The Higher Power of Lucky Controversy — A Response

thpolWhy is it such a big deal that the word “scrotum” is in a children’s book? Seriously… After all, roughly 50% of children *have* scrotums, right?!?

When I saw the link to the NY Times article — http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/18/books/18newb.html?_r=1&oref=slogin — on Monica Edinger’s blog, Educating Alice — http://medinger.wordpress.com/ — I just shook my head and laughed. People are always so quick to freak out about “indecency” in children’s literature, but I don’t think this fits the bill. Lucky overhears someone talking about a dog whose scrotum was bitten by a rattlesnake. It’s not like the context is at all pornographic. It’s matter of fact, and it is even based on a real-life experience of the author. Refusal to purchase a book because it contains an anatomical word is just, well, a bit silly to me.

Take this quote, for instance: “I think it’s a good case of an author not realizing her audience,” said Frederick Muller, a librarian at Halsted Middle School in Newton, N.J. “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.” Well, third- and fourth-grade students ask a lot of questions, with or without Newbery books to get them going. If you are going to work with kids, you are just going to have to deal with the potential for “embarrassing” questions.

A lot of fourth-grade girls are getting their periods now. If a girl thinks she is bleeding to death (which I once experienced as a substitute teacher), should her teacher not try to explain what is happening to her? Should we tell students that they are not allowed to ask their teachers any questions about the human body or any of its individual parts because it may make teachers uncomfortable? I personally think it would make more sense for teachers to “get over themselves” and just answer with quick, matter-of-fact explanations — “The scrotum is a piece of skin that attaches a boy’s testicles to his body.”

If people could just get used to using the proper words for the human anatomy, instead of acting like the names for our body parts are “swears,” we could avoid ridiculous situations like this. I feel like the sex education teacher in Varsity Blues… “Say it with me everybody: Penis, penis penis. Vagina, vagina, vagina.” Avoiding the anatomical words gives the impression that these words (and therefore body parts) are inherently shameful. I can understand that people do not want children’s book to go into elaborate descriptions of what penises and vaginas look like or what they may be used for — but can’t we all grow up and call things what they are? Or, at the very least, let the braver people use proper names if they so choose?

I’m sure I will probably upset some people by posting this, but I cannot contain my frustration. Censorship is censorship is censorship. Just because some people are uncomfortable reading, hearing, or saying the proper words for “private parts” doesn’t mean that the words are indecent. If you don’t want to read it, that’s fine. But, please don’t tell my child he can’t check it out at your library!

Happy Reading!

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2 responses to “The Higher Power of Lucky Controversy — A Response

  1. For the most part, I agree with your post. I do think it is a bit silly to be in such an uproar about one word in a book. I also agree that it is censorship, and kids should have the right to read it if they want. It is ridiculous that people are screaming for it to be banned from elementary school libraries.

    As a teacher, however, I feel that teachers should have the right to recommend it or not. I don’t think it’s a matter of just “getting over ourselves” that is the issue. It is about choosing our battles. I teach 6th and 7th grade reading and I have to be careful of the books I recommend to students. I have had parents contact me about books their kids have borrowed from my class library, for a lot less than the mention of a male body part. I have also had students ask me questions about the content of YA books that, quite frankly, has made me uncomfortable. While the argument to ban this book is silly, I can see where teachers are coming from.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Thank you for your comment. I completely agree that teachers have every right not to recommend a book that they are uncomfortable with — but I stand by my opinion that avoiding the purchase of a Newbery winner in a school library, because of a single anatomically-correct word, is crazy! 🙂

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