Why Miss Teets Banned the Little House Books

There are many reasons to ban books. But are they good reasons?

Anita Johnson was my beloved second grade teacher. I remember her as a sweet southern lady with a marvelous singing voice. One of the best things about her was that she read Little House in the Big Woods aloud for story time. Once, she let me read the chapter to the class, and praised me for reading it just as well as she would’ve.  I fell in love with the Little House books in Mrs. Johnson’s class, and read ahead, finishing Little House on the Prairie and Farmer Boy that school year. I looked forward to reading the whole series.

But when I was in third grade, Miss Teets banned the Little House books.

She declared one bookcase in the school library off limits, and would not allow any of us to select books from it. And let me tell you—though it was nearly thirty years ago, I can still see that school library clearly and remember how it felt to be barred from reading the rest of the  Little House books.

Miss Teets said she wanted us to have something to look forward to. Those books could wait. She didn’t ban them for content, but because our library had a limited supply of books that were appropriate for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

I checked out On the Banks of Plum Creek at the public library. I was never one to wait when it came to reading.

Miss Teets wasn’t the only one to attempt to ban the Little House books, although the reasons behind her actions may have been unique. In 1993, parents in Thibodaux, Louisiana demanded the removal of Little House on the Prairie from school libraries because it was offensive to Indians. Other groups have followed suit.

I don’t believe books should be banned. I believe individuals have a right to decide for themselves what they read.

I’ve been surfing the net looking for other opinions about the banning of Little House on the Prairie. I’ve seen blogs and Goodreads reviews from mommies who say they skip over the parts about hunting animals and butchering pigs so it doesn’t upset their children. Never mind the part about Indians coming to the house, and the threats they posed to the settlers in Kansas. One blogger was even freaked out because Pa let Mary and Laura watch while he made bullets.

Other posts urge people to read the book and take it in context.  Ma and Mrs. Scott, the neighbor, “hate” and fear the Indians, because any person would hate and fear something that poses a threat to themselves and their children. Little House on the Prairie does not seek to blame the Indians for the conflict between the Indians and the settlers. If anything, Pa takes the blame for building his house on Indian land.

indian39Read the books for what they are. They are a firsthand account of what life was like growing up on the American frontier. Please don’t seek to sugarcoat it or censor it.

I was the biggest fraidy-cat EVER as a child. I couldn’t watch anything scary on television. My parents shielded me from almost anything that would upset me, but nothing in the Little House books was distressing to me.

To be fair to the author, know that Laura made many good references to Indians in the books. Big Jerry in On the Shores of Sliver Lake, a “half breed” had Pa’s back when he worked as paymaster at the railroad camp, and saved the family from being “waylayed” when they were traveling alone on the prairie.

As an adult, Laura took part in a community debate about whether (using the terms of the day) Indians or Negroes lived better in America. She spoke for the Indians, and when it was over, all in attendance conceded that “the poor Indians had finally won a fight.”

It’s not our right to censor or change the writings of the past, simply because they depict a practice or a mindset that’s considered outdated. That would be kind of 1984-ish, don’t you think? Instead, we ought to use history to open a dialogue with our children about the topics we’d rather avoid. Because you know what they say about those who don’t remember the past…

More on scary stuff in the Little House books next time.

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