Bridge to Terabithia has to be a…a classic. You simply cannot ban it. Well, it’s not banned. But it’s challenged.
Why would someone challenge Bridge to Terabithia? It’s a harmless story about ten-year-olds who escape from reality by making up their own world. A tale of friendship. Real friendship. Why challenge that?
Because of language. Language. From this book? It’s about as harmful as reading the Bible — I kid you not. There is no word in this book that does not appear in the Bible. (Or at least, no words that most people would consider swearing.) I’ll say it — Jess Aarons wasn’t always 100% respectful to God. He used the Lord’s name in a context outside of prayer, yes. But you can’t challenge a book for that any more than you can challenge a kid on a playground for saying “Oh my ___!”
For religious reasons. If books were banned because they weren’t religiously compatible to every denomination, we would literally have no books. I wish every book I ever read never offended anyone. But of all the books, I think Bridge to Terabthia is one of the least likely to do that. Why is this a concern in the book? Simple. Jess and Leslie pray to the “spirits” in the grove. They say the grove is sacred and thank the spirits for their victories over imaginary foes. The spirits are made up. It’s not like they were gods whose worship was acceptable in normal society.
Neither Jess or Leslie had an “in-church-every-Sunday” upbringing. It’s more of a surprise that they felt the need to make a deity for Terabithia at all. But they did. And it’s not Biblical, that’s true. But two kids making up another dimension to a game isn’t really what I’d call “Church Slamming.” I really do not think religious reasons are a good place to start when challenging this book.
Unsuitable relationships. Jess had a crush on the music teacher. I’m pretty sure he’s not the only ten-year-old boy to have a crush on a really nice teacher. He was just an immature boy. You can’t challenge a book for that. Besides. Immaturity adds depth to a character.
Last but not least, the content isn’t suitable for the age group. I’m going to put this spoiler right out there and say it: Leslie dies. It’s horrible. I mist up every time. Every time I read the book or watch the movie, it’s like I’m hearing the news with Jess. Leslie drowned in the creek during the floods. And it should make the reader want to cry. Because ten-year-olds aren’t meant to die. It was never supposed to be that way.
But is challenging a book because it contains some really heavy issues a wise idea? Shouldn’t younger people think about this sort of stuff, too? People take stuff for granted. I’m not saying I don’t. But why let people think they’re invincible, that it will never happen to them… it could. It does. Kids do die.
Bad things happen. Banning a book will never change that. It’s fine to avoid reading sad books. It’s a matter of taste. But really, I believe we need to think sometimes, and I think Bridge to Terabithia is a great way to get thinking about what’s important.
The Great Gilly Hopkins is another one of my challenged favourites. Gilly, the foster kid brat. She’s so much fun. She’s hilarious and smart, cheeky and immature. I love that book.
It’s challenged for racism. Fair claim. Gilly’s as racist as ever I heard of. She sends a pretty nasty card to her African-American teacher in her effort to ruin her stay at this particular foster home. She’s a bad girl, through and through. But racism is something she grows through in the book. The blind neighbour next door is another African-American she conflicts with. It’s part of the story — she has to learn to treat him well. I don’t think you can claim racism as a reason to challenge a book when it’s an issue the book discusses.
The other problem is offensive language. True enough. Gilly doesn’t mind her manners when it comes to swearing. She doesn’t full on give out bad words, but she doesn’t withhold a tad of questionable language, either.
But there’s a reason why The Great Gilly Hopkins should be read despite its short comings–decisions are important. Gilly makes a bad decision that throws her in a kettle of soup that she always dreamed of. She got what she wanted, but she didn’t want what she got.
I, personally, hate making decisions. I had to make a really big one once. And it changed things. Oh, it really changed things. Kids cannot put off decisions as though they’re optional. They’re not. And we need to think about things before we chose something we’ll regret, like Gilly did in the heat of the moment.
Katherine Paterson is one of my favourite authors (she even wrote the Master Puppeteer. I loved that book.) Maybe not everything she wrote was good or ethical in a Christian sense. She’s not perfect. As far as I know, she wasn’t a Christian. But I hate to think of my books being challenged because someone didn’t like a theme I used. In fact, I would highly recommend reading those delicious tear-jerkers. Despite their challenged-ness.
I don’t believe they deserve it. I think they deserve to be read.