‘That Scrotum Book’ for Children: A Review of the 2007 Newbery Medal Winner, ‘The Higher Power of Lucky’ by Susan Patron

Some libraries have banned the winner of the American Library Association’s highest award for for children’s literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book that caused the uproar?

The Higher Power of Lucky: A Novel. By Susan Patron. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. Atheneum: A Richard Jackson Book, 135 pp., $16.95. Age range: 9-11. [See further comments about these ages at the end of the review.]

By Janice Harayda

Who would have thought that the American Library Association would give its most prestigious award for children’s literature to a novel that uses the word “scrotum” on the first page? Not those of us who have observed its choices for years and have found that they tend to suffer from an excess of caution, often rewarding deserving books only after children have embraced them.

So it was, in a sense, startling that the ALA gave the 2007 Newbery Medal to Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which tells the story of a 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble who hears what an Amazon reviewer has called “the s word” while eavesdropping on a 12-step meeting through a hole in the wall. Patron writes on the first page:

“Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ’62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.”

This is hardly shocking language when many 3-year-olds know the words “penis” and “vagina” and psychologists routinely urge parents to introduce the medically correct terms for genitalia as soon as their children can understand them. You would think that librarians would rejoice in the arrival of a book that supports this view instead of rolling out words you are more likely to hear from children, such as “dickhead” and “butt-head” and, of course, the deathless “poopy-head.”

But some people have reacted to The Higher Power of Lucky though Patron had issued a manifesto in favor of kiddie porn. At least a few libraries have banned the novel, the New York Times reported yesterday. And a librarian in Durango, Colorado, accused Patron of using “a Howard Stern-type shock treatment” to attract attention. (more…)

Janice has also written a Reading Group Guide for The Higher Power of Lucky.

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2 thoughts on “‘That Scrotum Book’ for Children: A Review of the 2007 Newbery Medal Winner, ‘The Higher Power of Lucky’ by Susan Patron

  1. I did not think the inclusion of that word alone and nothing more is a big deal.However, as one writer has said, “Before I could decide to boycott (another word for “censor” in this case) a children’s book–particularly one that had been awarded a prestigious prize by a group charged with judging books–I would have to be convinced that the word was used in a manner that would be harmful to the child.”Keeping sexually inappropriate books away from children is NOT censorship.Also, the “prestigious prize by a group charged with judging books” means, with regard to the ALA for decades now, that the book likely has inappropriate material for children, and the ALA is using the award to ensure the widest possible dispersion. See “Porn Pushers – The ALA and Looking For Alaska – One Example of How the ALA Pushes Porn On Children.” Indeed it’s the very trust that the ALA expects everyone to give the ALA that is used to take advantage of those who are not aware the ALA has changed from an American library association to something entirely different in every way.

  2. This is a perfect example of wasted energies. Instead of focusing how proper parental involvement can decrease children’s exposure to inappropriate material, people are focusing on a word that is part of common vernacular. Too bad.

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