Today the sqvirrel alerted me to a NYTimes article about a children’s book, The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, illustrated by Matt Phalen, which is being banned from some school libraries. Now, this book has won a Newberry Medal. As far as I know, the Newberry Medal committee is not a hotbed of commies, pinkos, left-wing radicals. Yet this book, which is geared to kids in grades 4 through 6, has raised some eyebrows and quite a bit of hyperbole.
Because it mentions the word scrotum. Yup, scrotum. Apparently some people think this is a bad word that children should not know. Let’s get this ‘straight.’ The book is not about scrotums (or a single scrotum). The scrotum referenced is on a dog, not a human. I haven’t read the book, but none of the summaries even mention a scrotum. They mention that Lucky is an orphan who lives with her guardian Brigitte in Hard Pan, California (pop. 43). She’s a girl searching for her higher power. (um, hello? Conservatives should be happy- she’s looking for god! More than I did at age 10! During homilies at mass I was busy wondering if there was a god at all) She doesn’t know what a scrotum is, when she overhears the word and wonders what it might be*-
“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.”
Yup, that’s dangerous alright. Downright Howard Stern-ish (one librarian accuses “them” of Howard Stern shock treatment, I don’t know who she is referring to as “them”). Those fourth graders, they might run right out and have sex. Because let me tell you, there is nothing so sexy as a dog’s scrotum. Especially when it conjurs up images of the green phlegm that emerges from the depths of your respiratory system.
And let’s get another thing straight. Fourth – sixth graders? Yes, they are curious about and perhaps mildly obsessed with sex. Do I have any readers who did not, at that age, spend at least some of their time at the library looking up the word sex in the dictionary and in the World Book Encyclopedia? (Do they still have World Books?) Because I distinctly remember doing both of these things. Yes, it was on the sly and I felt guilty about it (I was Catholic for heaven’s sake, I was required to feel guilty 98.2% of the time). Reading the word scrotum is not going to turn that one kid who isn’t curious about sex into a raging sex addict. Nor is it going to lead to more teenage pregnancies and the subsequent downfall of our civilization (we grown-ups are doing that just fine on our own, thanks).
I had a girlfriend once whose mother was very particular calling various sexual organs by their anatomical names. Vagina. Penis. Like that (but I’m pretty sure scrotum never came up, actually). And my girlfriend? As a grown up she referred to “down there” and “privates” and she couldn’t say the word “sex” out loud. She was a virgin well into adulthood. Now, I’m not saying there’s causation there – clearly (to me), there were a lot of other reasons why my girlfriend was the way she was. But what I’m trying to say is that the word scrotum does not have quite the influence, potency, or persuasiveness that some people are giving to it. Don’t get me wrong, I think words can be wield a great deal of power. I just don’t happen to think that scrotum is a particularly powerful one.
*This reminds me of the story about the love affair between a squirrel and a chipmunk, by David Sedaris. It’s where the sqvirrel gets his name (the ‘v’ is my modification). If you haven’t heard the story, it’s in the This American Life episode called “Star Crossed Love.” Charming, charming, charming, in my opinion.