Searchlight on – The Great Gilly Hopkins

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.

Searchlight Consideration 

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:

Fair, O. (2016). Banned Books – The Great Gilly Hopkins. Retrieved from:

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:

The Great Gilly Hopkins. (2017). Controversy, Censorship and Children’s Literature. Retrieved from:


*Please note, images are cited in order of appearance.

The Great Gilly Hopkins. (1978). Image retrieved from:





Issue and Trend Interview

As the school year winds down, many students are already thinking about summer vacation and the fun it will bring. If we’re honest, even us adults can admit its something to look forward to. As teachers, though, are thoughts this time of year are focused beyond the holiday towards the fun our next school year will bring. One of my favorite things to do this time of year is think about the content of my lessons and how they are responding to the ever changing needs and experiences of my students. With that in mind, I was very excited to chat with our local librarian about the trends and issues appearing in the field of Children’s literature. How have trends like technology and media influence effected children’s literature? How are issues such as diversity and multicultural representations being addressed? How does all of this fit into our State standards, and what does this mean for our classroom experience? Let’s find out what our librarian has to say!

DID YOU KNOW? Our local librarian has a Doctoral Degree in Early Music Performance, a Master Degree in Library and Information Science, and a Bachelors in both Education and Vocal Performance? Check out her recent articles in the School Library Journal HERE or her blog HERE for great ideas and tips for parents and teachers!

  1. How do you feel that technology is influencing children’s literature?
    • The Librarian says: I actually like technology, and its influencing children’s literature. I use, all the time, our E-Resources our E-Books. I show parents how to go online and use them. We also do that in our schools, we try to tell our teachers to use the same. I think it is a resource that is helping students to access books in a much faster way than trying to go to the library, especially when the library is closed. It gives students 24 hour access to books.

      Wondering about these E-Resources? Check them out HERE

  2. Which genre appeals most to younger readers?
    • The Librarian says: It depends on the age group. I have a group of children that really enjoy mystery books and horror like the Ron Roy mystery. I have another group of kids, between 9 and 12 years old that like mythological subjects so they are reading the Rick Riordan series. We also have another series that are written by Joan Holub with mythological themes, that appeal to the younger crowds because the books are a little bit smaller. Historical fiction is very popular here, not only because the schools require them to read historical fiction but also because the kids enjoy them. I have a number of kids that really like the “I survived Series”. They also like some of our realistic fiction, anything that is modern day and applies to them like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “The Dork Diaries”. It might be different in other libraries, but that’s what seems to be the most popular here.
  1. Since you mentioned the interests vary by age range, do you feel that those interests develop with the child or are the interests fairly consistent as they progress to more challenging books?
    • The Librarian says:  I don’t know how they are developing their tastes. From first to third grade there is a lot of parental involvement. When they come into the library, it is really the parents that are talking to me. They ask for me to recommend books based on length and Accelerated Reader point values. The kids are 2nd or 3rd grade and up are mostly the ones I actually interact with, so I’m not sure how they are developing their interests. Interest may be passed around through popularity and the kids talking to each other about what they like.
  2. Do you feel that media tie-ins are helping or hindering children’s literature?
    • The Librarian says:I think they are helping. Minecraft books are really popular, the nonfiction and novels. Star Wars books have been popular for years, and now we have novels and picture books for preschoolers, beginner readers, chapter books and graphic novels. I t hink that the fact that you have the movies and media is helping foster a taste for these books and that is why the kids are coming to the library and asking for them. Garfield books and Pokemon and cartoons like Sofia, Thomas the Engine, Dora the Explorer and Diego the Explorer really help with interest as well. The kids come in looking for these things, so definitely I think the media has something to say and as a Librarian I feel great that they are interested in any subject that will bring them in.
  3. How do you feel children’s literature could incorporate interactive activities in a way that is additive to the plot?
    • The Librarian says:I review books for the school library journal and I have come across a number of nonfiction books that are about nature and are interactive. They were interactive in that they were full of drawings and asked the students to find objects in a grid, or coordinated system. The I-Spy books are an example of successful interactive books. In terms of fiction literature, I have not seen very much that is interactive. I’ve noticed that the author will sometimes write the book so that there are questions for the audience. For instance, I used to read this book that had a speaker who was a Fairy Godmother; you would push a button, and she would talk or ask questions to the audience. I think the best way to make a story interactive is for the teacher or librarian to be familiar with it and ask questions to the kids. I do it even with my baby or toddler reading time. I show parents how to read so that students participate and it is not just one sided reading. I stop and ask about characters, the problem, the solution, when the story takes place, the time of the day. I do this with kids as young as preschool. I think even though we may not have a book that is interactive in format, we can make it interactive by asking questions. it is important to have your audience with you and understanding the story. They can have reading comprehension even when they are very young, in that they understand what they are listening to.
  4. What do you think the most effective strategy is for helping children develop a love of reading?
    1. The Librarian says:  I would tell teachers and parents that they should let children read what they want to read as long as it is appropriate for their age, and let them have a say in what they choose they kind of book they want to read. I would use graphic novels too, in my library my children have a big love for graphic novels. The teachers and parents don’t like graphic novels because they don’t have enough AR points. But I tell them, let them read graphic novels, because they like to and you can always compromise with them. You could always say, “If your read a school book you can also read a graphic novel”, but don’t say no to a book your child loves because of point value; then you will be killing the love of reading for your little one. I have the same thing with kids that are older but like to read easier books.  I tell parents to let them so they can continue to have a love for reading.
  5. What is your recommendation for how teachers or parents can choose the best possible books for their students and children?
    • The Librarian says: What I do here is take the time to communicate with parents, and help them to see how to read so that their children are listening and understanding. I have some preschool teachers that come to me looking for books or ideas for their programs and the first thing that I tell them to do before getting to know their age group is finding the book that is not too long and not too short, but is just right and that will let the children ask questions and participate. This goes back to the previous question that you asked about making books interactive. For example, if I had a school visit for a second grade class and the teacher was covering biographies, I would take a number of books. You want to be prepared not only for books for second graders, but books that are a little more difficult and a little bit easier. There are so many different reading levels, and parents and teachers should know. You want to make sure you are providing literature for all of the kids in the spectrum of reading levels.
  6. How do you feel the state academic standards fit into children’s literature?
    • The Librarian says: I think since the Common Core was implemented there has been an emphasis on reading different kinds of literature. Some people don’t like it because children are reading to collect points, and there is a lack of quality, only quantity. I appreciate that point, but I also see that the Common Core has children reading both fiction and non fiction and I think that is something that really helps children in their development at school. When they are doing a project the common core will require them to read books that are equivalent in that area including those that are not necessarily a novel but touch on that subject. We have a lot of biographies, and other informational books that the kids look into. The common core enlarges the kind of reading the children are doing. The only thing I would hope is that the standards help children learn about new literature. Teachers are really familiar with the classics, but my big challenge as a librarian is how to present books that are published in 2016 or 2017 that they also want to read. So when suggesting books I take everything that is considered new literature so that they can see that authors right now are suggesting books that are great for them. And I make sure teachers understand that new literature is great for the children. The lists teachers give tend to be very outdated. That’s the only thing I can say, I wish teachers were more familiar with new literature to supplement the classics.

    • Click HERE for more literature recommendations from the librarian for teachers looking to support Common Core Standards with contemporary literature. 

  7. Do you feel that contemporary literature represents diversified themes and authors?
    • The Librarian says: Definitely. That is the great thing about modern literature, authors are more in touch with a multicultural society. Even the characters; we have The Princess Diaries where the main character is an African American girl, which no one would know now from the movies. Meg Cabot Brought  this character to life using a multicultural girl. Authors are trying to bring the whole spectrum of races into literature. Even women as the main characters, not just boys, are being used which is a change in new literature. Also issues that children are going through now like bullying, single mothers or famil ies that are effected by divorce or death. It’s not just the holocaust or the past like American Girls, but books that are in touch with the child’s reality right now and issues that are concerning children right now; pieces like R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” that discusses  bullying and living with a handicap or disfigurement. Children want to know about that, they want to be treated like they are mature enough to read about these kinds of things. Realistic fiction is worth more AR points anyways, you have a number of authors that are very young too and they can relate better to younger children. They remember what it was like to be 10 or 12 because it wasn’t so long ago when they went through that.
  8. What is your favorite piece of children’s literature and why?
    • The Librarian says:I’m not sure if this counts as Children’s literature, some libraries may, but “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”. I was so taken by it that I sat and I didn’t get up until I finished that book. For me it was a book that was not only well written but it touched on a very serious subject in a way that appealed to me and would appeal to children. Another book that was really interesting to me was “Kind of Like Brother”. The main character is an African American boy who’s single mother was also a foster parent. The main character was always upset because the house was full of other kids and he felt his mother loved them more. It was realistic fiction and it was very touching to me because it was so real, the language was dramatic and realistic with a good plot and ending. Another book I like is “El Deafo” by Cece Bell. This is a graphic novel that tells about her own experience being deaf, and its a great story.

As we begin to prepare our minds, and our lesson plans, for next year’s reading material we have to take into consideration how children’s literature has changed, and will continue to do so. Of course, this interview represents the reflections of our local librarian, but the issues and trends she touches on are representative of issues and trends that are being noted in children’s literature on a national scale. Other experts in the field have commented on the benefits of technology towards children’s literature, particularly in the adaptation of more interactive texts, the increase in availability of diverse books with diverse themes, and the interest in reading media tie-ins create. As I embark on this next school year, I plan to face the issue of underexposure for newly published children’s literature head on. Off to the library for me – happy hunting, and happy reading!


Bird, E. (2016). What’s Trending? What Is, What Was, What’s Soon to Be in Kid Lit. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Harvey, E. (2015). 5 Trends Affecting Children’s Literature. Book Business. Retrieved from:

Short, K. Lynch-Brown, C., Tomilinson, C. (2014). Essentials of Children’s Literature. Eighth Edition. Pearson Publishing.    Saddleriver, New Jersey.


*Please note, images are cited in order of appearance.

Gurney, J. (1998). The Empty Envelope. Image retrieved from:

Caparo, A. (2005). Percy Jackson and The Olympians. Image retrieved from:

Dawson, S. (2014). I Survived The Destruction of Pompeii 79 AD. Image Retrieved from:

Kanefield, T. (2016). The Extraordinary Suzy Wright. Image Retrieved from:

Frazee, M. (2016). Waylon! One Awesome Thing. Image Retrieved from:

Huie, W. (2016). Their Great Gift. Image Retrieved from:

Cabot, M. (2015). From the Notebooks of  a Middle School Princess. Image Retrieved from:

Palacio, R. (2016). Wonder. Image Retrieved from:

Spring Book Share

Book Share Looking for something new and exciting to read this Spring? Of course you are! Well here’s an idea… how about revisiting a story you  may

already know? I’m very excited to share with you “The True Story of The Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka. This wonderful book tells the story of the three little pigs from the perspective of a character we don’t often here from, the big bad wolf!

Students: Have you ever wondered if the big bad wolf is as bad as they say?

Twenty-five years in the Big House and A. Wolf is still sticking to his story: he was framed! As for that huffing and puffing stuff? A big lie. A. Wolf was just trying to borrow a cup of sugar to make his poor old granny a birthday cake.

Who should you believe, the pigs or the wolf? You read, you decide!

Parents: I chose to share this book with you and your students for a number of reasons. First, this book is ironic, witty and all together enjoyable! Secondly, it introduces students to the concept of dueling perspectives, which is something I feel is useful in both reading and life!

I hope you enjoy “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” as much as I d0. Let’s discuss!

Quick Facts:

Age Range: 5-8

Lexile: AD570L /ATOS Book Level: 3.0

Interest Level: Lower Grades

AR Points: .5