Of course, I had already learned other terms to describe that general area: nuts, balls, testicles, sack, etc. But the word scrotum had an official ambience. Its the sort of word I would learn in the classroom and not from my best friends Greg and Matt, both of whom ate boogers on a semi-regular basis.
My young, fragile mind survived exposure to the word scrotum. But judging by the response to Susan Patron, recipient of this years Newberry Medal, my case is exceptional.
On the first page of Patrons book, The Higher Power of Lucky, she drops the dreaded s-word after her plucky protagonist overhears another character talk about how a rattlesnake nipped his dog in the nads: Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.
Sounds like a pretty innocent use of the word, right? Wrong. The fact that Patron won a Newberry Medal, the most esteemed prize in childrens literature, means that her book is a hot commodity in libraries across the country. Usually, Newberry books are subject to high exposure, with planned public readings and premium shelf space guaranteed. But childrens librarians have balked at the prospect of stocking a book that mentions an unmentionable.
Already banned in several states, an article in The New York Times indicates that most librarians are leaning towards eliminating the book for what one woman in Durango, Colo. called its Howard Stern-type shock. Apparently, the prospect of upset parents and confused children trumps the potential merit of the book explaining a scrotum just isnt worth the headache.
Poor Susan Patron, scandalous peddler of pornographic childrens literature! I understand that we live in a country that considers whether or not Harry Potter books encourage Satanism a pressing issue, but censoring a book for exposing children to the word scrotum reinforces the very worst trends in Americas preoccupation with sexual purity. Patrons book aimed at children aged 9-12 does not focus on scrotums. It mentions a scrotum, once, in passing, in the context of a humorous anecdote about a dog named Roy.
If a parent finds those two sentences disconcerting, then that parent has every right to limit his or her childs exposure to The Higher Power of Lucky. But childrens librarians shouldnt be making those decisions. Public libraries have a responsibility to stock the finest childrens literature available, especially if that literature deals with serious topics with grace and humor.
Putting our collective head in the sand and treating children like morons when it comes to issues of sexuality just might account for that eye-popping Congressional report on abstinence-only education, which found, among other things, that students in federally-funded programs have learned that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals can result in pregnancy. Clearly, children need more exposure to words like scrotum, not less.
By all accounts, Patron has written a wonderful book that that chronicles a young girls struggle to come to terms with her mothers death. The word scrotum shouldnt get in the way of childs ability to access a book like that in our public libraries.