The Higher Power of Lucky, which won the prestigious Newberry Medal, has been banned from a number of school libraries in the South and West because the word "scrotum" appears on the first page.
The book's heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, a 10-year-old orphan who is the heroine of the book overhears another character say the word when explaining that he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.
"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."
That passage has absolutely freaked out some librarians.
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.
On electronic mailing lists like Librarian.net, dozens of literary blogs and pages on the social-networking site LiveJournal, teachers, authors and school librarians took sides over the book. Librarians from all over the country, including Missoula, Mont.; upstate New York; Central Pennsylvania; and Portland, Ore., weighed in, questioning the role of the librarian when selecting — or censoring, some argued — literature for children.
"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 has already been banned from school libraries in a handful of states in the South, the West and the Northeast, and librarians in other schools have indicated in the online debate that they may well follow suit. Indeed, the topic has dominated the discussion among librarians since the book was shipped to schools.
Pat Scales, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, said that declining to stock the book in libraries was nothing short of censorship.
"The people who are reacting to that word are not reading the book as a whole," she said. "That's what censors do — they pick out words and don't look at the total merit of the book."
Talk about your overreactions. Scrotum is a medical term that is non-offensive in the context of the scene. This isn't a book that's advocating violence or inappropriate sexual behavior for a child.