The ‘S’ Word

February 20, 2007 1 min read
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This year’s winner of the highly coveted Newbery Medal, The Higher Power of Lucky, is a book you may not see on your school’s library shelves. Why? Because of one word that refers to a part of a male dog’s anatomy that’s been bitten by a snake. The book’s 10-year-old eponymous heroine, after hearing the word, thinks it sounds “like something green that comes up when you have the flu.” And on one of the many school-library-affiliated mailing lists abuzz with debate over Lucky, the reference is compared to “Howard Stern-type shock treatment.” As school librarians across the country pull the book from shelves, or threaten to, author Susan Patron claims she’s shocked by the reaction. The snakebite is based on a real-life incident involving a neighbor’s dog, she says, and a big theme in the book—aimed at 9-to-12-year-olds—is how Lucky is preparing for adulthood. Pat Scales, former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, says of the flap: “That’s what censors do—they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.” Perhaps that’s true, but imagine this: You’re in class, allowing your 4th, 5th, or 6th graders to read the book silently, when, suddenly, a girl raises her hand and asks, “What’s a scrotum?”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.


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