Monday, February 19, 2007

Banning Scrotum.....

Last week, I blogged about the woman who was so offended by the words "Vagina Monologues" on a theater billboard that she convinced the manager to change them to the "HooHaa Monologues" in order not to have to answer her daughter's questions about the word vagina.

It turns out some people don't like the names for male anatomy either.

"The Higher Power of Lucky" is this year's winner of the Newberry Medal, the award in children's literature. Lucky apparently is the consumate eavesdropper, and she overhears someone saying that a rattlesnake had bit his dog on the scrotum.
That word "scrotum" is causing some school librarians to ban the book. A librarian from Colorado was quoted as saying in the NY Times, "you won't find men's genitalia in quality literature. At least not for children." Another in New Jersey said she wouldn't want to explain that word.

The book is written for 9 to 12 year olds. Surely nine year old boys know they have scrotum, and it surely wouldn't hurt girls to know the names of male anatomy. As children reach upper elementary school and begin the changes of puberty, they deserve to know about their bodies. I remember the delicious insight I felt reading about Anne Frank's first period in a book when I was ten; Judy Blume's books did the same for generations of girls after me. It was a signal that authors understood me and what I was concerned about. I think our nine year olds can handle Lucky.

I'm guessing that the uproar really isn't about protecting the children. It's about protecting the adults from having to answer a child's question about a body part honestly. But isn't the role of the school librarian to provide information? And since when are proper names of the part's of the body worthy of censorship?

It's partly why I feel so strongly about parents introducing body parts when their children are still toddlers as I discuss in my book "From Diapers to Dating." It's also why I think faith-based institutions should play a role in sex education.

Apparently many parents agree. This morning, the book is number #35 on Amazon's list.


Pam said...

I agree with you that it is very important to teach young children the correct names for their parts and not to create shame around naming. Our sons (8 and 5) know about their scrotums (scrota?), and even about my vulva (though we don't discuss my parts all that often - we have a lot of conversations about "private parts" generally - about keeping them clean and covered and who is allowed and not allowed to touch or see them).

My question about the Lucky book was whether the word scrotum was really necessary - something I read (in mainstream coverage - AOL I believe) suggested that the authors had just thrown it in to be provocative. I don't see a point in throwing a word in like that just to be provocative - why, unless it's just to generate buzz for commercial purposes? If it has a function in the story (I know they have a function in real life.. ;)), what is it?

Have you read the book, Rev. Haffner? What's the point of the bite being on the scrotum?

Even though there is nothing to be ashamed of in our private parts with their right names, there is, I think, some modesty value in teaching kids that some parts needn't be the "butt" (pun intended) of jokes or tossed about in conversation because they refer to things that deserve special reserve or respect.

Does the book teach kids anything useful or build them up with greater awe or respect for their bodies, or is the word used just a gimmick to get some attention for the authors?

Cassandra said...

My first thought on reading this post was why was it necessary to mention the snake's scrotum. I haven't read the book, but I have a hard time imagining how it would be critical to the tale. It seems gratuitous to me. Pam's post nicely elaborates on my own thoughts. I couldn't have said it better.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner said...

I looked it up...scrotum is both singular and plural, Pam. And Cassandra, it WAS the dog...I don't believe snakes have scrotal sacs.

And, no, I haven't read the book...I just figure that the Newberry Prize winners knew what they were doing. As for the author's motivation, I only know what I've read in the papers.

But, the point is that the book is being BANNED because people don't want 9 to 12 year old children to see THAT word...not because it wasn't used to further the plot line.

Pam, I'd love for you to read my book, "From Diapers to Dating - Every Parents Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children." If you'll review it for your newsletter, I can get you a review copy. Otherwise, it's on It's great that your boys know about their penises and scrotum -- but I recommend more messages for sex abuse prevention than you offered here.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Several years ago I worked as a library clerk in a school for 3rd to 5th grades. We always ordered the Newbery Award winners, because they were reliably good literature for children. What always impressed me about the Award winners is that they're often on the cutting edge of dealing with serious issues from a children's point of view.

This is by no means the first Newbery book people have tried to ban. "A Wrinkle in Time" was derided as anti-Christian - which is ironic since the author has written books on Christian theology. "The Giver" was banned for references to euthanasia and sexually explicit themes. "Bridge to Terabithia" was banned for its frank discussion of death. Newbery Honor book "Speak" has been considered too sexually explicit.

It's not the youth who are trying to ban the books - they often appreciate being treated as individuals capable of critical thinking.

Cassandra said...

Mea culpa. I see now that the scrotum belongs to the dog and not the snake. I read the post after spending a 3 hours entertaining a 15 month old in the car which can turn your mind to mush! Your blog helps to keep my mind active:)

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether the scrotum belongs to the snake or the dog. I still question the seemingly gratuitous reference. And as a parent, I review everything that my child reads no matter who deems it appropriate. I think it's dangerous to blindly follow any authority.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Maybe it's because my mother (in her 80's now) never censored anything I read that I've chosen to follow the same practice with my own children. In my experience, if a child is reading something beyond their comprehension, they quickly become bored and abandon the book. Some of the Newbery books were abandoned by my kids because they tried to read them before they could comprehend the subject matter. On the other hand, as I said, most kids who pick up the books are comprehending the overall theme of the book - not picking out individual words as shocking or forbidden. It's adults who do that...

Also, in my experience, when adult authority figures try to forbid something because of a word or two, that something becomes all the more enticing and desirable. My spouse and I declared our home a "Nintendo-Free Zone" at one point. So, what does my 20-something son do for a living? He works for a video game store!

I just checked the online catalog for my library and placed the book on hold. From the reviews I read, the story sounds like a story of a young girl dealing with the loss of a parent, fearing the loss of her guardian, and searching for a "higher power" (God?) for assistance. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Kitt said...

earthbound spirit:

My mother was as yours, allowing us to read anything and everything. That's not to say she wasn't aware of what we were reading. I did the same with my daughter.

If I may, the descriptive Fearing that her legal guardian plans to abandon her to return to France, ten-year-old aspiring scientist Lucky Trimble determines to run away while also continuing to seek the Higher Power that will bring stability to her life. And yet there's a hullabaloo over a word, scrotum, that may or may not be gratuitous.

Now having worked in medicine, in radiology, all my adult life, we have been known on occasion to discuss how yucky we find the word (scrotum) that describes a vital function of the male body. I have nephews, and just like pam, from early on we used correct language. One thing I found out inadvertently when one of them was about 5 or 6 and asked what was a condom. I had this answer all right. However, it was too long and my nephew interrupted, did he need one? It was then I was reminded they just want information and how it relates to them.

Forgive me, but I just do NOT understand this insane need to control everything, especially that which encompasses the public spectrum. How dare anyone decide what I or anyone else can read. Did it occur to anyone (especially that librarian in CO) that a parent, teacher or whomever could change the 'offending' word in reading it aloud. I do it often when reading to my granddaughter, not necessarily because she's only 13 months, but to keep it short & noisy for her entertainment.

Exactly as here: Also, in my experience, when adult authority figures try to forbid something because of a word or two, that something becomes all the more enticing and desirable. (earthspirit)

Oh yes - I stumbled across Rev. Deb's blog via 'Talk to Action.'

Kitt said...

All right - I read the book. What a buzz over nothing as far as I'm concerned - scrotum.

As it happens, Lucky, the youngster involved in this story, is eavesdropping on an AA meeting in which the word 'scrotum' is used by the speaker (whom Lucky just happens to know) addressed to other adults.

Therein lies the problem for Lucky. How can she find out what this word means? She'd asked her AA bud, but then he'd know that she had been eavesdropping as these are stories he has not shared with her.

So, I was pretty disgusted with those who condemned the book without so much as a glance or a breeze through it to see what the fuss was all about. As well as the mischaracterization of why or how the word was used. It's an adult conversation with adult participants that a child overhears.

My 11 year-old nephew read it and loved it. He knows what his scrotum is BTW. He pointed out something to me as well. He has noticed when sitting in the car, their dog 'sprawls' in such a way that his private area is then "exposed" somewhat. So it would stand to reason that a rattlesnake would latch onto that area as most dogs sit like that when on a car seat. Then we got into this conversation about being comfortable since all of our cats lay around upside down.