Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banned Books: Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson

At the beginning of September, I was eagerly awaiting Banned Books Week.  What I didn't expect was that September 25th to October 2nd would be such an insanely busy week.  However, despite how busy things have been, I really wanted to squeeze in this blog post.  I wanted to pose the question - why are some authors more commonly challenged or banned?  In reflecting on that question, I decided to take a look at one of my all-time favorite middle grade authors - Katherine Paterson. 

If I could only select one children's author as my favorite novelist, Katherine Paterson would win that honor hands down.  I know a lot of people who would select Judy Blume or Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary.  All wonderful choices really.  I have read their books and admired their words.  However, Paterson takes things to another level for me.  I didn't discover her books until I was in a graduate level Children's Literature course and reading the amazing Bridge to Terabithia.  Beautiful, heart-warming, and authentic in the way it deals with the topic of friendship and loss.  After reading it, I proceeded to check out at the library or buy nearly all her books.  Along side Bridge to Terabithia, my favorites would include - The Great Gilly Hopkins; Jacob I Have Loved; and Come Sing, Billy Joe

Never in a million years would I have imagined that Paterson's books would be among some of the ones most commonly challenged.  Paterson, the daughter of missionaries, and the wife of a Presbyterian minister, has a phenomenal way with telling vivid stories that deeply explore the life experiences of those around her.  Though I haven't had the opportunity to confirm this, I am pretty certain she didn't think as she was writing her books, how can I make people uncomfortable.  My guess is she set out to make her readers aware of the challenges and life circumstances of the people in the communities that she lived.   Why shouldn't their stories be told?  Do children in rural towns, coastal villages, or inner citites be excluded from books because they may be poor or sometimes face adult-sized challenges?  However, it is exactly Paterson's ability to tell gritty and honest stories that make some people uncomfortable.

Last year in honor of Banned Books Week, I re-read The Great Gilly Hopkins.  Thirty-one years later, the book still rang true.  Gilly's experiences as a child living in foster-care was not much different thirty years ago than the children in my school who are currently living in foster-care. Themes of hope and love are interspersed with actual real-life consequences to behaviors.  Paterson created a timeless story that captured both the pain and joy of life.

I take this opportunity to salute author Katherine Paterson for not being afraid to deal with might seem like adult topics that face our school age readers in all walks of life.  Paterson truly deserves every Newbery Award medal and National Book Award that she has received.  And if her books make adult readers uncomfortable than so be it.

At the beginning of this year, Paterson was named to a two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress.  Thirty-five years after her first published book, Paterson who turns 78 this month is still writing books and still doing author visits to local schools near her Vermont home. 

You can learn more about Katherine Paterson and her books at
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen

Good children's literature appeals not only to
the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child.
~ Anonymous ~