Full disclosure: when I first learned that Laura Ingalls Wilder's name was being removed from the children's literature award named for her, my first reaction wasn't outrage. It was sadness. (and, to be totally truthful, a bit guilty that I couldn't name a single recipient of the award without Googling)
My relationship with Laura Ingalls runs deep. Like, obsessively deep. So deep that I resented a trip to Disneyland because I wanted to go to DeSmet. So deep that I insisted on using the outhouse at my grandparents' house even though there was a perfectly functional bathroom inside. (ummmm...just once). So deep that back in the days when we had an extra guestroom in the house, it was decked out in quilts and books and dolls and called "Laura's Room" and my toddler sons thought she was an older sister who died.
When I was in elementary school, I wrote a letter to our school librarian scolding her for shelving the Little House series in the Fiction section, when clearly they belonged in Biography. (more about that later...)
To this date my favorite Christmas present, ever, is my complete set of Little House books that I got in fourth grade, meaning I could read them over and over and intertwiningly without bothering with the library.
When I worked in a Hastings bookstore and we received a new biography, I saw the picture of Laura taken after surviving the harrowing Long Winter. She looks gaunt and determined, and I sat in the middle of the aisle in my green Hastings apron and wept for her.
When I finally had a chance to visit her home in Mansfield, Missouri, I had a little trail of strangers behind me because they mistook my conversation with my sister as the spiel of a tour guide.
These Happy Golden Years is the first romance novel I ever read, and Almonzo set the bar of a worthy man by his ability to knock the frozen snot out of a horse.
I grew up and gradually lost my reverence for Pa, and wondered if Half-Pint did, too.
So...back to the Library--
After reading my letter, Mrs. Watkins, the librarian, told me something I would never forget. You see--a Biography is just the story of a person's life. What Laura did was put her life into stories.
Think about it--all the dull, mundane details of a 1800's childhood. Weaving straw hats. Churning butter. Playing with a pig's bladder. Spelling books. Ironing. Mending.
But Laura made it enviable. She wasn't afraid to take young readers to dark places. Was she literary? No. But much like she was able to be the eyes for her blind sister, Mary, she was able to be the eyes, heart, ears, and voice for readers who would never be able to step into her world.
She told us about people who froze to death within sight of their house.
She made our stomachs twist upon themselves reading about her hunger.
She refused to promise to "obey" Almanzo. (probably a good idea...)
And, yes, hers was the voice of a time in history that we cannot tolerate--attitudes we should not tolerate today. An ugliness that lives right alongside the fear of a dark night on an empty prairie, or the grim-faced, one-sentence acceptance of the death of a child.
I am a writer because Laura Ingalls Wilder was able to take the facts of her life and feed them directly to my imagination. She inspired me to want to write about life in story.
So...am I sad that her name won't be written on an award? Yes, yes I am. But then I think about the fact that, maybe, all those people who have won --and WILL win--that award wouldn't even be in the sphere of children's literature if not for Laura. Her books and her legacy are untouchable. I wonder, too, how many of the outraged even knew such a prize existed. Or know her middle name (Elizabeth), or know why we should get angry if we hear the words "Pa" and "Pancakes" in the same sentence.
So...congatulations to future recipients of the Children's Literacy Legacy Award. I think that Laura would join me in cheering you on. (really, she and I have spent A LOT of time together)
Were she here today, if she listened to the voices raised in concern, if she felt the love of her readers coupled with the hurt of the maligned, she'd be cool with the change. (Rose? Not so much...) My Laura's legacy is bigger than a few etched letters. Her life is bigger than her name.