing it was a possibility it was going to be changed.

However, when I heard the news I wasn’t as upset as I thought I should be. I asked myself, “Why?” and I realized it didn’t really matter. Frankly, they had already diluted the original intent to the point that who cares about it? It was originally designed to be the equivalent of the special Oscar that Walt Disney was awarded for Snow White (specially made that has the one large Oscar and then 7 little Oscars scaled down to represent the dwarfs) – complete to the special and uniquely designed award dedicated to its first recipient. However, this hasn’t been the case for a long, long time. To go back to the Oscar reference there are sometimes amazing actors, actresses, and directors who never received one despite their storied status. A lot of things can prevent that recognition with an award, who they were up against, temper of the times, performing in comedies or work that as a whole isn’t deemed Oscar worthy, etc. So they have a lifetime achievement award, now called an “Honorary Oscar,” to correct such oversights. That was supposed to be the same type of thing — but for children’s book authors and/or illustrators.

The Wilder Award was supposed to carry weight because of its rareness, but that didn’t last long. Between 1960 and 1980 it was only given out once every 5 years, between 1980 and 2001 every 3 years, between 2002 and 2015 every other year, and since 2016 every single year. In fact one of the reasons given that they had to rename the current award instead of closing this and starting a new one was to ensure the status of next year’s award because you couldn’t possibly have a year without one. Now instead of being the province of the rarest of the rare it’s just another annual book award. The requirement has always been that a lasting legacy has been made by that author for their body of work with the expectation that this would be an end of career kind of award. Now it’s mostly just another award to pick up when you are prominent. (Scroll to the bottom for an archived version of requirements as I believe they will be changed as part of the rename.) Here is the information the website for the award before it was updated by this decision. At this point the medal already was not longer the tribute it was intended to be, so who really cares?

Irony Number 1 – Taking Back An Apology

This really has come 360 degrees. One reason Laura was never allowed to win the top ALSC award for chapter books, the Newbery medal, was that she only wrote series books. And that was considered beneath the DIGNITY and IMPORTANCE of serious children’s fiction. That smacked of trade and was something to be looked down on. She was just a Midwestern farm wife, what did she know about LITERATURE. She did have a fairly regular seat in the honor books (the runner ups) for the last part of her series – after the public let the ALA know about the impact she had, but never a win. So a big part of why Laura, why then was a mea culpa on the organization’s part. So they are not only changing the award, they are taking back the apology, pushing the books back into the realm of the unacceptable. (I do want to be clear that although some of those comments might sound like they were quotes from the time period they are not, they are just summing up the attitudes I’ve found documented in terms of Laura and children’s literature and librarianship of the time in general.) Once again the leaders of the organization are pointing out that she’s just a Midwestern farm wife who isn’t “with it” “out there” or “woke” that just describes her own time and place in her writing and isn’t worthy of reading.

Irony Number 2 – Award Only Known For Wilder Connection

The ALA is the organization that focuses on defending books. An entire division is dedicated to Banned Books Week. It reports attempts – both successful and not – to remove books with nothing short of derision. The fact that you have a problem with a book does not mean it’s not the right book for some reader. You don’t get to decide what someone else gets to read. Not this time.

They actually saw this criticism coming. Scroll down to rationale. They say “Additionally, changing the name of the award, or ending the award and establishing a new award, does not prohibit access to Wilder’s works or suppress discussion about them.” To some extent they are right in that frankly the name of the award will have very little impact on whether someone will read Laura’s books or not. In fact this fanfare of publicity might actually encourage some people to who haven’t read them yet to do so. However, by changing this name they are doing the most in their power – short of actually erasing the history of the award off their website all together – to make sure people don’t read them. They are saying these books aren’t something that should be read and respected. That the most in their power is so weak should not be an excuse for exercising it.

(As a side note, only legal agreements kept them from also repudiating the Geisel Award at this time. Watch out Dr. Seuss! They’re coming for you too! Honestly did any of these papers do more than read the press release? This was surely worth a paragraph in any story about the name change.)

Irony Number 3 – Mainly a Problem Because Laura is Still Read

While this was a slap in the face to Laura, it was also a kind of backhanded complement. The whole reason they’re doing this is because people still read Laura’s books and know who she is. The other two ALSC awards you might know about are the Caldecott Medal for picture books (named for famed nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott who happened to die in America) the Newbery Medal (named for and eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery). They and other named awards are relatively safe from attack because when was the last time you read something of theirs? Did you have any idea who Caldecott or Newbery were before I just told you? But Laura you know, Dr. Seuss you know so they come under scrutiny.

If you won the Wilder award, you got a lovely medal and you presented a speech at the ALA conference that was recorded and sold by the ALA store (I have a collection of them) and reprinted in library magazines. After that future articles about you might include the phrase Wilder Medal winner…… That’s pretty much it. I follow the story of this medal with interest, but I fully believe that the small percentage of the general population who knows or cares anything about this award is because it’s named for Laura. It was a tribute to them to be associated with Laura’s name and if they don’t realize it, then they don’t deserve it.

Once this flurry has calmed down I feel I can safely say this will be the last time you ever hear a full sentence about this award ever again in any publication or news article outside of library or publishing industry journals. Expect to hear, “…and the Children’s Literature Legacy Award went to so and so” as part of a longer sentence. It never did have any impact on sales, on reading, on anything related except for people maybe taking notice when they heard Laura’s name to hear who won it. Outside the people who gave it and those who received it, no one cares about this award.

A typical example of a Wilder Medal reference in an article about a recipient. This example is from an article on Russell Freedman (if you haven’t read his stuff, do).

So What Can You Do?

Absolutely nothing. The ALA is a professional organization, which political actions aside, provides the normal professional organization status. There definitely reasons not to be a member, but if you can afford it there are professional benefits to belonging. This is not going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. You’re not going to see people rushing to quit or join the ALSC or its parent the ALA based on this.

The only pressure that could be brought to bear is that of public opinion and hearing that the general public disapproves will only convince them they are right. Petitions, etc will only cause people with the power to change it to become more convinced that they are making a courageous stand to get the truth about these books out there. They aren’t trying to sell a product to the general public so what the general public thinks about their actions has no direct effect on them. Back when this first came out as a possibility I contacted the person listed as contact person on the award page. I asked them how ALA members not part of the children’s literature division or the general public could comment as part of the input. He didn’t know anything about it, but would get back with me. Still waiting. Complain online, write them letters, call the office. Feel free to let them know how you feel, but understand this going in. They don’t care.

And If Anybody Cares….

The newly renamed award is the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Be very confident that you will never, ever hear of it again.

And for the record I contacted them (see above) because I thought I’d get questions about it online or at my programs – I didn’t – because nobody knows about this award and if not for the insult, nobody would care.

From the ALA

Official Press Release

Document 25

Document 29

UPDATED July 10 2018: Also, check out Visit the Original Wilder Medal. Also note that Document 25 which was the committees recommendation that I refer to several times and link to has been removed. Sadly it also is not available through the Internet Archive.

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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Dean Butler on Almanzo Wilder Farmstead Site

Dean Butler visited Malone NY, so should you!

Dean Butler has been the TV star most closely associated with the Almanzo Wilder farm in Malone/Burke, New York. He created a documentary about Almanzo and the homesite, Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.

Now he’s helping kick off a new fundraising campaign.

Highlights from the Video

Almanzo-Almonzo name

Wear and Tear on home, drainage issues

Launch of fundraising campaign

Endowment for home

Biggest crowds when Dean comes

Fundraising Campaign

The campaign intends to address both short term needs and long term goals.

From their website:
“The time has come for ALIWA to address some significant work that is needed to maintain the historic Wilder home and the barns. While supporters have been very generous over the years and visitor numbers continue to increase, other increased costs of operating the homestead do not allow us to accumulate the funds necessary to address costly maintenance needs. There is significant roof repair needed on the replica barns. The house has been suffering from drainage issues that, if not corrected, will continue to create excess moisture in the house, which has already begun to result in rot. The fix for this will require extensive ground and, possibly, well work to be done, as well as repair and mitigation efforts in the house itself. We have begun working with local architect, Tim McCarthy, to manage these projects.”

Learn more about the campaign.

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

Walnut Grove TV Show Reunion Date Set!

Earlier this week the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove announced the date of their planned Little House on the Prairie TV show reunion. Cast members will return for the 45th anniversary of the first airing of the NBC TV show, September 11, 1974. Walnut Grove started telling people about the reunion a few months ago, but it took them awhile to negoiate with actors to find out which weekend they could get the most. Now they’ve decided.

45th Anniversary Event July 11-14, 2019

It’s come out in their brochure for this year and in some of their advertising, but now it’s time to help get the word out so this event is a big success.

A sign in front of the red Depot museum.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum Depot in Walnut Grove

Probable Schedule

If it follows the pattern that their event in honor of the 40th Anniversary, they will have similar schedules for the first 3 days. This information is based on what they did last time, I haven’t heard details for this year, but I assume they’ll be similar.

They divided up the cast members into 3 groups of about 4 actors. Each batch had one line to wait in. The people running the lines were very open to what you could bring into sign, but they did have photos that you could buy in the museum.

During the day you could do all the normal tourism things or stand in line for autographs. They had blocks of time when the performers were signing and built in breaks. Most of the attendees waited in line throughout the breaks, until they started signing again.

Pageant

The Walnut Grove pageant, Fragments of a Dream, is always on Friday and Saturday nights. Last time they had an onstage conversation with the cast with questions taken from the audience. You need pageant tickets to attend it. The earlier you order the better view you get. Reserved seats are folding chairs. Then the fantastic outdoor play about the Ingalls family life in Walnut Grove.

Photos

Last time you could only take photos in passing, no running around the tables. However, on Sunday they have the cast set up and you can go through and get your photo taken with all the cast from the reunion in a posed photo for a fee.

Details

These details are from what happened last time. Watch this blog (subscribe and connect on social media) to give you more information as it’s released and helpful advice.

Remembering Last Time

So stick around here and watch for upcoming posts with information, including videos on what it was like last time. Get started with this nice set of photos from the 40th Anniversary.

CNN Where Are They Now? (with photos)  – Some nice before and after photos from the 40th anniversary year. Not convinced that’s Jonathan Gilbert in the after shot since his eyes were blue in the photo from the series and are brown in the now photo and I just can’t believe they’d go to the trouble that colored contacted were in the 1970s for something that didn’t matter like that or that he’d wear that good of brown contacts now.
http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/08/showbiz/little-house-prairie-cast-where-are-they-now/index.html

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

Top 10 Posts During May 2018

Sarah dressed in a 1930s dress and apron doing the "In the Kitchen With Laura"
In the Kitchen with Laura in Missouri

Here are the blog posts and pages that have had the most views last month. Take a look maybe there is something there that will interest you too.

In the Kitchen With Laura Supper vs Dinner

Althea Rosina Sherman

National One-Room School Association Conference 2018

Laura Homesites Open for the Season 2018

June 2018 Presentations

T-Shirt of the Month May 2018

Amelia Bloomer’s Grave

Mentions April 2018

Great Article from Prologue

Book: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

T-Shirt of the Month June 2018

When I post my video diaries I always get comments about my Laura clothes. No, not my period dresses, but my Laura Ingalls Wilder t-shirts that I wear for travel and Laura trips. I thought everyone might enjoy a closer look at them. So enjoy our monthly series where we look at a Laura shirt.

Shirt of the Month

This is a one of a kind Laura shirt. A former job had everyone buy polo shirts with their logo. I loved it. It was the most comfortable polo shirt I’ve ever found, so I didn’t want to give it up and so I decided to turn it into a Laura shirt.

 

DeSmet Polo Shirt
DeSmet Polo Shirt

I had a DeSmet Memorial Society patch that I could use already, but it wasn’t quite big enough to cover up the embroidered logo. So I thought about it. I bought some gingham edging. I sewed the ending to the back of the patch and that made it cover it up. It really looks like it was meant to be there. I think it adds to the shirt. I was so pleased I could keep wearing it and it’s really unique.

Close Up Patch

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

May 2018 Mentions

Sarah Steering a Sailboat on Lake Pepin
Sarah Steering a Sailboat on Lake Pepin

I only have one media mention for May, but it’s an in-depth article based on an interview. I hope you enjoy it.

“A Conversation with Sarah Uthoff of Trundlebed Tales.” Decidedly Read, 26 May 2018. decidedlyread.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/a-conversation-with-sarah-uthoff-of-trundlebed-tales. Accessed 26 May 2018.

I also had an article published right at the beginning of May by the Kirkwood Community College student newspaper. They replaced my catchy title with this one.

Uthoff, Sarah S. “Library Explains How to Find Additional Resources Online.” Kirkwood Community College Communique, 27 April 2018. www.kirkwoodstudentmedia.com/news/view.php/1033836/Library-explains-how-to-find-additional. Accessed 29 May 2018.

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

June 2018 Presentations

Sarah at Teacher Desk at Stone Academy, Solon, Iowa
Sarah at Teacher Desk at Stone Academy, Solon, Iowa

June is a month where you see a lot more events than presentations, but I do have three of them this month. One is at the Country School Association of America (one-room schools). There is still time to register for that one.

  • Winterset Public Library – Winterset, Iowa – June 13, 2017
    2 pm – In the Classroom With Laura
    6:30 pm – In the Kitchen With Laura (1930s version)
  • Country School Association of America:18th Annual Schoolhouse Conference – Beatrice, NE – What’s For Lunch Update – June 17-20, 2018 (Conference Registration Required)

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.