The Atlantic

Learning From Laura Ingalls Wilder

The author’s popular Little House books sought to challenge the way many Americans saw their country’s history, with deeply mixed results.
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Just over a century ago, Rose Wilder Lane wrote to her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and suggested that she write about her memories growing up on the American frontier. At the time, Wilder was living in Missouri and writing columns for a regional farm magazine. It took several years before she heeded her daughter’s advice and began recording her childhood experiences in a manuscript titled Pioneer Girl. At first, publishers passed it over, so Wilder reworked her story into a series. The first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932 when the author was 65 years old.

Though Wilder and her Little House series have been of American readers, only in recent decades has her work received serious critical attention from scholars. The past few years have seen the release of , a , and a . But the writer’s name surfaced in the news earlier this summer when an organization of children’s librarians, educators, and authors addressed reader concerns about Wilder’s depictions of Native and black characters, particularly in the third novel, The book focuses on the period when the Ingalls family lived on the Osage Diminished Reserve in Kansas, and several passages—including one where a character says, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and others where Osage characters are described as animal-like—prompted the Association for

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