Once a year, the American Library association hosts Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information and brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas.
Banned Books Week provides a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn about wonderful pieces of literature that may be unknown to us, and our students. Can’t wait until September? Don’t worry – Neither can I! This searchlight highlights one of the frequently challenged children’s books listed with the American Library Association. Of course, this is post by no means challenges a parent’s decision – so please, use your own discretion. That being said let’s jump in!
The Great Gilly Hopkins
Katherine Paterson’s “The Great Gily Hopkins” introduces readers to an eleven year old girl named Gilly as she moves into her third foster home in three years. Having experienced the trials and disappointments the foster system can sometimes bring, Gilly is no longer interested in attempting to join another family, and focuses her thoughts and efforts to being reunited with her mother. In spite of herself, Gilly discovers what it is like to have a home and a familyr with Trotter (her foster mother) William Earnest (her foster brother) and Mr. Randolph (the friendly neighbor).
How did “The Great Gilly Hopkins” find its way onto the Banned Book List? Schools that have banned this book feel that it includes offensive language.
The language used by Gilly is representative of many adolescent children, particularly those who face the challenges and the realities depicted in the novel. Katherine Paterson said commented on the controversy saying, “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.” Beyond the language, though, the text captures the growth and development of Gilly as she learns about love, responsibility and kindness. The relationships and conflicts are ones that everyone can relate to and learn from.
In the Classroom
When considering a piece of literature, such as “The Great Gilly Hopkins” to use in a classroom setting, it is important to take into consideration the circumstances of your students and how they will understand and appreciate the themes. One effective way to introduce this piece could be through real life experience. Invite someone who has experience with the foster system (a foster parent, child or representative from your local agency) to speak to the class. Use activities such as Venn Diagrams that compare character qualities and group discussion to really help students benefit from the text! “The Great Gilly Hopkins” is exceptional in its ability to foster emotional intelligence. Readers grapple with concepts such as bullying, the desire to belong, racism, and change. “Though her language doesn’t change much, Gilly’s overall attitude and view of people changes immensely. Gilly’s is no longer hardened to other people, and has discovered not only what it means to be loved, but to love back despite race or religion.” (Fair, 2016).
This searchlight revealed “The Great Gilly Hopkins” is a book with complex emotional themes and mature language. Of course the choice is yours to make, but so long as our children and students face realities that like that of Gilly Hopkins, I’ll make sure she has a spot on my shelf!
American Library Association. (2017). Frequently Banned Books. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/childrensbooks
Fair, O. (2016). Banned Books – The Great Gilly Hopkins. Retrieved from: https://bannedya.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/banned-books-the-great-gilly-hopkins/
Short, K. Lynch-Brown, C., Tomilinson, C. (2014). Essentials of Children’s Literature. Eighth Edition. Pearson Publishing. Saddleriver, New Jersey.
Teaching the Great Gilly Hopkins. (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.bookrags.com/lessonplan/great-gilly-hopkins/#gsc.tab=0
The Great Gilly Hopkins. (2017). Controversy, Censorship and Children’s Literature. Retrieved from: https://sites.google.com/site/thesisactivities/activities-for-katherine-paterson-s-books/the-great-gilly-hopkins
*Please note, images are cited in order of appearance.
The Great Gilly Hopkins. (1978). Image retrieved from: http://childrensbookalmanac.com/2012/10/the-great-gilly-hopkins/