Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a 1977 children’s literature classic about two fifth-graders, Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke, who create an imaginary kingdom named Terabithia in the woods where they rule as king and queen and where the only limit is their imaginations. Inspiration for the novel resulted from a terrible event on August 14, 1974 when the best friend of Paterson’s son David, Lisa Christina Hill, was killed when struck by lightning; a tree dedicated to her is planted outside Takoma Park Elementary in Maryland.
A heartwarming tale of friendship and adventure, the novel is a staple of English studies classes in Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom,Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa, and the United States.
It is also a frequent target of censors, though, coming in at number 8 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100-most-banned/challenged books for 1990-2000 and dropping only to number 28 for 2001-2009. At issue with censors are death being part of the plot (Hmm… much like every Disney film and fairy tale ever made), Jess’ use of the word “lord” outside of prayer, offensive language, and claims that the book promotes secular humanism, new age religions, the occult, and Satanism. Some critics also proclaim that Leslie is not a good role model simply because she doesn’t attend church.
In 2002, two residents of Cromwell, Connecticut wanted the book banned from middle school classrooms because they claimed that it promoted witchcraft and violence. They filed a petition demanding that school officials remove the book; along with The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, for similar reasons.
According to the Hartford Courant, the residents’ petition urged the school board to “eliminate the study of materials containing information about witchcraft, magic, evil spells, or related material now and forever. We believe this material is satanic, a danger to our children, is being studied excessively, and has no place in our schools.”
They further reasoned that the use of witchcraft in the book equated with the Wiccan religion, and since Wicca is a federally recognized organized religion, the use of the book in schools violated the First Amendment concept against the establishment of religion by the government. *I’m willing to bet that if the book promoted a perceived Christian theme or two, then that would be okay in their eyes.*
Paterson spoke out at the time regarding the claims and found them to be ironic, since her parents were Christian missionaries and she, herself, is married to a Presbyterian minister.
Similar challenges have taken place in Nebraska, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Maine, with censors objecting to the offensive language and claims that the parents in the story are abusive.
In another Connecticut incident from 1990, in the city of Burlington, it was challenged as suitable curriculum material because it contains “language and subject matter that set bad examples and gave students negative views of life.”
In the Oskaloosa, Kansas, school district a challenge led to the creation of a policy that requires teachers to prescreen their required material for profanities. Teachers must list each profanity and the number of times it was used in the book, and forward the list to parents, who will then be asked to give written permission for their children to read the material.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, it was challenged in 1986 as 6th grade recommended reading because of profanity and for repeated use of “Oh Lord” and “Lord” as expletives.
In 1992 there were challenges in Apple Valley, California, (in the Unified School District) and Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, again, over issues of profanity and witchcraft.
In Cleburne, Texas, that same year, the school board there voted to retain the book in its libraries but not make it required reading after a challenge over “profane and offensive language.”
It was also challenged in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1993 and Medway, Maine in 1995 because book “uses swear words.”
In was later removed from the classrooms of New Brighton Area School District in Pulaski Township, Pennsylvania in 1996 due to “profanity, disrespect for adults, and an elaborate fantasy world that might lead to confusion.”
Despite the frequent attempts to ban the book it remains a favorite of children around the world and has garnered many literary achievements including the Newbery Medal in 1978, named an ALA Notable Children’s Book in 1977, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 1977; it was also adapted for the big screen in 1985 by PBS and in 2007 by Disney.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html