Wicked Witch of Publishing Joins Great Scrotum Debate of 2007. “The Higher Power of Lucky” Fuels Bonfires Across America
Fictional dog gets bitten in “scrotum” by rattlesnake. Censors evacuate their bowels over body-part reference and book burning begins!
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s lit, has shocked, yes, shocked some school librarians. They are ripping The Higher Power of Lucky off their shelves, banning it, not ordering it. So there!
One person’s scrota are another person’s…
All I can say is that if I were the 10-year-old reader of this book and stumbled across the word scrotum (which little Lucky Trimble, orphan, overhears through a hole in a wall), I would actually know what scrotum was. In fact, I knew what it meant when I was even younger. Maybe 8- or 9-years-old. I knew what scrotum was because of a paper-bag-jacketed book tucked way up on the top-shelf over the workbench in the basement of the house in which I grew up. The book Diseases of the Skin contained the most horrific tight shots of people’s you-know-whats from every possible angle in every possible medical condition. (If my brothers are reading this posting: Yes, I saw that book, too!) Believe me, I’d have much rather found out what “scrotum” meant by reading the word in The Higher Power of Lucky and looking it up myself (and then looking up “testes” to see what that meant) or by dragging myself and the book downstairs and pointing to the word while asking one parent or another. Just like I did certain other words whose definitions absolutely flabbergasted me, like menstruation. (WHAT! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?)
A quick lift of the dog’s tail and a little finger pointing would have solved the mystery of the word “scrotum.” Although the family cats, a few rapidly multiplying Himalayan and Dutch rabbits, even faster reproducing white rats, and horses in the barn down the road would also have had the goods for show and tell. (Wait, those horses were, gasp, “gelded.” Explain THAT one, please, to a 10-year-old.)
It’s All Shock-Jock Howard Stern’s Fault.
In a front page article headlined “With a Single Word, A Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar,” The New York Times quoted a teacher/librarian from Durango, Colorado, who left a comment on a librarian’s blog (restricted, so I won’t link) in which she said she felt “This book included Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn’t have the children in mind.” Huh? It’s a children’s book written by an award-winning children’s author. Who else would she have in mind?
Does this attitude have something to do with living in Durango? According to the Chamber of Commerce, Durango (population 15,000, elevation 6,512 feet) is “the kind of town you daydream about. It’s a town where you’ll find that the people are genuine, authentic, friendly, high energy, and down to earth,” and, evidently, while snowed in, keeping from climbing the walls by listening to Howard Stern.
The journalist who wrote the article also said: “Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over the one offending phrase.” Children’s authors do that? Is that true? How can writers who draw tiny little hearts over their lowercase letter “I”s stand accused of pushing an envelope on which they put smiley faces in place of stamps?
Well, I’m the daughter of a doctor, so maybe the use of Latin words for human parts and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy on the bookshelf in the study (and Diseases of the Skin above the workbench!) make me better able to say words for which others choose euphemisms. (Actually, one child’s euphemism may get another child’s mouth washed out with soap, like mine!)
As Dave Pattern, the Library Systems Manager at the University of Huddersfield, located in West Yorkshire, UK, said in a comment in the blog librarian.net “No problem! Simply replace the offending word with one suggested by the Sex Lexis website—here’s a few possibles…
Indeed. Problem solved!
I think Evert, another commenter on Librarian.net, summed it quite handily:
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™ I could rant on, but I have to take the dog out to