Tag Archives: News!

Five Book Friday!

In addition to checking out some of the sensational books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week, beloved patrons, we also wanted to bring you some information about hurricane relief efforts.  Our neighbors and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and the mid-Atlantic region in general are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, and they need our help.  While the extent of the damage–and, hence, the extent of the need–is not yet fully known, there are several ways in which you can provide immediate help.

Via Raleigh Dream Center

First and foremost, the American Red Cross has set up a website devoted specifically to donations for hurricane relief.  You can also make donations over the phone by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting “FLORENCE” to 90999. When calling or donating online, make sure to designate your donation to Florence relief efforts.

In addition, the Red Cross is also asking for blood donations, which can be made locally.  Check the Red Cross website to find the closest donation location to you.

The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina has been active in dozens of communities in North and South Carolina for more than 35 years, and is working hard to provide food, water, hygiene items, and cleaning supplies to the thousands affected by the hurricane.  While we can’t really send them food, there is a virtual food drive that remains ongoing, in which you can participate.  Additionally, monetary donations are appreciated.

In South Carolina, the One SC Fund works to support the state by funding nonprofits with grants during state-declared emergencies. For Tropical Depression Florence relief, the One SC Fund is accepting donations online. The Fund states these donations will support other nonprofits “that are, and will be, responding to the needs of individuals affected by Hurricane Florence.”

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is currently accepting contributions for Hurricane Florence damage. Contributions will help with immediate unmet needs of Hurricane Florence victims. Contributions can be made online by secure link, or you can text “Florence” to 20222.  Alternatively, checks can be mailed to:

North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund
20312 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

As always, if you are not able to donate at this time, please do not worry.  There will always be ways to help, and any contributions you can make at any time will be appreciated.  And thank you in advance for your good will and kindness!

And now…on to the books!

Arthur Ashe: A Life:Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, by the age of eleven, Arthur Ashe was one of the state’s most talented black tennis players. Jim Crow restrictions barred Ashe from competing with whites. Still, in 1960 he won the National Junior Indoor singles title, which led to a tennis scholarship at UCLA. He became the first African American to play for the US Davis Cup team in 1963, and two years later he won the NCAA singles championship. In 1968, he won both the US Amateur title and the first US Open title, rising to a number one national ranking. Turning professional in 1969, he soon became one of the world’s most successful tennis stars, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. After retiring in 1980, he served four years as the US Davis Cup captain and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.  In this fascinating biography, Raymond Arsenault chronicles Ashe’s rise to stardom on the court, as well as his off-court career as a writing, historian of tennis, and human rights activist in the United States, as well as an advocate for the destruction of Apartheid policies in South Africa.  Additionally, Arsenault takes us through Ashe’s heart condition, which led to multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, one of which left him HIV-positive. In 1988, after completing a three-volume history of African-American athletes, he was diagnosed with AIDS, a condition he revealed only four years later. After devoting the last ten months of his life to AIDS activism, he died in February 1993 at the age of forty-nine, leaving an inspiring legacy of dignity, integrity, and active citizenship.  This is an important, overdue, and highly enjoyable biography that is being praised by readers, critics, and tennis players, as well!  The New York Times Review of Books gave it a resoundingly positive review, saying “For those who have long admired Ashe, this close look at his life offers even more evidence that he was more than a great player, he was an extraordinary person. . . . among the best books about tennis I’ve ever read — it’s a deep, detailed, thoughtful chronicle of one of the country’s best and most important players.”

The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots & the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War: Neal Bascombe’s popular histories of the First World War are well-researched, thoughtful, and deeply engaging stories that make history feel real and vital.  This book is no exception, delving into the world of POW camps during the First World War.  For Allied soldiers, one of the worst camps was Holzminden, a land-locked prison that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone prisoners. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave.  Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland.  Bascombe’s work is based on letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts of this sensational escape that is earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews who called it “Fast-paced account of a forgotten episode of World War I history . . . Stirring . . . Bascomb’s portraits of the principals are affecting . . . Expertly narrated, with just the right level of detail and drama.”

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War: Those of you looking for some more sensational war stories will love this latest from Ben Macintyre, whose work on espionage history has resulted in some highly entertaining real-life spy stories.  This book tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, who took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London.  However, Gordievsky was also a double agent, and from 1973, was secretly working for Britain’s MI6.  For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid.  Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.  Culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, this is a history book that fans of many genres will savor.  The Guardian wrote a glowing review of the book, noting “Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.”

Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize yesterday, Esi Edugyan’s novel tells the story of George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation.  Although initially terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant, Wash is surprised to learn the eccentric Christopher Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist.  Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything, escaping along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self.  This is a novel about freedom and friendship that is as thought-provoking as it is wonderfully imaginative.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred (and boxed!) review, raving that “Edugyan’s magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era’s science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan’s novel is both searing and beautiful.”

Ordinary People: Diana Evans is known for confronting difficult topics in her books with indefatigable humanity, and this novel is no exception, capturing the struggles of two married couples.  In a crooked house in South London, Melissa feels increasingly that she’s defined solely by motherhood, while Michael mourns the former thrill of their romance. In the suburbs, Stephanie’s aspirations for bliss on the commuter belt, coupled with her white middle-class upbringing, compound Damian’s itch for a bigger life catalyzed by the death of his activist father. Longtime friends from the years when passion seemed permanent, the couples have stayed in touch, gathering for births and anniversaries, bonding over discussions of politics, race, and art. But as bonds fray, the lines once clearly marked by wedding bands aren’t so simply defined.  Evans is the kind of writing who can make everyday details feel extraordinary, and that talent makes this story about the fragile bonds that bind us together so moving.  Library Journal had a world of good things to say about this class, noting “This new novel from Evans…tells the story of a group of young, mostly black Londoners searching for equanimity in their personal and professional lives, with the music of John Legend, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse providing the soundtrack as they navigate the rocky roads from dating to mating and parenting…. With astute observations on marriage and parenthood… and an accompanying playlist to boot, this novel is anything but ordinary. It’s a sparkling gem.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Man Booker Shortlist is Here!

And we could not be more excited!

This year’s shortlist recognizes three writers from the UK, two from the US, and one from Canada.  There are four women and two men nominated.  Moreover, Daisy Johnson, at 27-years-old, is officially the youngest novelist nominated for the award.

At a press conference this morning, the 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, remarked that each of these novels is “a miracle of stylistic invention.”   He continued: 

In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time. From Ireland to California, in Barbados and the Arctic, they inhabit worlds that not everyone will have been to, but which we can all be enriched by getting to know. Each one explores the anatomy of pain — among the incarcerated and on a slave plantation, in a society fractured by sectarian violence, and even in the natural world. But there are also in each of them moments of hope. These books speak very much to our moment, but we believe that they will endure.

The winner on the Man Booker Prize will be announced on 16 October at a dinner in London’s Guildhall.  Until then, we hope you enjoy perusing this shortlist!  Sadly, three of the titles are not yet available to us in the US, but we’ll be bringing you updates when they do!

The Man Booker Prize 2018 Shortlist

Esi Edugyan Washington Black (Canada)

Rachel Kushner The Mars Room (USA)

Richard Powers The Overstory (USA)

Daisy Johnson Everything Under (UK) This title will be released in the US in January 2019

Robin Robertson The Long Take  (UK)  Not yet released in the US

Anna Burns Milkman (UK) Not yet released in the US

Looking for the helpers…

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Fred Rogers

Related image

Last Thursday, a number of people in our community suffered when a surge in gas pressure caused fires to break out in homes and buildings across North Andover, Andover, and Lawrence.  Some of our friends, family, and fellow Massachusetts residents lost their homes, their possessions, and many, many more were displaced out of fear that further fires would break out.  It was a truly frightening event that will have repercussions for a very long time.

But you can help.  A number of resources have been established to help the people of North Andover, Lawrence, and Andover who have been affected by these fires.  Here are some of them to which you are welcome to contribute if at all possible:

  • The Red Cross said anyone interested in helping people could make donations by visiting their Massachusetts website, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


  • The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Team is at work, as well.  Anyone interested in donating to help with the relief can CLICK HERE or send a check to:
    The Salvation Army
    Attn: Massachusetts EDS
    25 Shawmut Rd
    Canton, Mass. 02021
    All donations made to this fund will stay in Massachusetts.


  • TD Bank and The United Way have established the Greater Lawrence Relief Fund to help families meet their basic needs and recover from the displacement from their homes and businesses caused by gas explosions.  Click here to to donate to the Greater Lawrence Relief Fund.


  • The Lawrence Emergency Fund, established by the Essex County Community Foundation provides assistance during emergency events such as fires, natural disasters or hazardous events. Funding is provided to appropriate agencies or churches that directly support the individuals and families impacted by these emergencies.  Click here to donate to the Lawrence Emergency Fund.


  • The MSPCA Nevins Farm in Methuen, where many pets are being taken care of, is also asking for drop-off donations, including: paper towels, dry and canned cat food, canned dog food and cat litter.  Donations can be brought to:
    MSPCA at Nevins Farm at 400 Broadway in Methuen.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina over the weekend. The extent of the destruction of this storm is not yet known, but it is safe to say that the clean-up, restoration, and healing process is going to be a long, drawn out process that will require the help and support of millions of us.  We will be bringing you updates on how you can help the victims of Hurricane Florence later this week, once a fully-coordinated relief program has been established.

As always, if you are not in a position to donate at this time, don’t worry.  There are always ways to help those in need, and we will be sure to keep you updated about how you can help.

The 2018 National Book Award Longlist!

Ever the fans of the dramatic, the National Book Awards are drip-feeding us their nominations for the best books of the year.  The nominations for Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature have all been announced, and we’re looking forward to bringing you the announcement of the Fiction long list tomorrow, after the announcement is made around 10:00am EST.

Via BuzzFeed

The nominations this year reflect the surge of new talent and diverse voices that we have been fortunate enough to enjoy in our reading this year.  Among the poetry long list, only one author has previously won (Terrance Hayes; Pulitzer-Prize winner Rae Armantrout was nominated in 2009).

This year also marks the first award for translated literature, a sign that the award itself is hearing the multitude of voices telling stories around us.  Not only are the authors themselves telling stories from a range of different locations and in a number of different languages, but seven of the titles were also put out by independent presses, highlighting how publishing itself is changing around us, as well.  It’s a heady time to be a reader, beloved patrons, and we are 100% on board for all the fun!

So here, without further ado, are the current National Book Award long lists.  We look forward to adding to this list in the coming days, and seeing how the awards program progresses to the final announcement of the National Book Awards on November 14!

A note: If you click the link in the authors’ names, you will be taken to the National Book Award website for that writer.  If you are looking to locate the books in our library catalog, please click on the book’s title where a link is available.





Translated Literature:


Young People’s Literature


Congratulations to all the long-listed authors and their sensational books!

From the Archives: Some words about the National Book Award

In anticipation of the 2018 National Book Award Longlist being announced on September 12, we are happy to bring you our post on the history of the National Book Award!  We hope you enjoy!



Just in case the excitement of the Man Booker Award wasn’t enough, I am delighted to tell you that the Bookish Award Season is in full swing, a fact which was emphasized by the announcement of the National Book Award nominees yesterday morning.

While most certainly a prestigious award, and indubitably beneficial to the authors who receive it, the National Book Award as an institution is a bit of an odd duck, in that is seems more concerned with its own identity, rather than the books it celebrates…

Eleanor Roosevelt, handing out the National Book Awards in 1950
Eleanor Roosevelt, handing out the National Book Awards in 1950

The National Book Award was instituted in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association, and open to any book published in that year, worldwide.  The award was suspended, however,  at the outbreak of the Second World War.  When it was re-instituted in 1950 by the ABA, the American Book Publishers Council, and the Book Manufacturers Institute, awards were limited to “works by Americans published here”, perhaps reflecting the rise of the United States on the global stage.  Categories were divided, re-united, re-named, and changed continuously up until 1980, when they were dismissed altogether in favor of the “American Book Award”.

The “American Book Award” was intended to run exactly like the Academy Awards, with a big fancy televised party, big-name stars, and some twenty-seven awards being handed out.  The whole enterprise cost so much money and was generally so confusing that it only lasted until 1987, before the awards’ organizers were forced to revamp their idea, and return to a handful of awards given out much more quietly.  Said the Chairman of the Awards at this time, “Book people are really not actors”.  Truer words have never been spoken.

nba_inviteToday, the National Book Awards hands out awards in four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature, which overall, seems much saner.  In an attempt to revamp the awards’ prestige and notoriety, the NBA Foundation hired image consultants in 2012, and while the after-party for the awards is now, apparently The Place To Be, the award itself still seems to be undergoing a very long-term identity crisis.

Under the 1950 rules (which include the line about only  “Americans published here” can receive the award), only American publishers can nominate the books (it was only in the past two years that the publishers didn’t get to select the judges, as well).  Consequently, unlike most awards, which include a wide-ranging panel of experts and readers (the Booker Prize always has one librarian on it’s panel, I’m just going to point that out), there are some who have claimed that the NBA is the most insular literary award of the year.  The foundation claims that it is upholding the standards of American literature.

I can’t help but wonder if instead of asking “who gets to judge American literature”, maybe we should be asking “what, exactly, is American literature?”

And rather than worrying about trying to make the awards flashier, or grander, or handed out by higher-paid celebrities, how about we appreciate the books, the remarkable people who created them, and how much they have to say about who we are, as Americans, as a society, and as people in a world of people:



Karen E. Bender, Refund
Angela Flournoy, The Turner House
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Also a Man Booker Prize short-listed book!)


Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Sally Mann, Hold Still
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus
Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light


Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn
Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things
Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine


Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap (Library approved!)
Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
Noelle Stevenson, Nimona

The Furor Over Forbes; or Why Amazon Should Not Replace Libraries

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox…

We eagerly look forward to bringing your our regularly scheduled Staff Summer Reading Selections later on this week, beloved patrons.  However, there are some times when we need to interrupt our regular routine to really have a go at some privileged absurdity on the internet.

This past Saturday, Forbes magazine published an online editorial by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas entitled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.”

Via iHeartRadio

According to the (grossly misinformed) piece, doing away with libraries would save taxpayers’ money, while concurrently raising the price of Amazon stock.  According to the piece, Amazon should open its doors (meaning its brick-and-mortar bookstores) to the public, and thus obliterate the need for public libraries; thus reducing the cost to taxpayers, who don’t use the library because they are (allegedly) sitting in Starbucks.

We’re not linking to the piece for two reasons.  First, Forbes took the piece off its site (you can find it, and lots of analyses of it, floating around the internet).  Secondly, we believe in good information here and the library.  And this article did not contain good information about libraries, their purposes, or their use to the community.  It is a pleasure to see how many other websites, news outlets, libraries, publishers, and individuals have gathered together to defend libraries, and emphasize the good that they do.  But we’re adding our voice to this chorus nonetheless, because disinformation makes us sad.  And angry.  And like writing a blog post about it.

First of all (and it’s really rather tragic that someone had to point this out to a grown-up person), Amazon is not a Library.  It is a store.  Moreover, it is a store that is stocked and run by analytics.  Which means it only stocks best-sellers and other such high-interest titles.  So finding an obscure or older title?  Most likely not going to happen.  Quality control?  Not much.  Also, you cannot take books out of an Amazon store unless you hand over money.  Libraries allow you to take out books (and cd’s and dvd’s and other media equipment and physical items) by virtue of you living within the bounds of a specific community.

Do your taxes pay for the library?  Yes, in part, they do.   According to the 2018 Peabody Fiscal Report, the Main Library receives approximately 1% of the total city budget.  We also receive money from the state and the federal government, as well–just like most libraries across the country.  And we make that money work for us and for you, by investing in paper-and-ink books, ebooks, dvds, streaming services, digital subscriptions, and other technology that you and many, many other people can access on-site and remotely.
Do you know who doesn’t pay their taxes?  Amazon.*

But, sarcasm aside, there are two major, fundamental problem about thinking that Amazon can ever replace a library: First, Amazon is a private company.  It is designed to make money; not to serve a community.  A side note worth making is that Amazon’s presence in a city has a direct and distinctly negative effect on the way-of-life of its residence.  Due to the rise of housing prices near Amazon warehouses, and a lack of corresponding pay for employees, there have been numerous reports of Amazon employees forced to live in tents near the warehouse in order to survive.   This is somewhat an aside, but it is important to remember in terms of the kind of community Amazon fosters.

Which brings us to the most important things that Mourdoukoutas’ piece ignored.

His argument mentioned that people were more likely to go to a bookstore/coffee shop (pardon, a brand name bookstore or coffee shop, like Amazon and/or Starbucks) to do their work.  Which inherently assumes that people have their own access to the tools they need to do that work, such as a laptop computer, tablet, or phone.  This implies that people know the work they need to or should be doing.  It assumes that people can afford to sit in a place of commerce, like a bookstore or coffee shop.  It seems to forget how problematic and downright dangerous such places have proven for community members in the past.  And it absolutely overlooks the realities of life for many members of our community, and others, as well.

A 2017 joint report by internet industry trade group Wireless Broadband Alliance and research firm IHS Markit stated that about 44% of people on average living in rural areas in the U.S., as well as a number of other developed nations don’t have access to or can’t afford broadband internet.  All told, that’s approximately 62 million Americans in urban centers and 16 million in rural locations who can’t access fast internet.  We in Massachusetts are more fortunate than most, living in the 5th most connected state in the country.  But that still means that some 3,000 people in Essex County are completely without wired internet access.  The cost of living in Peabody is more than 12% above the national average, meaning that we pay more for our services, our housing, and our food, than many others–meaning it is more difficult to afford luxuries and non-necessary items and services.  The unemployment rate in Peabody (as of October 2017) was 5.7%.

The people mentioned in these statistics–those not connected to the internet, those unable to afford items like computers or tablets or smartphones, those without jobs or in between jobs–those are the people that libraries are specifically designed to assist.  Those are the very people that private stores intentionally ignore.

Libraries are institutions of conscious equity.  They ensure that the underprivileged, the unemployed, and the ignored have a place to go, and access to the resources necessary to improve their lives; from a glass of water and a bathroom, to access learning materials and job applications, to a place to study for an exam or finish an important report.  We offer homework assistance for students so that they have the opportunity to shape their future to their own dreams.  We provide language assistance for non-English speakers so that they can communicate effectively in whatever situations they encounter.  We offer safe spaces for children to learn and play.  We offer activity and discussions for the elderly.   We connect people to the material they need to learn, be entertained, and feel validated as people.  We ensure that everyone in our community has a place to belong, regardless of their ability to pay for it.  Libraries are the absolute antithesis to the capitalist, for-profit business model that Professor Mourdoukoutas describes, that relies on a privileged elite to function.  And that is precisely why they are so revolutionary, so necessary, and so popular.

This is not a slogan. It’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

As this article from Quartz Media noted, the link to Professor Mourdoukoutas’ article was active at 10am, and had garnered some 200,000 views.  By 11am, it had been removed, in the wake of a full-bodied internet revolt.  According to a statement from a Forbes spokesperson, “Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view…Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

You know how you can get better informed about these things?  Go to the Library.  Even you, Professor Mourdoukoutas, would be welcome.  It sounds like you could really benefit from a visit to an actual library before you produce any more opinions about them.

* While we made have taken a bit of a stand against Amazon here, we don’t want to negatively influence the way you spend your hard-earned funds.  But if you do feel like helping out your beloved local library in any way, when you make your purchases via Amazon, feel free to go to the Amazon Smile page and direct your donation to go to the Friends of the Peabody Library, as shown below:

Thank you for your support!

The 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award, History, and Inclusivity

At its meeting on Saturday, June 23, 2018, the Association for Library Service to Children Board voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.  This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.  In discussion this award, we’d also like to congratulate this year’s winner, Jacqueline Woodson.  As the committee chair,  Rita Auerbach noted, “From picture books through novels for young teens to her exquisite memoir in poetry, Jacqueline Woodson has established herself as an eloquent voice in contemporary children’s literature.”  Headlines, however, have been focused on the change in the award’s name, and it is that, specifically, we are addressing today.

This was not a decision that was taken lightly, nor was it done for frivolous reasons.  Indeed, there has been a discussion of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s historical legacy and descriptions of native peoples.  As Samira Ahmed wrote in The Guardian in 2010, “While she often writes of her desire to be “free like the Indians”, riding bareback, Little House on the Prairie is built illegally on occupied Osage Indian land.”

A photo of member of the Osage tribe, taken around the time that Wilder was living the experiences she would describe in her books.

The settlement of the American West fundamentally involved the dehumanization of the Native American/Indian peoples who were present on the land that settlers wanted to own.  Part of this process involved talking about Native American/Indian people as less than human.  Wilder utilized this language in her works.  Just one example can be found in Little House on the Prairiewhere she states that  Kansas had “no people, only Indians”.   Such language reflects the delegitimization and dehumanizing that settlers enacted in their move West.   In this specific case, Wilder refers to the Osage peoples.  A series of treaties and agreements from
1865 to 1870 forced the Osage people off the land that a previous treaty, signed in 1825, promised would be theirs in perpetuity.  They were sent to reservations in Oklahoma.  The travel, the lack of funds and support, as well as the violence they sustained impacted the tribes for generations.  Their population decreased by over 50% in the course of a generation.  But this is not merely a historical issue; when oil was discovered on their land, the Osage people were forced to sue the Federal Government over its management of the trust assets, alleging that it had failed to pay tribal members appropriate royalties, and had not historically protected their land assets and appreciation.  The suit was settled in 2011.

Over the course of time, Wilder (pictured at left) gained some insight into the damage such language could have.  Later editions of the book feature an edited line, which reads, ‘no settlers, only Indians’.”  While this edit is a positive change, it is a limited one.  Little House on the Prairie discusses the removal of the Osage people, but never condemns it.  In some ways, this does indeed make Wilder a product of her time.  But it is completely historically inaccurate to assume that her language, opinions, and descriptions represent a universal opinion.  There were a large number of people who spoke out against the removal of Native American/Indian people, and the kind of language that helped facilitate their dehumanization–including Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, Massachusetts Congressman Daniel Webster, and a large number of missionaries–both male and female.  Additionally, the Osage people continue to condemn Wildler’s work for its language and representation of their history.

A map showing the ancestral territory of the Osage people. The land designated for their reservation is in purple. From https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/historic-preservation/ancestral-map

At the same time that Wildler’s work is being re-assessed, book writers, makers, and readers are realizing how poorly non-white, non-male readers have been represented, not only in terms of the types of books produced, but the authors who are honored by awards.  We’ve covered some of that debate here at the Free-For-All, but the ALA has also engaged in some soul-searing conversations.  These don’t condemn Wilder or her work, nor do they comment on the quality of her novels.  However, they do think meaningfully about how naming an award after Wilder might affect the ways readers see their engagement.

Changing the name of the award is part of a process that involves facing the problematic aspects of American history, and attempting to do better by current and future generations. It is part of a commitment to ensuring that readers have access to books that speak to them: to their identities, to their history, to their experiences, and to their abilities, and to recognize the ways they have been under-represented previously in an open, honest, and effective manner. To continue to award a prize named after someone who did not recognize the humanity of the non-white people around her makes a lot of the positive changes we see in children’s literature feel ultimately disingenuous.

For the record, no one–not I, not the Free-For-All, not the Library, and not the ALA are accusing Wilder of intentional hate speech or overt racism.  Indeed, her attempts to moderate her own words points to her potential to change and improve.  And we are actually enjoying a rich moment where Wilder’s history, experiences, and struggles are being honored and remembered in a new, and for more nuanced, way (see last year’s Pulitzer-Prize-Winning biography by Caroline Fraser).  But by renaming the award that previously bore her name, the ALA is acknowledging the harmful stereotypes that she used and promoted, and attempting to move beyond them.  In doing so, it allows us to create room to consider authors contemporary to Wilder who were not using the kind of language she did, and promoting their words, their message and their principles.  So doing can only enrich our literature by recognizing inclusion and diversity, as well as help those readers who have been outside our gaze for so long.