Guest post by Yvonne Ventresca (@YvonneVentresca)
The summer before my junior year at Island Trees High School, the Supreme Court ruled on the book banning case Island Trees School District v. Pico. That summer vacation, I read a lot of romance novels with the occasional Agatha Christie thrown in. But the banned books piqued my interest. What didn’t the school board want me to learn? I borrowed Down These Mean Streets from the library, and found that Piri Thomas’s memoir about growing up on the streets of Spanish Harlem was as far from ‘80s Levittown and Danielle Steel stories as you could get. But even though aspects of his life were vastly different from mine, at sixteen, I discovered truth and beauty in his words, some of which I copied into my high school journal.
“The worlds of home and school were made up of rules laid down by adults who had forgotten the feeling of what it means to be a kid but expected a kid to remember to be an adult – something he hadn’t gotten to yet.” (Piri Thomas)
The scenes that initially caused Down These Mean Streets to be banned weren’t among the many paragraphs I transcribed at sixteen. It was the honesty and power of Thomas’s language as he struggled to find his place in the world that made an impact on me. His book was the most meaningful thing I read the summer of 1982 and it cemented my belief in every student’s freedom to read.
In response to the number of books being challenged in the United States, 1982 was also the year Banned Books Week began. Unfortunately, challenging and banning books still goes on today. Between 2000-2009, over 5000 challenges were reported. (According the ALA, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” http://www.ala.org/bbooks.) Shockingly, over 1200 instances occurred in PUBLIC LIBRARIES. Some of my favorite authors, such as Sherman Alexie, Jay Asher, and John Green, were among the most challenged in 2012.
As the ALA states in a recent press release, “Banned Books Week, Sept. 22 – 28, stresses the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book, no matter how unorthodox or unpopular.” For more information on Banned Books Week and supporting the freedom to read, visit www.bannedbooksweek.org .
Yvonne Ventresca (www.YvonneVentresca.com) is a young adult author whose debut novel, Pandemic, will be available from Sky Pony Press in May 2014.
Thank you Yvonne for sharing this article with us. This is the first time we have talked about banned books on this blog.