My First Banned Book

My First Banned Book

Looking at various stories for Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) inspired me to sift through my own memory banks to recall the first book I read as a child that's been frequently banned or challenged.

In 2nd or 3rd grade, I was a reading rebel with a brand new copy of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. To be fair, that time frame would have been between 1979 and 1981, and the ALA didn't officially kick off Banned Books Week until 1982, so I had no idea I was a reading rebel. I was merely reading a book I had been given.

Immediately I was drawn into Jess and Leslie's imaginative world. Like Leslie, I was a bit of a tomboy who loved running around and exploring the woods behind our house in Beaverton, Oregon. Back then, I was even cool with snakes. I make no such claim now, particularly after living in Arizona for twelve years. Leslie was the free spirited girl I wanted to be. And her friendship with Jess justified, for me, the friendships I had with boys. 

Most of my female friends wanted to play with dolls, which was fine for a while. I could hang with Barbie and help her redecorate. But, eventually, I wanted to search for buried treasure, discover secret passageways, and pretend I was on a grand adventure! In my neighborhood, that meant socializing with boys.

I distinctly remember feeling empowered by Leslie's victory in the school-yard race. Her eventual friendship with Jess, the boy she beat, sent a message that girls and boys could compete and still be friends. They shared the responsibility of ruling over Terabithia. When Leslie died, I was as shocked as Jess. Here was the first book that truly startled me and made me cry. I could not comprehend how Leslie could be dead. She was a kid, like me!

The brilliance of Katherine Paterson is that she doesn't end her story with this death. Instead, Jess struggled with the loss of his best friend, but ultimately realized that he could not live in Terabithia. He had to face his problems head on. However, he could share the magic of Terabithia with his younger sister, so he built a bridge to the magical kingdom. A bridge that was much stronger than the rope entrance that broke.

When I first read this book, I didn't grasp the symbolic meanings there. What I remember about the ending  is that Jess persevered. In the beginning of the book, I recall how unhappy Jess was. His family did not understand his love of art, but then he found the perfect best friend who could appreciate him for who he was. As an elementary kid, I knew that even after Leslie's death, Jess was going to be okay.

Of course, the reason I read this book was because I had received it as a gift.

My mother and father had invited two of my dad's co-workers, Bob and MaryBeth, over to dinner. I don't really remember Bob, but I do remember MaryBeth. Not her face or even her hair color. I remember that she talked to me...about books...and reading. And she seemed like she was interested! She was the first "real adult" (not a relative or teacher) who had a conversation with me about a topic I loved. She gave me a copy of Bridge to Terabithia and I have forever linked her generous spirit to this title.

When I was teaching, I tried to instill in my students the belief that small gestures make a difference. Everyone can have a positive impact in this world. MaryBeth was probably the first "real adult" who listened to my opinions and validated them. Her gift to me was truly more than a book.

However, she did choose a book rich in meaning for me. Even though some people challenge this title for using the lord's name in vain, referencing witchcraft and atheism, and portraying the death of a child, I know the positive impact this book and the circumstances around my receiving it had on me as a young person. Thank you Katherine Paterson for writing this beautiful story and thank you MaryBeth for sharing it with me.

What was the first frequently banned or challenged book that you remember reading? Please share in the comments below.

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