Thursday, April 05, 2007

Newbery Award 2007

I am not always impressed by Newbery Award Winners. Some of winners in the first 20 years seem to have won just because there weren’t very many kids’ books being written, so anything with a serious topic and decent writing had to be applauded. And truly, ‘issue’ books always have an edge over other well written children’s books even now.

This year’s winner The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron caused a wild ruckus, due to the use of one word. The upset even includes omission from some children’s collections at libraries. In case that doesn’t yet sink in, think about it, this is the Newbery Award, the highest award we give children’s chapter books in this country. You can see an article in the “New York Times” on February 18, 2007 (sorry I can’t link to it because it’s now moved to their archives, but check access from your local library database) called “With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar”.

What’s the one word? Scrotum.

Now, I’m definitely not someone who needs to use the word ‘Scrotum’ very often. And I don’t. But I am a big believer in using appropriate words to avoid confusion. I am a big believer that the forbidden is more exciting than the accepted. So when a huge fuss was being made over this book, I made a mental note to read it sooner rather than my eventual approach to the Newbery Award Winners.

My opinion now? Not only is the word ‘scrotum’ appropriate in context, but in many ways, I think I can argue that this word is crucial for the book.

The Higher Power of Lucky is about a motherless little girl who is desperately afraid that her beloved guardian will abandon her and return to France. Intertwined with her story is that of a small boy who is being raised by his grandmother while his mother, unknown to Miles, serves a prison sentence.

Most of all, what is frightening for these two children is the mysterious and unpredictable world of grown ups. Lucky is worried she will be left behind, so when she sees her guardian’s passport, and a mass of paperwork, she assumes that the next stop is a group home in Los Angeles. Miles’s mother never visits him, so he assumes that she simply doesn’t love him. Without accurate information, even children will tend to suspect the worst. And the worst is that we are unloved and unimportant.

‘Scrotum’ is not a word we need to shelter our children from. Near the end of the book, Lucky asks her guardian what the word ‘scrotum’ means, and the simple answer, reflected to me a larger truth. In attempting to ‘protect’ each other from the truths that affect each other’s lives, we can create greater problems than an anatomically correct vocabulary. When we know facts, the potentially horrible unknown no longer has power over us.

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