Outside editorial: Don't let your kids read this

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

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The best children's book published last year begins with a passage about a rattlesnake that bit a dog named Roy right there on, um, the first page. Right there on ... the passenger's seat of a '62 Cadillac. OK, OK. On the scrotum.

We'll venture that your reaction to finding the word scrotum on the editorial page is a lot like the average fourth-grader's reaction to finding it in the second paragraph of the 2007 Newbery Medal winner, "The Higher Power of Lucky." A little gasp, maybe a snicker.

But you're still reading.

A number of school librarians apparently never got past page one of the book, though, and they don't think its targeted audience of 9- to 12-year-olds ought to, either. Many say they won't buy it for their shelves. "Because of that one word, I would not be able to read that book aloud," one of them explained, calling it "a Howard Stern-type shock treatment." We have three words for that: Oh, come on.

"The Higher Power of Lucky" is about a scrappy 10-year-old who eavesdrops on 12-step meetings as she struggles to take control of her listing life. It's a tale that could have been told without the word scrotum, but it's pretty tame compared to the in-your-face potty humor of Dav Pilkey's wildly popular "Captain Underpants" series or "The Day My Butt Went Psycho" by Andy Griffiths.

Author Susan Patron, a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Public Library whose job is to select children's books, said she wanted to create characters that rang true to her young audience. The word scrotum, she wrote, "sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much," a perfectly pitched line even if it does sound a little like one of Pilkey's snot jokes.

Scrotum isn't a dirty word; it's a precise clinical word for a body part and a lot milder than the other words a 10-year-old (or Howard Stern) might use to describe that body part. Half the kids that age actually have a scrotum, and all of them are getting to the point where they're going to start asking questions. This is no time for the adults to get squeamish.

If librarians don't want to answer those questions, we have three more words to suggest: "Ask your parents."



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