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!

Power of LuckyThe 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.netNo problem! Simply replace the offending word with one suggested by the Sex Lexis website—here’s a few possibles…

hairy-saddlebags

jewel-box

nad-bag

sack-o’-nuts

tadpole-carrier

winky-bag.”

Indeed. Problem solved!

I think Evert, another commenter on Librarian.net, summed it quite handily:

“Carpe scrotum!”

Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™ I could rant on, but I have to take the dog out to tinkle void.

29 Responses to “Wicked Witch of Publishing Joins Great Scrotum Debate of 2007. “The Higher Power of Lucky” Fuels Bonfires Across America”

  1. Vivian S. Says:

    This book was published in November…and now the brouhaha over scrotum? Well, I guess you can’t expect librarians to read every book they order.

    “Nuts” to that!

  2. Andrew O'Hara Says:

    Aw heck, you want to find a gimmick to draw attention, right? How do you think “Walter the Farting Dog” stayed on the best seller lists for over a year? People loved saying the word “fart” and watching their kids giggle about it. Literature. This might have rocketed to #1 had the author had the foresight to name it “The Higher Power of Scrota.”

    Actually, though, this book DOES look quite good and appears to have had some very creative thought put into it–far more than I can say for “Walter.” I doubt the s-word people are dithering over was even necessary to its plot or quality. In fact, the kids who enjoy the book probably will skip right over it. But there it is, and it will help keep the book in the center ring for a while. Maybe deservedly, for a change. (And school librarians? Eh–who listens to them?)

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: Andrew is a retired California Highway Patrolman turned freelance journalist and author. He is editor of The Jimston Journal, “a quarterly online publication for the arts.”

  3. Paul McNamara Says:

    Once again I find myself thankful that I live in enlightened Massachusetts. And at least all of this gave me a chance to quote my 5-year-old son using the word penis as a measuring stick … and, no, not the way an adult might. … BTW, I believe that pic of the squirrel is what launched DIGG.

    http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=node/11631

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Hi, Paul! Nice to see a new face. (Send me a jpg and I can post your image!) I first saw that shot of the squirrel in 1999! You can tell he has a lot of natural talent! (Paul is an editor at Network World News online and writes the Net Buzz column.)  

  4. Bernita Says:

    This is ridiculous.

    What century is this?

    Why the fuss over a perfectly respectable word that any kid can find in a dictionary and further hear much less polite ones anywhere any time.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: Bernita is from Ontario, Canada. Her blog,”An Innocent A-Blog—Journal of a Barely Post-Luddite Miranda,” is very funny.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Maybe they are not able to get enough oxygen to the brain in Durango, Colorado.

  6. The Curmudgeon Says:

    When I was a little curmudgeon, there was a picture of a man with severe elephantiasis who had to carry his scrotum and contents around in a wheelbarrow. I don’t remember where we saw the picture, but both boys and girls in schoolthought it was hysterical.

    Unfortunately, I do not remember where the picture was, and a Google Image Search does not find it. All the girls who saw the picture ended up as prostitutes, and all the boys became congressmen.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): He’s baaaaaaaacccccccck! 

  7. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    This is hysterically funny…or sad, depending on your point of view. I think I can truthfully say that even the Christian community wouldn’t have a problem with that word!

    *snort* Maybe this librarian woman is a spinster who was scared by a scrotum in her younger years, and had dedicated her life to busting nuts! LOL!

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Bonnie is the Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. She lives in Upstate New York.

  8. Frederick Smith Says:

    uh….., “delicate, delicate, carpe scrotum”……………. por favor!!

  9. David Thayer Says:

    The scrotum incident would have made an excellent Star Trek episode wherein Kirk and the crew are imprisoned on a seemingly pleasant planet ( Durango) ruled by a deranged librarian. Just when it appears that all is lost, Mr. Spock says scrotum and Durango explodes but will its negative energy appear on other planets not safeguarded by minions of the Dewey Decimal System? Is an ever expanding vocabulary a threat to universal harmony? Well, that’s why we patrol the vastness of space beyond the Stern cloud and these dreadful Latin words.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: David Thayer is a contributor to January Magazine. He writes crime fiction and thrillers with the intent of getting them published. It is his hope that Einstein’s theory of doing the same thing over and over in the expectation of a different outcome is wrong. His first book review for the Philadelphia Inquirer will be published in March.

  10. Frazer Says:

    This beauty was found at Huffington Post today:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-r-barber/keeping-america-scrotumf_b_41622.html

    Needless to say, as a left-leaning bookseller, it is my mission to deliver as much pornography to my customers as I can, to indoctrinate Godly people to our unholy lifestyle, so I got on the phone to my Simon and Schuster rep as soon as I could. “Send me fifty!” I bellowed. “And anything else dirty ya got!”

    Hmmm, come to think of it, Simon & Schuster also publishes “And Tango Makes Three,” recently controversial in our school system, which subliminally pushes the homosexual agenda through a seemingly innocent tale of two penguins adopting a penguin chick. I salute you, Simon and Schuster, my dark masters! 

    Note from the Wicked Witch: For the past 18 years Park Road Books, located in Charlotte, North Carolina has been voted “Charlotte’s Best” by readers and editors of Creative Loafing, the arts and entertainment newspaper.

  11. Chippy Munk Says:

    Wow! I had no idea squirrels could be such stud muffins!

  12. Kelsey E. Johnson Defatte Says:

    Some of us childrens’ writers have been living it up with poetry protests.

    Check out my own fun! http://cocoskeeper.livejournal.com/ Inspired by the wonderful Jo Knowles http://jbknowles.livejournal.com/179520.html :-)

    Oh. And… SCROTUM! SCROTUM! SCROOOOOOOTUM!!!!!!!!!

    Thank you.

    ;-D

  13. John MCM Says:

    Regarding Curmudgeon’s comment….Sad to say I also recall seeing that very upsetting picture of what I recall was an African man with the wheelbarrow when I was young.

    John

  14. Louise Hawes Says:

    It’s interesting that none of the responders appears to have actually READ The Higher Power of Lucky. “It looks good” or “I doubt the [word] was even necessary” are comments that smack of putting the bandwagon before the horse.

    As an author, most of whose books have been written for children or teens, and as someone who happens to have read Patron’s novel, I’d like to add:

    1) The word is absolutely necessary in the context of the book, an adult conversation overheard by a precocious, curious, and engaging kid.

    2) As someone well aware of the constraints under which most of us who publish with mainstream houses operate, I’m fairly certain this word was chosen, not only because it makes complete sense in the scene (we’re talking about a DOG bite here, folks), but because it’s the least objectionable term possible. Would the uber-moralists have preferred the author use “balls?”

    3) The suggestion, from one of the respondents here as well as others who haven’t read the novel, that this is a publicity stunt is preposterous. Trust me, the Newbery award, which Patron’s book won BEFORE all this hysteria, is enough to propel any children’s book to the top of the list; enough to secure library and bookstore sales that give publishers great big smiley faces; enough to “make” an author for life. The only fly in this heavenly balm would be just what’s happening now, a drop in school and library sales.

    In sum, folks, put your money where your mouths are: buy the book!

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Louise has written sixteen books for readers of all ages, winning awards from the Children’s Book Council, the Young Adult Library Services Association, the Center for Children’s Books, the New York Public Library, and the International Reading Association.  

  15. Kevin Watson Says:

    When my pre-school-aged daughter raised her hand to ask the visiting flutist a question, she instead announced, “A flute looks like a penis, but I don’t have a penis; I have a vagina,” her mother and I were both proud and tickled. We didn’t gasp or cringe or panic, we laughed and so did the teacher and the visiting artist. The other children, I’m sure, had questions for Mom and Dad when they returned home, and, no, our daughter was not banned from school. Her statement probably encouraged some educational and healthy discussions between parents and their children.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Well, I probably would have spit my coffee out over that one and indulged in a little sniggering myself, but what fun! (Press 53 is a small, independent publisher located in Lewisville, North Carolina.) 

  16. Brother René Says:

    Vita sine libris mors es

    Let us have mercy on those canine castratos now having their scrotal sac examined by their junior masters (playing Dr. Vet) in search of missing testes. Pity the poor emasculated puppy upon this discovery by his giddy human siblings. “Mommy, mommy; Spot’s little gonads have gone missing!”

    Cave canem

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Come to think of it, Brother Rene, you are correct. One would be hard-pressed to catch of glimpse of the “family jewels” on a dog these days!

  17. Samuel Tinianow Says:

    The thing that really gets me about this fiasco is that it’s not about the kids who are reading the book; it’s about the adults who are embarrassed by the word.
    Excerpt from my blog, which I’m about to link here:


    Another question to consider: where are the children in all this? I’ve seen a few sources reporting this story, and not a single one of them has cited a quote from–or even an anecdote about–a child who read Lucky and was confused or disturbed by the presence of this dirty, bad word.

    My observation is encapsulated by a comment from librarian Frederick Muller (also cited in the Times), who said, “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.” And another one from the NYT: “Andrea Koch, the librarian at French Road Elementary School in Brighton, NY, said she anticipated angry calls from parents if she ordered [the book]. ‘I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson,’ she said in an interview.”

    So. Who are the people who ban books like Lucky really protecting? And from what? ‘Cause they aren’t mentioning the kids a whole lot.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): I’m under the impression that young boys throw “scrotum” insults at each other as often as they throw baseballs! So I’m not sure the word is as “foreign” to children as parents, teachers or librarians seem to think. On the other hand, I was asked today by a reporter about how I would feel if the dog were bitten in her “labia.” Girls don’t toss that word around very much! I’d have to say that word would surprise me, but I’d get over it.

  18. Lynne Says:

    To see the names of more children’s books that use the word, gasp, scrotum, go here:

    http://www.gelfmagazine.com/gelflog/archives/youth_literature_is_filled_with_scrotums.php

  19. Andrew O'Hara Says:

    I appreciate Louise Hawes’ suggestion that no one should be allowed to make even the slightest comment about a book without shelling out the dollars to purchase it and read it. In that she sells books, I can understand her stance. Unfortunately for her, many readers are discriminating and, in this day of the internet, do research writers, covers, and excerpts before buying and reading a book. It was for that reason that I was most careful in pointing out that the above book APPEARED worthy of reading–not that it “was.” If Ms. Hawes has read it and feels it’s trash, she is entitled to say so.

    I also neither endorsed nor criticised the use of the word “scrotum”–in fact, with some humor I saw it as less a problem for the kids than the adults that are dancing the Chicken over it. Ms. Hawes clearly feels the plot would collapse without it, and that’s fine–she’s read it and I haven’t, and she therefore speaks with more credibility on that point.

    I DID read “Walter the Farting Dog” (which I said) and found it little more than toilet humor for pre-schoolers. I did NOT read “Higher Power of Lucky” and made THAT quite clear in my above post, noting only that (based on some research) it appears (emphasis, Ms. Hawes, on “appears”) to have had some creative thought put into it and looks worth reading. I’m not sure I understand why Ms. Hawes is disturbed by my positive comment unless she truly dislikes the book–which is ok!

    When I look at a book and the cover is trashy and the first page and /or excerpts are a grammatical hodgepodge of misspellings, I will put the book right back on the shelf and will have no qualms at all about saying the book appears to be junk. I don’t need someone telling me I’m not qualified to say that because “I didn’t buy the book and read it.” I have not read Mein Kampf cover to cover, nor have I read the current vituperations of “Maddox,” yet would happily share my reasons why without shelling out my money. There’s too much of that going around, and this whine of “you didn’t buy my book” has become one of the first refuges of the slovenly writer these days.

    And no, at 60 I’m not going buy a children’s book just to make the very limited, POSITIVE comment I did–that it “looks” worth reading.” Give me a break.

  20. Gina Burgess Says:

    This is like the R rating back in the 70s. R rating back then is like PG 13 today. That book would never have been written for children in the 70s or 80s. It could only make it today.

    The subject matter in that book should be above a 10 year old’s head, but unfortunately it isn’t. This is the age of that cartoon character smarty Bart Simpson and King of the Hill and other such stuff that shows on Saturday mornings, which I had no idea had gotten so suggestive until I watched them with my step granddaughter.

    I’m on the outraged librarian’s side. If my 10 year old brought that book home in 1987, I would have called the school up and rocked the principal on her heels (using lady-like language, of course). If my granddaughter were to have brought that book home in 2000, I would have rocked the school’s librarian and the princpal after first carefully explaining to my step daughter why it was so upsetting–because, gasp, she wouldn’t know why.

    It isn’t a children’s book subject matter. The first chapter incites interest in seeing a scrotum simply because the protag is interested in seeing one–or not. Come on. Why is that even necessary in a children’s book?

    I was introduced to the word when I was 8 because I asked where babies came from just to make sure that my friend wasn’t telling me a fib. She wasn’t.

    [Insert deep and gusty sigh here]

    I am deeply disappointed that children grow up so fast these days. There’s no protection for them anymore. They are exposed to things that make me shudder as an adult. It is so sad that a children’s book author has to write a story about 12-step programs inspiring a child to look for the Higher Power. There’s a word for that, but it may be too strong a word for “worldly sensitive” ears. I’ll say it anyway. Rubbish.

    What is wrong with a children’s librarian wanting good books with good subject matter? In this world of ours, have we become so jaded that we think children can’t be interested in stories like Beatrice Potter wrote? Or Joan Aiken? Or even Phyllis Whitney? Or must we all succomb to the spell of J.K. Howling?

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: Gina is a grant writer in Newellton, Louisiana. She’s in the process of writing Running from Shadows.

  21. Lynne Says:

    A few of the links referencing this posting on The Publishing Contrarian:

    Nuts, In Every Sense of the Word” at Gehayi

    “What’s So Wrong with the Word Scrotum?” at The Most Cake

    “Ode to a SCROTUM, Everyone…ODE!!!” at Swamp Spells and Then Some

    “Oh, the Outrate! The Horror!” at Brandywine Books

    “President’s Day” at PersonaNonData

    “Youth Literature is Filled with Scrotums” at Gelf Magazine–Looking Over the Overlooked 

  22. Tom Says:

    Poor Americans!
    It is problem to show tits, penisses and ass on tv but not a problem to show a killer shooting his victim? What do you want your children to become? A normal family or a bunch of killers? What is the biggest sin, killing someone or having sex? What did Jesus tell you; procreate or kill? Come on guys!

  23. Maralyn Rittenour Says:

    I had lots of comments to make on this riveting tpic but I guess the NY Times said it all today on the OpEd page.
    Go Times.
    PS Your blog is getting livlier all the time.
    Go Wicked Witch

  24. Bill Liversidge Says:

    Reading through the Comments section of your most informative Post I was distressed to read that Frazer is a “left-leaning publisher”.

    I believe the cause of his condition may well reside in the scrotum, about which you write so eloquently. Fortunately, his inclination from the perpendicular should be amenable to corrective surgery.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    All this reminds me of a character in Wambaugh’s “The Choirboys” who referred to perps and other bad people as “scrotes”.

  26. Simon Leigh Says:

    I do hope the rattlesnake wasn’t harmed or shocked during the making of this scene. It may just have been curious, not having a scrotum itself (just as well!).

  27. Anonymously Yours Says:

    For 15 years I thought the highway sign on Rt. 80 was announcing the Pennsylvania town of Scrotum, when in fact (when driving by at 60 mph instead of 85 mph) I noticed it proudly signaled the next exit as “Scotrun.” Get my drift?

    Oh, and I think I saw that well-endowed squirrel last week…chasing one of our dogs! Aw, nuts, maybe it was another squirrel.

    At age 11, I told my mother that…

    1. I was not going through the period stuff….I was going to just skip it and immediately start “car dating.” 
    2. I knew how ladies got pregnant. Billy Smith’s mother told me she drank out of her husband’s tea cup.

    So, there. Who needed that funny book with the pictures…I had it all figured out.

    My mother took up smoking that year…followed shortly with drinking. I, on the other hand, took 6 years of biology, microbiology, and anatomy. I still haven’t figured out sex…but the occasional drink puts everything into perspective.

    How does that squirrel run?

  28. Steph Says:

    Hmmm … I am not sure which surprises me more – that a single word would spark such an uproar or that there actually is (as I just learned from your blog) a “SexLexis” – i.e. “Dictionary of Sexual Terms” AND a “Dictionary of the F Word.” My, my, my! :-) I love your web log entry! I really needed a good laugh today.

  29. Carla Golden Says:

    Ahhhh, here we go again. We’re back to censorship of words for body parts. Can’t say “vagina” and can’t say “scrotum”. While the Word Police are at it, they should make the Amish change the name of their towns in Pennsylvania How embarrassing for the children… “I came from Intercourse.” “I live in Blue Ball.”

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