Today, Google has posted a new Doodle honoring someone you may have heard of, Charles Dickens. Here on Speaking Up For Us, I’ll be honoring another novelist you’ve probably heard of, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is, of course, best known for writing the Little House series of books. These novels, though fictionalized, were largely based on her own experiences as a young member of a pioneer family and, eventually, as a young woman starting a family of her own. In her life, Laura was a teacher, farmer, seamstress, and newspaper columnist in addition to a novelist.
Five of Wilder’s books have been awarded the John Newbery Honor, given to runners-up in the competition for a distinguished contribution to children’s literature published in the United States. Wilder is the only person to have won the Honor five times.
For me, though, there’s a more personal reason to choose Wilder for this project: she wrote, as a woman, about women’s and girls’ lived experiences. Of course, she also wrote about the experiences of boys and men, like her father and her husband Almanzo, but Google Doodles show us that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that our country and our world was built, changed, and innovated by one gender alone.
The Little House books are phenomenally popular and have been translated into over 40 languages. That’s a lot of people, all around the world, reading about the experiences of a girl — and, through the television show Little House on the Prairie and all of its associated spin-offs and sequels, watching the experiences of a little girl. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a study conducted by Stacy Smith at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC found that family films, as one example of media, only include one female character for every three male characters. In contrast, the central characters in the Little House books and other media are a family of sisters, their mother, and their father. That means something. (Check out this link to read more about Professor Smith’s research findings; the Geena Davis Institute has plenty of resources on this topic as well.)
One last little tidbit about Laura: there’s a crater named after her on Venus (all Venusian craters are named after famous women or are given female names)!