Cathy Arnst

I took my 8-year old daughter to see the new Disney movie, , last week, along with some friends and their children. I admit to knowing nothing about it beforehand other than what I gleaned from the Disney Channel promotions, and if you are in the same boat, be forewarned--those ads are very misleading! The movie is not a fantasy at all, but (SPOILER ALERT)a very realistic, beautiful and unbelievably sad film about the death of a child. The parents in my group were devastated by it, far more so than the children (my daughter kept asking me kindly if I was going to be all right!).

I worried that this movie, rated PG, was inappropriate for children, but then learned that it is very true to the book it is based on. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson won a Newbery Award when it came out in 1977 and is regularly recommended to fifth and sixth graders. It is also regularly protested by parents, who feel it is too much for their children to deal with.

Those protesting parents are perhaps doing their children a disservice. One of the parents in my movie-going group, whose boys are now in college, said they both read and loved the book at that age. But she also admitted to knowing nothing about it. She called her eldest, now a senior at Brown University, after the movie and asked him about it. His response: "I loved that book! Yeah, it was really sad." Interesting that he never felt he had to discuss the tragic death that is central to the story with his parents. Which makes me think that children are not as fragile as we think, and perhaps we overprotect them from hard truths that they must learn to grapple with someday.

The author of the book says she was inspired to write it when a close friend of her 8-year old son was struck by lightning and died. (Good grief, I may never let my daughter outside again!) I think the book and movie may be more devastating to parents than kids because we can easily imagine our own child in place of the one that dies in the story.

The movie also made me reflect about the freedom I had as a kid to run in the woods, ride my bike wherever and generally be unsupervised most of the time, compared with my own child's far more restricted life. Granted she lives in the city, and I lived in a small town, but still--who today could imagine their kids building a treehouse deep in the woods unsupervised? Our children are safer, I'm sure, but what have they lost?

There is an interesting essay on the movie and book in Slate, What Bridge to Terabithia Still Teaches Us, that raises some of these issues. The author, Emily Bazelson, notes that "This is a story in which the adventurous child dies and the cautious child lives." I suppose that's true, but I hope it doesn't lead me to raise an overly-cautious child.

Would love to hear what other's think about the movie and book.

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