Friday, October 3, 2008

Banned Book: The Great Gilly Hopkins

I've had The Great Gilly Hopkins for years. Our homeschooling is centered around a fantastic literature-based curriculum, and this Newbery honor book by Katherine Paterson is included in the 20th-century world history program. Banned Books Week seemed a perfect time to read this book on the ALA's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.

I loved this sweet book. Gilly Hopkins is a foster kid, tossed from home to home, always hoping that her mother will come back for her. Her latest home seems intolerable to the great Gilly: she can't get a rise out of Trotter, her obese foster mother; her foster brother, William Ernest, is so terrified that he barely speaks; and the blind next-door-neighbor comes over for supper everynight—and he's black. Gilly has lots of prejudices to overcome and a very hard heart to soften. This book is about redemption, the need to be wanted, and the ability to change one's heart.

So what's the problem with it? Why is it on the List?

I suspected it was because of Gilly's occasional bad language, although her language is specifically used as a device to show how she changes. I did a little research and found this, excerpted from article "Why Johnny Can't Read: Censorship in American Libraries" by Suzanne Fisher Staples (bold words mine):

With few exceptions, literature's best, most important books are believable and compelling because they do contain material that readers may find troubling. Take Katherine Paterson's National Book Award winner, The Great Gilly Hopkins, which was banned in school libraries in Albemarle County, Virginia, because it contains curse words and "takes God's name in vain." The book is about a tough-talking, angry foster child who is redeemed by love. The parent who filed the complaint listed the profanities in the book without reading it. The school board convened a panel of educators, who reviewed the book and twice recommended it be kept on the shelves. The school superintendent ordered it removed anyway.

In an open letter to the Albemarle County School Board, Katherine Paterson wrote, "Though Gilly's mouth is a very mild one compared to that of many lost children, if she had said `fiddlesticks' when frustrated, readers could not have believed in her and love would give them no hope."

One fifth-grade reader (whose teacher described him as `the Gilly of my class') wrote in a book report of The Great Gilly Hopkins, "This book is a miracle." There is little doubt that if Mrs. Paterson's Gilly hadn't cussed like a trooper that lost boy would have been denied his miracle.

One librarian at a conference on children's literature in Virginia this summer speculated as to why parents react so forcefully to books they perceive as offensive. "They feel helpless sending their children into a world that seems increasingly plagued with hazards over which they have no control," she said. "They see the books available to their children as an area where they can have control."

That's what bugs me the most: that we parents forbid our kids from reading books that we've not read ourselves. I don't think I've ever been guilty of doing this, but this week is a good reminder, nonetheless.

And I will for sure be keeping The Great Gilly Hopkins on our shelves.


Luke Holzmann said...

"They see the books available to their children as an area where they can have control."

...that is a very astute observation. That does make more sense, even if it is still as frustrating as ever.


Rene Perez said...

I'm trying to find out how to contact you. Can you email me at ? I have my review copies and would like to send you one.

As for the banned books, sad. I have never read this book but now I want to hunt it down and read it.

Anonymous said...

Based on your recommendation, I'm going to be reading this one before the movie comes out. Thanks!

erica and christy said...

Well, two years later I am doing a book review on The Great Gilly Hopkins, honoring it during banned books week. Thanks for your inspirational and informational post. I don't know if you'll see this comment, but I wanted to leav it just the same. I'm new to the bloggin world and am happy to join your followers!

Anonymous said...

I see kids saying a lot more bad words than Gilly does

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