By Brenda Barrera
September 25 through October 1, 2016 marks Banned Books Week, a celebration of the freedom to read and an opportunity to create awareness about the issues of book censorship and the importance of our first amendment. Yep, it’s 2016, and it's hard to believe but there are still challenges to have books removed from libraries and schools. Here’s a statistic from the American Library Association: more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 when Banned Books Week was launched.
It still boggles my mind when I see the long list of award-winning titles from classics to contemporary bestsellers on lists of Banned Books. When I share these lists with my bibliophile friends they are typically aghast. I wondered if there were any sports-related titles and noticed on the “100 most frequently challenged books: 1990-1999” down at #63 was a young adult (YA) title: ATHLETIC SHORTS by Chris Crutcher.
Crutcher’s body of work is outstanding and typically involves male athletes and sports, but the themes are universal and relevant to sporty girls, too. I downloaded a copy of ATHLETIC SHORTS and re-read a story featuring a female athlete, “The Other Pin.” The main characters are from Crutcher’s book, THE CRAZY HORSE ELECTRIC GAME. In this short story, Petey Shropshrire is a high school wrestler who is goaded by a friend into agreeing to wrestle an opponent no one else wants to take on, Chris Byers. Why? We learn a few pages into the story that Chris is not a typical competitor. Chris is a girl. She developed an interest in wrestling because her older brothers were state champions. In fact, she learned takedowns before she was in kindergarten and by middle school was recruited to join the boy's team. Petey and Chris discover something else they have in common: both have faced ridicule for being the one to wrestle a girl and a girl who has faced ridicule for being a wrestler and not afraid to take on a boy. I'm not sure if I agree with the ending and their match, but it is an interesting story.
While “The Other Pin” may not be the story that provokes challenges in this six-story collection, here’s something to think about: if ATHLETIC SHORTS were to be removed from a library book shelf or recommended reading list, how many girls who are wrestlers or who are interested in wrestling and want to read about someone like themselves, would be deprived of this opportunity? Something to reflect upon during Banned Books Week, as when we celebrate free expression and the freedom to read.
ALA Banned Books Week (www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek)