Monday, February 19, 2007

Would "bag" be better?

What's an acceptable way to refer to "scrotum" in a kids' book? Nads? Nutsack?

This year's winner of the Newbery Medal, a kids' book called "The Higher Power of Lucky", has provoked swooning and pearl-clutching over a reference it makes to a dog's scrotum. The book's heroine, Lucky, hears the deadly word through a hole in the wall when another character says he saw a snake bite his dog on the scrotum. Lucky, in the way kids do when confronted with a new word, tries to visualize what it might be and decides it sounds "like something green that comes up when you have the flu" (ie., "sputum"). No biggie, right? Wrong:

"The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books. The controversy was first reported by Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine."

“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.”

The book's author, Susan Patron (not Howard Stern), was surprised at the outrage the word provoked, and said it was all just part of a kid learning about different body parts, and:

“The word is just so delicious,” Ms. Patron said. “The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It’s one of those words that’s so interesting because of the sound of the word.”

In other words, it's a realistic portrayal of how kids act, and words that fascinate them. So what's the big deal? Too many people prefer to teach their kids that it's a Barbie-and-Ken world where nobody has genitals. But it's true, if you want them to grow up with some good, solid, deeply- rooted sex hangups, you have to let them know early in life that the body is something to hide and be ashamed of.