Monday, February 19, 2007

There's a Storm Brewing in Book World

And it all has to do with this year's Newbery Medal Winner The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, and some very prudish librarians. You see, on the very first page of the book a proper word for a part of the male genitalia appears - and no, it is not the part you're all thinking it is going to be - it is the scrotum! And the context? Extremely risqué - the main character overhears another character mention that a dog was bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. Hardly pornographic. Yet - the book is being banned right, left, and centre, in school and public libraries in the U.S.A. WHAT????? Are they kidding with this? Here is the Newbery Medal book - a guaranteed hit with teachers and parents, if not kids - getting banned because of a piece of canine genitalia. It is ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.

Now, I haven't read the book, so I am not really qualified to comment, but this just seems excessive.

Here's a quote from the NYTimes article on the subject:

“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.”

Seriously? How about it is really very sad that people choose to ban books because of one word, when the book taken as a whole might be fantastic? Might be a very positive reading experience for a child? Might be objectionable on a more rational basis?

I know we'll be having this book on the shelves at my library - we get all the award winners. And now, I am going to make sure that I read it, and if it is good, promote it heavily. Why do people think the 9-12 year olds who will be reading this need to be protected from this kind of word. It is not dirty. It is anatomy. They probably all know the word, or some more crass slang for the area, and are probably not at all concerned, shocked, or excited by reading it.

I am torn, in this kind of situation, between being angered and horrified at the close-mindedness of people, and being highly amused and entertained by their folly.

Here is a fun article from GELF Magazine, listing all sorts of children's books in which the word "Scrotum" appears. Courtesy of the Deranged Squirrel.


kidletsmum said...

Scrotum, scrotum, scrotum! Take that book-banners! I'm saying it aloud so my CHILD can hear it too! I think I'll knit a scrotum and give it to her to play with.

Sheesh. Why is that country so eager to ban books? It's frightful.

MadJenny said...

The knitted scrotum would go beautifully with the knitted breasts. You should totally do it.

The thing I don't get is that book banning seems to me to go against everything librarians are taught and are supposed to believe about free access to information and expression. I guess that just doesn't count for kids? Kids are lesser beings somehow?

False Prophet said...

More vulgarity here.

Remember kids, "fundamentalist" comes from the Latin word for "asshole".

MadJenny said...


My favourite "cuss" word in that string is probably: Fallopian tube

But maybe: Mullerian ducts

That Pharyngula is an amusing cat.

Francis Wooby said...

Here's a bad idea:
"Protect" your children against every conceivable threat, both real and imagined, so they fail to grow intellectually and emotionally, thus becoming adults who are completely incapable of functioning in society.

ru said...

just this afternoon, we performed that daily ritual - the "scrotum scrub." it is necessary when your 11-week-old son poops his diaper in most spectacular fashion (which he does every 24 hours or so!). we are very careful to call it his "scrotum" within his hearing because we want him to grow up pre-corrupted.

MadJenny said...

But FW! Why would we want well informed functional adults???? That doesn't make any sense! We need a population of ignorant 30 year olds who still live with their moms! That's what we need.

Ru - Signal's going to be that kid in kindergarten who is out there at the swingset explaining the vagina and the scrotum to all the other little boys. I just know it. That was always the coolest kid.

Matthew said...

Well I think the next book to be banned is Chris Hedge's "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America" (there is a good CBC interview on YouTube ).

I was looking at the American Library Assoc web page of 'challenged' (read banned) books.

ALA Most Challenged Books

And it is of course filled with the great books of my childhood. Twain, Dahl, Paterson and many other of the books I liked so much that I still re-read them ever few years.

This dilberate attempt to sanatize and de-sexualize literature combned with the pure fiction taught in Americain History classes(See Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me" ) can only lead to ignorance and intolerance.

MadJenny said...

Ya. I love the ALA list. Some of my favourite books are always there. One of my other favourite things about the list is the perennial presence of Where's Waldo. What the heck?

I think if someone analyzed Canadian textbooks they'd probably find as horrifying a presence of misinformation as in the American ones mentioned in your link.

Matthew said...

Are there Canadian History text books? Could you recommend one?

As I did all my history in French and the teachers couldn't avoid the disgustingly huge pro Quebec bias we rarely used a text book .

Canadian Economist said...

great posting madjenny. this is the kind of thing that, when i hear it, i say to myself: "that can't be true. this does not really happen". but it does. and it's sad. very sad.