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Librarians Squirm at Cite of Scrotum

NYT reporter Julie Bosman landed on Sunday’s front page with a story about the children’s book that dared to mention a scrotum, Susan Patron‘s Newbery Medal-winning The Higher Power of Lucky. “The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools,” Bosman reports—and, in fact, some have already gone ahead and done just that. Not that their logic is entirely sound: Apart from the ickiness grown-ups feel when confronted by the aforementioned body part, the book is recommended for ages 9 through 12, but as Bosman describes it, “some librarians countered that since the heroine…is 10, children older than that would not be interested in reading it.” Because, Lord knows, when I was twelve, you couldn’t pay me to read a book about a ten-year-old. (I also got a good laugh out of the elementary school librarian who declared, “You won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.” Au contraire; you’ll find it in Balzac.*)

But there was one line in the article—”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 one offending phrase”—which touched a nerve with some actual children’s book writers. “Yes. That’s exactly how it happens,” snarks Rosemary Graham. “We sit there at our computers, looking for places to sneak in those touchy words, just so we can shock (shock!) unsuspecting librarians.” YA fantasist Justine Larbalestier adds, “I write novels to tell the best stories I can for teenagers. I try very hard to write characters who are believeable and I choose the language they use accordingly. I do not set out to offend anyone. I’m sorry when that happens, but I’m not going to write less believable stories in order not to offend people.”

Larbalestier also points to Shannon Maughan‘s coverage of the controversy for Publishers Weekly (which gets a nod in Bosman’s piece as well). It’s worth having a look, especially given the significant attention to, um, “pro-scrotum” librarians and authors, and includes a link to a detailed response from Patron herself, which reads in part:

“If I were a parent of a middle-grade child, I would want to make decisions about my child’s reading myself—I’d be appalled that my school librarian had decided to take on the role of censor and deny my child access to a major award-winning book. And if I were a 10-year-old and learned that adults were worried that the current Newbery book was not appropriate for me, I’d figure out a way to get my mitts on it anyway, its allure intensified by the exciting forbidden-ness—by the unexpressed but obvious fear on the part of these adults.”

*I debated whether to go with that line or a The Sun Also Rises reference, before deciding that the show tune allusion would be more fabulous.

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