“With One Word, Children?s Book Sets Off Uproar
The word ?scrotum? does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children?s literature, for that matter. Yet there it is on the first page of ?The Higher Power of Lucky,? by Susan Patron, this year?s winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children?s literature. The book?s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.
?Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,? the book continues. ?It sounded medical and secret, but also important.?
The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children?s books… ?This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn?t have the children in mind,? Dana Nilsson, a teacher and librarian in Durango, Colo., wrote on LM_Net, a mailing list that reaches more than 16,000 school librarians. ?How very sad…”
Reached at her home in Los Angeles, Ms. Patron said she was stunned by the objections. The story of the rattlesnake bite, she said, was based on a true incident involving a friend?s dog.
And one of the themes of the book is that Lucky is preparing herself to be a grown-up, Ms. Patron said. Learning about language and body parts, then, is very important to her. ?The word is just so delicious,? Ms. Patron said. ?The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It?s one of those words that?s so interesting because of the sound of the word.?
The formal definition of scrotum is, “The external sac of skin enclosing the testes in most mammals.” I don’t know why scrotum is bad word. It’s not like the book has “balls” or “nutsac.” I don’t think it’s a “delicious” word, but it’s acceptable for children to say. Perhaps testicle would have been better.