Let’s Talk Banned Books: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“He believed her because there in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess’s own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them.”


Title: Bridge to Terabithia
Author: Katherine Paterson

Age Group & Genre(s): Young Adult, Children’s Literature, Fantasy, Classic Literature, Coming of Age
Mood: Light-hearted; Enchanting, Imaginative, Cheerful, Sad, Mournful

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers; First Scholastic Printing
Publication Date: 1996
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128

Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.

That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

Source: Goodreads


Overview

Bridge to Terabithia is a classic children’s literature novel, often taught in elementary schools, ranging between Grades 3 to 8. Paterson’s novella follows the story of Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke, two elementary students who share a profound bond that sparked during the creation of their imaginative world called Terabithia. This story draws upon a number of subjects – overcoming fears, imagination and pretend, friendship and family, grief and loss – that will bring insight to both children and adults alike.

WARNING: I usually warn readers that my reviews may contain spoilers, even if they really might contain none at all – I always worry that one little thing I say may cause a spoiler and really upset someone reading my reviews. However, this banned book talk will have spoilers. I repeat…THIS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! Due to the nature and reasons behind the challenges, there really is no way around not spoiling some of the content. Please do not read this until after you’ve read the novella or if you don’t mind spoilers.

Where has it been challenged or banned?

According to the American Library Association (ALA), Paterson’s classic novella ranks 8th in the 100 most frequently challenged books between the years 1990 to 1999. In the list of the top banned and challenged books from 2000 to 2009, it still remained on the list, moving to spot 28. In the United States, a number of states have challenged Bridge to Terabithia starting as early as 1986. These include Nebraska, Connecticut, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Kansas, and Maine. The Pulaski Township in Pennsylvania removed the book from “…5th grade classrooms of New Brighton Area School District…”. In Canada, the book was challenged in 2006 in the Ottawa Catholic School Board, though the challenge never when through to banning.

I was unable to gather information from outside of North America. However, one interesting fact how many different countries use this book in elementary school studies; some examples are the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand.

Why has it been challenged or banned?

One. Occult & Satanism: The use of occultism is said to be apparent in Paterson’s book through the use and references of witchcraft, which relates to Wicca.

How exactly is this appearing in the text?

Apparently, Jess and Leslie conjuring up the world of Terabithia is seen as magic rather than pretend. Furthermore, Jess and Leslie use magic to defend themselves against dark and foul creatures in the pretend realm of Terabithia. This is also apparent near the end of the novel, when Jess and May Belle are seen to be having the exact same perception of the realm of Terabithia, which makes it seem as though magic is being used for the two siblings to travel to the imagined world. Personally, I think this is pretty straightforward…it’s called imagination.

Seriously folks, when did a child’s imagination become magic and witchcraft? Terabithia is a fictional world, showing the immense creativity youth hold and how wonderful playing pretend can be. Terabithia is the place Jess and Leslie feel safe to be themselves, where their walls begin to break and they feel invincible.

Satanism is said to be apparent with Jess’s use of the word Lord beyond of the context of prayer, Jess’s family not attending church every Sunday, and the Burke’s not attending church at all, demonstrating concepts that promote new age religions, Satanism and the occult. Additionally, these kinds of messages are seen as unsuitable, for Jess and Leslie appear as poor role models.

I don’t know where I stand on the use of the word Lord beyond prayer; I’m not sure what I believe in, so I feel as though I don’t have as much of a say. However, I do know many people who regard themselves as devote Catholics who use the word Lord outside of prayer in an inoffensive manner, as though they are speaking directly to him. I feel Jess’s use of the word was somewhat taken out of context and dramatized a little too much. People also need to take into consideration when this book was published and where it was set. With the argument of religion, there are many families like the Aaron’s who only attend church on special occasions. Additionally, the Burke’s may not practice faith but they by no means offend the concept of faith and believing.

Two. Offensive Language & Violence: In regards to offensive language, I already discussed some uses of the word Lord and Oh Lord. Other instances are swear words, such as damn and hell. Mary Belle uses the word hell but in the sense of the place rather than swearing at someone. Other swear words are used to express frustration or emphasize a point by both adult and child characters throughout the novel.

But should a book really be banned due to some offensive language use?

The use is very minimal in the novella. Furthermore, Paterson herself states that the language depicts the people she knew living in the area the book is set in, which brings more realness to the characters. I concur with this statement – the concept of language needs careful consideration when examining the place, time, and setting of a novel. It gives authenticity, a realness that readers are able to relate to more than something that doesn’t display the common practices and spoken language used in the society.

Violence is apparent in the book, both in the imaginative world and the real world. Similar to Paterson’s discussion of authenticity and realism, the violence depicted gives a real representation of violence in school. Bullies, school fights…these are common things children go through. It’s not pretty and it causes discomfort for readers, but it shows a real portrayal of life rather than fluffing it up and pretending it doesn’t exist.

Three. Grief & Loss: This book is full of wonder and light, giving readers a warm and fuzzy feeling every time Jess and Leslie enter Terabithia. The ending, however, gives many readers a shock. For those who studied this book, you’ll know that Paterson deliberately had this ending in order to try to come to terms with the senseless death of her son’s friend Lisa Hill, who died at the tender age of 8 when struck by lightning. It also brings up our own fears of death, of what is to come after our time is up.

Yes, this is a dark and intense subject. What’s silly about this though is Catholic schools already learn about grief and loss when studying the Bible – and I know this for I grew up in a Catholic school setting, so I do know what I’m talking about. Even those outside of religious schools should not dismiss a book simply because the ending is not necessarily a happily ever after.

Death is a part of life, plain and simple. We as a society are so scared and fearful of the concept of death – I truly believe a large part of this is due to the taboo nature of discussing it.

Paterson gives readers a real sense of what it’s like to lose someone. But she also gives readers hope that everything will be okay, both for the one who was taken and those left behind. Rather than seeing this book as depressing and a harm to children’s emotion state, people should view it as a way of saying “don’t be afraid – everything will be okay”.

Final Thoughts

Though the book has been challenged numerous times and even banned in some cases, educators and parents still argue that this book is a marvelous piece of literature that is an asset to have in the school curriculum. The list of awards this book has claimed is proof alone of it’s achievements: Newbery Medal (1978), Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1978), Zilveren Griffel (1983). I’ll admit, I was deeply affected by this book as a child. But it was never about the language or the occultism or the Satanism – it was about understanding the ending, which our teacher did a marvelous job at explaining to us. It’s a wonderful piece of literature, full of powerful subjects and important life lessons. There’s a reason it’s still taught in schools. What do you think?

Resources

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/100-most-frequently-challenged-books-1990%E2%80%931999
http://www.ala.org/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009
http://www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works/bridge-to-terabithia/#.WRnLV1UrJhE
http://www.bannedlibrary.com/podcast/2016/1/16/banned-47-bridge-to-terabithia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_to_Terabithia_(novel)#cite_note-ala2002-12
http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/column/2012/11/04/banned-books-awareness-bridge-to-terabithia/
http://katherinepaterson.com/faq/
https://iamthelizardqueen.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/examining-the-challenges-to-bridge-to-terabithia/


I hope you all enjoyed the post! This is the first Let’s Talk Banned Books post so I know there’s definitely room for improvement. Please let me know if you have any suggestions! Is it too long? Would you prefer bullet points? Would you like more graphics in it? Did I miss anything? I’m open to suggestions!

Happy Reading!

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Banned Books: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

  1. Wow. This is a very very good post. I actually had no idea this book was banned. I read it for the first time in fourth grade and loved it. I think it’s important for kids to learn about grief at a young age so they’re first time hearing about it isn’t when they lose someone close to them. Also, an imaginary world is seen as magic?! that’s pretty ridiculous. I played with imaginary worlds all through elementary school and I can tell you I never once used magic (sadly).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I was nervous to start this kind of post since it can be a touchy subject. But I feel it’s important and I feel that the community here is pretty open to these kinds of discussions. It’s surreal what has been challenged and what has actually been banned. And there isn’t much information on it out there. I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea this book was banned in some places! I think that’s bizarre. I think teaching students about grief and loss is extremely important at a young age because it can be crippling if you don’t know how to cope. Also, magic and witchcraft? Oh boy lol XD Some people read WAY into books. The whole concept of banning books just baffles me. Honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s pretty surreal. It’s mainly been challenged rather than banned but I was still shocked it was banned still in the states. I agree – children should learn it while they are young because it’s so hard to comprehend and deal with when you’re older.

      Liked by 1 person

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