Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Book of my Week: Bridge to Terabithia

Despite knowing that this is Banned Books Week, I completely overlooked the fact that my children's literature graduate seminar had actively discussed a frequently challenged book this week: Bridge to Terabithia. And what a wonderful experience that was, since this was one of my all time favorite books as a child; reading it as an adult, I can easily say it remains high up there.At any rate, it did not dawn on me until now the status of Bridge and its relevance to this week.

Now that I've had time to ponder it, I can't help but feel perplexed by the reasons to ban such a novel. Having read it as a child, I latched onto the imaginary dreamscape the children concoct and make into a near-reality; the power of imagination felt like the most amazing gift of all and I constantly rooted for Jesse to bring the breadth of his artistic potential to life (while also yelling at him for not inviting Leslie. Just take her to the museum too, for goodness sake!). Ah, but I see that I've lightly touched upon one of those troubling "challenge-able" notions: power of imagination that can equate to magic. Because naturally that implies a disregard and turning away from faith and turning toward the occult. Naturally.

Viewing it through critical eyes now, I have a deeper appreciation for the purpose of that imagination, and the limits to its power. I can comprehend the conflict struck between the awesomeness of Nature -- the marker of rural, regional life -- and the cosmopolitanism the Burkes symbolize (as they hail from "the city"). I can see how we might break down the barrier between adult and child behavior and identify the wisdom that comes from forging a physical, tangible relationship with Nature in order to keep on going. Maybe the city identity acts as invader of the regional world, but hey, maybe not. Regardless, I see doorways leading to enormous ideas, challenging ideas, ideas that redefine what we might instinctively consider childhood, maturity, human development.

But THESE are hardly ever the reasons why certain peoples challenge these books. It goes back so often to the danger of exposing kids to profanity, to "magic" and blasphemous respectable characters, to issues of identity that don't coincide with the beliefs of some (here's an oversimplified list of reasons). These are so insubstantial though, and therein lies the truth of so many instances and issues of censorship -- a fear and loathing for the superficial characteristics of a novel that leave room for ghastly misinterpretation and vilification to enforce one's own agenda. In the case of children's literature, the excuse comes from wanting to shelter children, to guard them from the reckless perils of ungodly behavior. I for one loved the difficult books most, the ones that make your heart ache and then sing and then scream and then sigh.

And one blogger discusses this situation: the very things that get focused on are harmless and misunderstood and in fact, the very reasons one MIGHT ban a book like this are totally untouched. Of course, she jokes about the misleading title of Bridge to Terabithia (fair point) but the end result is that the novel offers so much more than the trouble-seeking eye permits. And children deserve the choice to decide for themselves if they want to take what it offers, what any book offers, for their own personal benefit. 

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