Banned: That moment when you find out your favorite children’s book is bad for you

Posted 10/12/17

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

— Madeleine L’Engle

Somewhere I’ve heard …

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Banned: That moment when you find out your favorite children’s book is bad for you

Posted

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

— Madeleine L’Engle

Somewhere I’ve heard that there are two kinds of women — those who read ‘“A Wrinkle in Time” as a girl and those who didn’t.

I fall into the latter category. I discovered author Madeline L’Engle as an adult through her nonfiction series, The Crosswick Journals.

Whenever I am second-guessing myself, I think back to a story she tells in one of the books about a rejection letter that came on her 40th birthday.

L’Engle, who loved her family, admits that she was out of her element as a housewife. Neither laundry nor pies turned out right.

She was a much better writer, but no one seemed to want her books.

“So the rejection on the fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie,” she wrote.

L’Engle covered up her typewriter and paced the room, mourning the loss.

When she realized that the moment had given her an idea for a novel about failure, she embraced her calling as a writer: “I had no choice in the matter. It was not up to me to say I would stop because I could not.”

“A Wrinkle in Time” was published about five years later.

I’ve had the book on my “to be read” list for some time. A couple of weeks ago, I sought it out on Libby, an app that makes e-books available to patrons of the Carl Elliott Regional Library.

As a companion title, I also checked out “Bridge to Terabitha,” one of the few children’s books that I can cite as a favorite. (I showed a preference for nonfiction at an early age. I essentially graduated from The Berenstain Bears to biography with few stops in between.)

I quickly abandoned “A Wrinkle in Time.” As I feared, my appreciation for L’Engle could not overcome my aversion to science fiction.

“Bridge to Terabitha,” however, hooked me just as it did over two decades ago when one of my elementary school teachers read it aloud.

I had either forgotten or never understood so many of the central themes of the book.

I was surprised to learn that Leslie, the strong female protagonist, and her parents were part of the counterculture who moved to a rural area to get away from the trappings of modern life. I had always assumed that Jess was her only friend because she had beaten all the other boys in a footrace soon after transferring to the school.

I was also caught off guard by the students mocking the “hippie” music teacher for leading them in protest songs “even though the Vietnam War was over and it was supposed to be OK again to like peace.”

Of course, I remembered the tragic ending. I identified with Leslie as much as an adult as I did as a child, which made losing her again even more difficult.

To my knowledge, “Bridge to Terabitha” was my first experience with death in life or literature. I suspect that fact and the book’s unusual title are the reasons that Terabitha stayed with me long after everything else in the story had been erased from my memory.

After my reread, I discovered that “Bridge to Terabitha” was number eight on the Alabama Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged books from 1990-1999.

It seems that the book’s depiction of death is concerning to parents.

Parents also fear Terabitha, the imaginary, magical kingdom where Jess and Leslie go when they need to get away from their troubles. Terabitha must have seemed quaint to some of those parents after J.K. Rowling introduced young readers to Hogwarts.

Author Katherine Paterson was unfazed by the criticism: “There are folks who believe that children’s books should teach lessons to children. I believe they should tell a story about people as truthfully and powerfully as possible. When you tell a powerful story, it nearly always seems to offend somebody.”

“Bridge to Terabitha,” published in 1977, is a product of its time. I doubt today’s young readers would understand the Vietnam-era references any more than I did in the early ‘90s.

However, there is no doubt that the story is powerful and true, which also makes it timeless.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.