Delicious Scrotum!

>> Saturday, February 17, 2007

There, I said it. Scrotum, scrotum, scrotum.

What's so wrong with that? A lot, apparently. The presence of the word "scrotum" - used in describing the place where a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake - features prominently on the first page of this year's Newbery Award winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

Jordan Sonnenblick, the author of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie and Notes From the Midnight Driver, started reading objections to The Higher Power of Scrotum on a librarian listserv, and brought the objections - and the noticeable lack of defense - to the attention of a children's lit listserv. The issue got picked up by PublishersWeekly online, and was then covered this weekend by The New York Times. (Who at the same time both fulfilled, and neglected to mention, Jordan's work in bringing attention to the whole fiasco.) The issue has since been blogged at AS IF ("Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom"), a blog Jordan regularly contributes to.

Said Ms. Patron about her inclusion of the word:

The word is just so delicious. 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.

Says Dana Nilsson, a teacher/librarian at Sunnyside Elementary in Durango, Colorado:

The inclusion of genitalia does not add to the story one bit and that is my objection. Because of that one word, I would not be able to read that book aloud. There are so many other options that the author could have used instead.

So, what, the area from our waist to our thighs doesn't exist? Ever?

What bothers me most about all of this - and there are a great many things that bother me - is that nowhere in all of this is there a real discussion of what is wrong with saying scrotum. Is there a better word to use here? Ah, but that seems not to be the issue. The woman above isn't protesting the use of the word, so much as the use of the area. The issue is the mention of genitalia. The question, it seems, is "Why go there?"

A sexual use of the scrotum in a book for 8-year-olds? No way. I would never argue for such a thing. A reference to pooping or peeing? Sure, I'd go to bat for that. Heck, I put scenes in Samurai Shortstop where kids pee out their windows. After all, excretion is maybe the one thing kids understand from the very start. It's an everyday fact of life. Like Taro Gomi says, Everyone Poops.

But this isn't sex, and it isn't even bodily functions. It's an anatomical description of where a dog was bitten by a rattlesnake. Is this seriously a reason to ban a Newbery-winning book from library shelves? In all this discussion, no one seems to be questioning why a reference to the scrotum is a bad thing. Americans are way too wound up about their bodies and nudity.

I blame the Puritans.

News bulletin to adults worried about the use of scrotum in The Higher Power of Lucky: I knew pretty early on that I had balls, and I knew way better words for them than "scrotum."


Anonymous,  February 18, 2007 at 5:10 AM  

Ms. Nilsson apparently feels it is her responsibility to encourage otherwise intelligent and thoughtful library professionals to ban books from library shelves based solely on her dimwitted conclusion that a perfectly good word for a part of the male anatomy (i.e., scrotum) is not suitable for children.
This woman represents self appointed, pseudo morality police who haven't got the good sense to keep their feeble and unenlightened opinions to themselves. Ms. Nilsson needs not only to mind her own business, but do the world a favor, and resign her post as librarian in order to save the precious children of Durango from her narrow minded, judgmental, Puritanical and sexually prejudicial point of view. I'm not sure what she has against men, but exposing her inner demons in this manner is not only inappropriate, it is dangerous as well. The woman obviously needs professional help, and I can only hope the parents of Sunnyside Elementary School will view her comments in this matter with grave concern and recognize that child abuse takes many forms. They would be wise to find themselves a new teacher and librarian as soon as possible.

C. Montgomery

Fabricationist February 18, 2007 at 7:18 PM  

Finally. I'd always wondered what the word scrotum meant. It's been plaguing me these 36 years. I thought it was a type of mushroom. Thank God they don't ban books like EVERYONE POOPS, or I would have been in hiding even longer than I was. I also remember thinking that The Scrotum would have been a great villain for CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS to do battle with. Maybe she should have just said the dog got bit in the Balzac, then the kids would have chuckled when any adult read the word, or they tried to pronounce it, and the librarians would have been enlightened by the literary reference.

Sorry, I’m done now.

TN-Tanuki February 19, 2007 at 5:33 PM  

Dude, we are so banging our heads against the walls here that the damn building's about to colapse! And what's very disheartening about all of this is that it's librarians who are making the stink! Jezzzus! You're supposed to be supporting free speech not denying it!!
OK, I'm out.

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