Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The S Word: The latest controversy in children's books

What is it with book banning that seems to set adrenaline pumping to every conservative’s frigid veins? They see magic, “Satanic! Ban it!” They hear scrotum, “By golly, indecent! *fist in air* BAAAAN IT!”

Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which won this year’s Newbery Medal (the most prestigious award in children’s literature), is being barred from school libraries because of the mentioned of the word “scrotum”:


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.”

“I think it’s a good case of an author not realizing her audience,” said Frederick Muller, a librarian at Halsted Middle School in Newton, N.J. “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.”


Lazy, aren’t we? Or are you seriously telling me that a student has NEVER asked an “uncomfortable” question that still has to be answered for the sake of—dare I say it—LEARNING? Oh, what a fabulous model you are, Mr. Muller! BTW, have you heard of another excellent book called the DICTIONARY?

I have yet to read The Higher Power of Lucky, but really, Ms. Nilsson, ban a good book (why else would it win a Newbery if it’s not?) because of one technical word? How very sad, indeed. But—it’s not just a word—it’s *gasp* scrotum! Ohmygoodness, not that! Not the technical word for a body part! Why, they might as well teach kids words like clavicle, sternum and femur! *shock* The horror!!!


“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book continues. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”


EXACTLY. “Medical and secret, but also important.” It is medical and it is important and because of fucking freakos and murdering twats that it remains “secret” when it shouldn’t be!

For the love of god, let’s give kids more credit, shall we? Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re stupid—or should be stupid. I think most 9-12-year-olds have seen/pet a dog and unless they’re all blind idiots, they have probably seen its scrotum. What better way to learn about a body part than through a non-threatening figure like a dog? And what about the boys? Surely, even if they don’t know what it’s called, they have noticed they have a scrotum! Even then, some of them may have already heard of the word scrotum—anyone who believes this is not possible isn’t in touch with reality! In any case, kids should know what a scrotum means because IT IS THE FUCKING PROPER NAME OF THAT ANATOMY!


Ms. Nilsson said she had heard from dozens of librarians who agreed with her stance. “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship,” she said. “But you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”

“At least not for children,” she added.


I pity those dumb fucks who moronically agreed with you, lady. Men’s genitalia? Er, have you even read the book? Whether it refers to a dog or a man is not the point, but at least I know it’s a dog’s scrotum. Shame that you didn’t care to check first as one might expect of your profession, huh? And what exactly do you suggest Ms. Patron should use as a replacement for the word scrotum? Balls???

This kind of shit really pisses me off maybe because I was taught to use the proper name of things, or it’s just that this is simply literary censorship at its absolute worst. I know there are a lot of educators out there who are not afraid of silly technical terms but these brainless book banning fuckers give all teachers/librarians a fucking bad name! When was it that they used to advocate truth and freedom of speech?


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41 comment(s):

Blogger Vicious Trollop said...

I'm falling asleep but I agree with all of the above. We should write massive email to that stupid ignorant fool of a librarian. That woman should be sacked for being so moronic!

What do you say, should we flood her email?!?! teeheee. I say we google bomb her!

2/20/2007 11:01:00 AM  

Blogger Harlot said...

LOL. Go sleep babe. Then ask me again later about bombing her house when you wake up.

Oh. Wait. You mean google bomb not bomb her house? Hmm, can pretty please we do both? :D

2/20/2007 11:04:00 AM  

Blogger Polly King said...

I've read this in the NYTimes. I can't believe librarians are "shocked" with the word "scrotum". Really, scrotum is scandalous now?

It's not even a swear word. It's a technical word that children should know about. I don't know what these librarians are thinking or afraid of. What is so bad with kids knowing what a scrotum is when it's a name of a body part?

Most of library and school administrators nowadays would rather sacrifice a good book, sacrificing the business of teaching kids than to face one hysterical voice. And usually, that hysterical voice isn't even right. Like this Nilsson woman for example.

Great article Harlot.

2/20/2007 11:49:00 AM  

Anonymous 2ndAmdt said...

If school libraries were the only place children and their parents could get books, than I would agree with you completely that banning this book is censorship and against the First Amendment.

However, schools are set up to provide local control so that the school conforms to the dictates of what the local citizens want in their schools. These librarians aren't making the decision that these books can't be read, ever, just that it could be considered inappropriate by some therefore those who wish to read the book can do so from another source.

Now, I will also say that some people use removing books from a library as their way to censor what their children are reading. I don't care what the library has, my son knows what he is and is not allowed to read, and I am constantly previewing what he is reading. That's called parental involvement and is what all parents should do instead of assuming the government is taking care of it for you.

The First Amendment protects a person's freedom to speak from government interference; it does not guarantee you an audience. Individuals have a right to decide whether or not to "hear" your freedom of speech. Making a decision not to purchase this book does not hinder the author's First Amendment's rights, it is simply market forces that limits the speech's reach.

Now, I am a conservative, but I don't think I'm frigid (have to check with DH on that). I know conservatives are castigated and vilified for things such as this, but what is so wrong about voicing concern with the lowering of standards and norms when it comes to our children? More and more and more of our children's lives are being sexualized; why is this a good thing? I'm not talking about hiding the facts of life from kids, etc. I'm talking about oral sex in middle school being seen as the norm and acceptable because "that's what kids do nowadays". What bullshit.

I'm a parent - two kids, 9 y/o son and 5 y/o daughter. Why shouldn't I have the ability to influence what is on the school library shelves, as opposed to someone who doesn't live in our community?

2/20/2007 01:10:00 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent job ripping them a new one (presume I can't use the word asshole here). This episode once again makes me glad to live in Massachusetts, where we don't even burn witches anymore, never mind books. If anyone cares, I have a few more thoughts on the matter on my own blog:
http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=node/11631

2/20/2007 01:17:00 PM  

Anonymous Dreamer said...

*shakes head*

That is so stupid! We overprotect children these days: I highly doubt that anyone would be traumatized by reading the word scrotum. It's a name for a body part! What next? Can I still say the belly button, or will that corrupt the children's minds?

2/20/2007 01:47:00 PM  

Blogger Petra said...

Half of the kids in school have scrotum, and people are afraid that kids would read its basic anatomical term? I bet these are the same people who want to change the marquee for Vagina Monologues into Hooha Talks.

2/20/2007 02:01:00 PM  

Blogger ...dance? said...

Anything that hints of censorship makes me itch, but then I don't have kids and my parents never really paid attention to what I was reading; I like to think it hasn't damaged me too much.

I don't care what the library has, my son knows what he is and is not allowed to read, and I am constantly previewing what he is reading. That's called parental involvement and is what all parents should do instead of assuming the government is taking care of it for you.

Highly, highly agree. But, then, why should it matter if the library stocks the book in question? (Which I haven't read and am going by Harlot's post that "scrotum" was not used to titillate but as a medical/formal term - but even if it wasn't... doesn't it still go back to parenting?)

My parents avoided (still avoid) discussing any sort of uncomfortable subject, let alone body parts and sex. Everything I learned, it was pretty much by reading about it. The kind of books that are supposedly "good" and "bad" for you. Mostly the "bad" kind ;). If there had been books that were more educational (like this one is?), I hadn't come across them.

what is so wrong about voicing concern with the lowering of standards and norms when it comes to our children?

There's nothing wrong with it, IMO, but isn't this a separate topic from the book? If it were a lurid romance book, I could see the two perhaps being linked, but it doesn't sound as if this one involves sex... And, again, even if it did, I would think it's ideally something for parents to talk to their kids about, if they came across said book/subject, no?

If it were a terribly written book, on the other hand... burn away. :p (kidding.)

2/20/2007 02:06:00 PM  

Blogger ...dance? said...

I meant to add this part too...

Why shouldn't I have the ability to influence what is on the school library shelves, as opposed to someone who doesn't live in our community?

That's a valid point, too, I think. And if the book is banned from a particular library or all school libraries, one still has a choice to buy the book or borrow it from a public library that hasn't banned it... Not that I want to see it banned in the first place, but there are other options if it is.

I don't know how aware kids are of the news, but if this book receives a lot of publicity due to this, I wonder if it would spark some of their interest in it... sort of the forbidden fruit type thing, and cause them to be more inclined to want to read it.

2/20/2007 02:13:00 PM  

Blogger Vicious Trollop said...

I’m going to address my problems with book banning in any public place, be it a school, library, bookstore etc.

Americans are very fortunate to live in a country where freedom of speech and thought are cherished values; you have no idea how good you have it! Every attempt to censor a book is an attack on your constitutional freedoms.

If a parent does not want his or her own child to read a particular book, I fail to see how individuals (in this case a stupid librarian) should have the right to determine what the children of other parents' should read.

People can voice all they want and do with their own children what they will. What I'm against is telling me what my children can or cannot read in a school library. Why don't parents approach school librarians and say "I think you should stock so and so books and types of literature" that way your views are represented and others can enjoy them through literature! Just don’t tell me that mine cannot be represented in there b/c it just pisses me off.

Also, have you noticed how conveniently racist these lists are? I hate it when people play the racist card but in this case there is sufficient proof that it’s true. Some of these lists of “objectionable” books are heavy on African-American authors (Alice Walter, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Eric Jerome Dickey, Sapphire) and Hispanic and Latin American authors (Luis J. Rodriguez, Rudolfo Anaya, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Alvarez, Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende, Alex Sanchez). As for gay-themed books, we all know how the book-banners feel about those!

Another thing is, parents/librarians are worried about the word scrotum and books were a boy is a wizard. To me, they’re just too lazy to sit children down and explain things to them. They’d rather ban literature than take the fucking time to teach children what is right and wrong and hope for the best; there isn’t much more that you can do after that. Just please, don't expect other people to raise your children for you!

One last thought: how many children in America play Nintendo (or whatever the hell it’s called these days? LOL) and yet I see no banning of a thing that has been proven bad for children and which causes them to become more violent as they grow in age!!! How would you feel as a parent if someone else would say they should ban TVs, game consoles and computers from children under the age of 16? And in that case they would even have a real reason to promote such ridiculous censorships seeing as it has been proven harmful.

I found this and it shocked me a lot more than the word scrotum in a school library:

Children who have spent the most time with television often think and create narratives or artwork using cartoon, game, or comic book characters. They don't create their own characters or stories. Meaning they’re loosing creativity.

Excessive television watching or playing, especially late at night disrupts sleep patterns. And unless you are locking up your 3 year-olds Game Boy or DS each night, you can bet they are playing it when they need to be sleeping.

It is increasingly becoming clear that Internet and gaming are as addictive and debilitating as any other obsession. And to put that kind of crack into the hands of a X year-old does not speak well to the discretion of that child's guardian, who themselves likely suffers from a dysfunctional attachment to electronic media.

For an advanced democratic country it saddens me to see that "The American list of opposed books reveals a society still struggling with major hang-ups about sex, race, religion and Holocaust victims who are insufficiently jolly." (The last sentence refers to a handful of Alabama bureaucrats who challenged Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl because it's a "real downer.")

2/20/2007 02:27:00 PM  

Blogger Jordis said...

What is wrong with using the correct terminology? Do librarians have the right to deprive kids of certain books because they may not agree of its content? I agree that parents have the right to scan whatever it is their children are reading, to ban whatever they feel is unsuitable or inappropriate but parents DO NOT have the right to inflict their views on the ENTIRE school system.

Nazis took intellectual freedom away in their early rise to power. We should always be watchful of those who destroy freedom of thought and expression. If these strings of book banning continue, I'm afraid there will be no more great philosophers, writers and authors.

2/20/2007 02:30:00 PM  

Blogger Milan Loka said...

Hey you guys,
Im at work otherwise I would have posted this in the side bar conversation in stead but I cant read that part at my work computer.

Dont ask why. lol.

Just wanted to let you guys know that the sequel to 'Twilight' is out! I know everyone loved the first one so much, I thought I would drop this little hint and let you all know that it might just be the next 'to read' book!

<3ML

2/20/2007 02:30:00 PM  

Blogger Sparkling Cipher said...

I can't speak for the author and I haven't read the whole book - just the excerpt about Roy - but I'd say that particular was probably there for a reason. Newbery caliber authors don't include words just for the sake of seeing it in print. I see this as another case of alarmists not paying attention to the context.

I do agree that children at that age are being exposed too often to more and more sexualized material. However, I don’t see how this reference qualifies as “sexual.” The point was not that it was the dog’s genitalia, but that it was possibly the most painful place he could have been bit. I doubt any elementary school boy would argue that. I think, if one chose to look further, it would be discovered to be a metaphor for surviving painful experiences. Is 10 years old too young to understand metaphors? (That’s not rhetorical. I know I didn’t know the name for it until I was older, but I’m not sure how old I was when I understood the concept.)

Besides that, Harlot has a point. It is a technical, proper medical term. There is no reason that a fourth or fifth grade child should not know it, especially if he possesses one. If he doesn’t, what does his doctor call it, I wonder?

If there are questions, so be it. Answer them so that the child understands now. If explaining a medical term makes the teacher or librarian uncomfortable, she needs to grow up. While reading Where the Red Fern Grows, my fourth grade teacher put an end to the snickering by quickly and matter-of-factly explaining that a “bitch” is in fact a technical term for a female dog.

Of course, there were some who still behaved very immaturely, but – duh – they WERE CHILDREN. They acted the same way about poop and vomit, not because of declining morals or bad influences, but because children always have been and always will be fascinated by those kinds of things.

2/20/2007 02:33:00 PM  

Blogger Harlot said...

I'm too tired to think LOL. Anyway, i know the library isn't the only place to get books, but there are children who can only get books from the library. They're denying ALL the kids in the school access to a book because of one word, a technical term of an anatomy!

I think this whole controversy is absurd. What's wrong with the word scrotum? I didn't know that scrotum is now considered a vulgar word or that children's lives would be sexualized because of it. I think Harry Potter's knees are dirtier than the word scrotum. :P

Also, some of these librarians are banning the book because they didn't want to explain the word scrotum to a child. WTF? Who are they protecting really? The kid or themselves? This might be an embarrassing discussion for a parent/librarian/teacher, but it's an important discussion. People aren't worried about kids blowing things up in war games but about whether a kid knows the word for genitalia. I think there's something terribly wrong with that.

2/20/2007 02:50:00 PM  

Blogger Harlot said...

Milan, that's NEW MOON. Read it already. :D Or are you referring to ECLIPSE? :O

2/20/2007 02:58:00 PM  

Anonymous Lola Lovegood said...

Harlot, you know I love you, even if I've been MIA for so long that you probably thought I'd drowned in the Bahamas, but the word scrotum IS NOT the problem!

There are two main issues here for me:
One: if a book is age appropiate you cannot ban it from a public library, no one should have the right to.
Two: as Trollop said don't expect other people to raise your children for you!

That's the real problem. Parents see it as an easy way to get out of raising their own children. Sitting down and explaining what is right and wrong in a book, what is real and what is fantasy, what sex is and what the sexual organs are etc...it's easier if the government says, those books arent allowed; it saves moms and dads the trouble of having a conversation with their kids.

2/20/2007 03:03:00 PM  

Blogger Harlot said...

Lola! Where have you been? I didn't say you drowned in the Bahamas. I would never think that! Trollop might as she's uber vile... :/ Forgive her. Anyway, we miss you!!!

2/20/2007 03:14:00 PM  

Blogger Danielle De Barbarac said...

I haven't read the book either but a word scrotum in a children's book? Goodness. What will these bad authors think of next? If they keep it up kids will discover that ding dongs are actually penises and boobies are really breasts. What will we do then? PLEASE.

2/20/2007 03:15:00 PM  

Blogger Shoshana said...

Should she use the word "balls" then?

Next ban book on the List "Webster Dictionary"

It has sex and fuck in it's pages.

2/20/2007 03:26:00 PM  

Blogger Jordis said...

"There are two main issues here for me:
One: if a book is age appropiate you cannot ban it from a public library, no one should have the right to.
Two: as Trollop said don't expect other people to raise your children for you!"

Good points! I totally agree.

2/20/2007 03:33:00 PM  

Blogger Vanessa said...

I think if a kid who's already in grade 6 doesn't know his anatomy, I feel sorry for that child. Kids tend to skip things they don't understand unless they are very curious. The scared adult who's afraid of the word 'scrotum' should probably be assured that the kid reading might miss the word and just read the whole book in happy ignorance.

2/20/2007 05:38:00 PM  

Blogger Miss L said...

um, when I was in fourth grade we girls had the "this is the menstrual cycle" talk and the boys had some equivalent "puberty" talk. this was in the late 80s/early 90s. do they not do this anymore? surely boy children are aware of their anatomy? and everyone's seen a dog with big balls!

I worked in a library for a long time, and I am happy to say my coworkers took literary freedom (for the writer and the reader) very seriously.

scrotum isn't even profanity! it's not sex!

2/20/2007 08:50:00 PM  

Blogger Miss L said...

PS when I was 11 and she was 10, my sister asked my mom "what's a boner?" during our carpool ride home from school. my friend and I cracked up cause we knew what it was! there's always a kid at school that knows everything and shares their knowledge with all the other, more innocent, kids.

2/20/2007 08:53:00 PM  

Blogger Isabella said...

I don't see anything harmful in using the word scrotum in a children's book and it's really ridiculous that adults are worried that kids might be exposed with that. Let the kids read quality books. Besides I believe Newbery books are always in demand in libraries so let's not deprive them of good reading materials.

2/20/2007 10:45:00 PM  

Anonymous Tinkerbell said...

Harlot made a lot of good points in this. It appears that some of the librarians are only worried with their lack of dictionary skills. There's also the fact that the word scrotum was used as a technical term, not as a sexual word. Not that scrotum is a sexual word. It's a technical term that every fourth grader should know about. Like Sparkling Cipher said, "especially if he possesses one". In the article, the author also said it was based on a real event that happened to a friend.

I agree with Trollop, Dance and Lola, it all goes back to parenting. Most parents expect other people to raise their children for them. It's easier to ban a book than supervise what your kids read, easier to ban a book than to explain an uncomfortable word. School libraries is not like a book store where a kid/student can select books unsupervised by their parents. The parents of course expect the librarian to supervise this. It's easier and comfortable to ban a book and deprive everyone else than let a kid learn the facts of live while doing a book report.

2/20/2007 11:41:00 PM  

Blogger Isabella said...

"I agree with Trollop, Dance and Lola, it all goes back to parenting. Most parents expect other people to raise their children for them."

I'm not a parent but I think I have to agree. It looks like some parents see it as the easiest way.

2/20/2007 11:53:00 PM  

Blogger Lollie Rose said...

Children are always sent to libraries to get Newbery books. This book is for 5th or 6th graders and if a kid doesn't know the anatomy by then, I feel sorry for that child, and shame on his/her parents.

2/21/2007 12:04:00 AM  

Blogger Jolie said...

Clearly Ms. Patron did something right and that her book is a good one if it won a Newbery Award. But we have to ban it because it has a dirty word, scrotum. This is ridiculous.

I haven't read the book too but according to that NY Times article, the little girl hears a neighbor talking about a dog who was bitten in the scrotum by a rattlesnake. I don't see anything in there that should cause an uproar.

I think teachers and parents should be appalled that this is going on. It's an insult to their parenting and profession especially when it implies that 4th, 5th or 6th graders don't know what a scrotum is.

2/21/2007 12:57:00 AM  

Blogger Jolie said...

Re: there's always a kid at school that knows everything and shares their knowledge with all the other, more innocent, kids.

Ms L, I agree. I think it's best that kids get their facts of life from their parents or teachers or librarians than from another kid who might pass the wrong information.

2/21/2007 12:59:00 AM  

Anonymous Tinkerbell said...

Imagine your teacher banging her head on the desk, lol. Scrotum, oh scrotum ... what havoc you have created.

2/21/2007 01:18:00 AM  

Anonymous Kirstin said...

I wish people will stop saying that scrotum is not a bunch word itself. I haven't read the book and I'm not really following this big controversy but it seems reasonable to ask: does this work well when read out loud?

I'm not saying that the only good book is one that can be read out loud nor that the book unsuitable for reading aloud shouldn't be awarded a Newbery, nor am I offended with animal biology.

Most parents that read to their kids have a moment that went bad, when kids were turned off by a word or lost interest to the story because they were distracted by words such as scrotum. I'd like to avoid more of them, if possible.

I think Lucky makes a good read aloud because it has an oddball heroine who is truly curious. Still, it works best if the kids already know what the word means. Of course it's also important that your kid isn't the only person in the class who doesn't know what the S word is.

2/21/2007 01:54:00 AM  

Blogger Petra said...

The list of that children's literature with scrotum is funny. Sort of a slap in the face. LOL. If Susan Patron's book isn't the first children book with the word scrotum in it, there's no reason for this uproar at all.

2/21/2007 12:01:00 PM  

Blogger Ladybug said...

This is one of those things that is really wrong with America. We're all afraid of kids having the idea of sex, of kids watching it or reading about it. But turn your your TV on and you'll see people killing each other. And what about those big breasted women who endorse nothing but sex? And they're worried if a kid would read the word scrotum, in an award winning book to boot! Jeez.

2/21/2007 03:31:00 PM  

Blogger Lily Moon said...

This book made a lot of people talk that I had to read it for myself. Personally I don't think it will end up as one of my YA keepers but I have to say that the mention of scrotum shouldn't cause any alarm. In fact, Lucky finding out what the word means later is a bit important to the story.

2/21/2007 05:27:00 PM  

Blogger Lorelei said...

Good post Harlot. Of all the stupid book banning, this takes the cake! If I'm a librarian and irate parents came in to talk to me because of this book, I'd ask them if they know exactly what their kids are watching on TV and DVDs these days. I bet most of them wouldn't have a clue.

2/21/2007 05:42:00 PM  

Anonymous greta said...

I read "Lucky" and found myself lukewarm to it. I can't believe a French woman would come over the U.S. (at the drop of a hat) and stay in this tiny city in the desert. But I do not think this book should be banned at all.

2/21/2007 06:10:00 PM  

Anonymous Gun_Wielding_Bitch said...

This is teaching the proper term. The little kids I hear talking (when they think adults aren't listening) say nut sack and balls. I'd rather they use the proper terms.

The more we make a big deal out of the human body the more kids find excitment in the naughtiness of it. If we were more open about bodies and sex it would no longer be such a big to-do!

2/21/2007 10:45:00 PM  

Anonymous Buttergirl said...

Opinions vary widely, as they say. It's true I have no children but if I did, they would have long since, before 4th grade, become immune to body parts words.

2/22/2007 11:49:00 PM  

Blogger Jolie said...

>>does this work well when read out loud?

If I were a teacher and read this book aloud and my 4th graders laugh, I'd pause and smile and wait till everyone quiet down. Teachers can always say, "Does everyone know what we're laughing about?" "Do I need to explain what we've just to anyone here?"

There would be giggles. Children get embarrassed and laugh at things that makes them feel embarrassed. Like adults. We'd laugh and then finish the story.

2/22/2007 11:56:00 PM  

Blogger Lily Moon said...

This afternoon a professor mentioned the scrotum controversy on our class and thanks to this post and that list from Gelf, he was impressed by me. Ha! Thanks bitches :D

2/23/2007 01:50:00 AM  

Blogger Harlot said...

Don't you just love that Gelf list? :P It's a perfect slap in the face LOL.

2/23/2007 02:26:00 AM