When should children learn the word "scrotum?"

We hear a lot of talk about harming children nowadays. Doesn't exposing them to nudity in the home (and elsewhere) give them a warped outlook on life?<P>Only Native and Permanent Residents may post here.

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When should children learn the word "scrotum?"

Postby LivingFree » Sun Feb 18, 2007 2:35 pm

With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar

Hyperlink to this story in The New York Times.

By JULIE BOSMAN
Published: February 18, 2007

The word “scrotum” does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children’s literature, for that matter.

A Newbery-winning book has been banned from some school libraries around the country.

Susan Patron, the author of the book and a librarian, said the controversial word was just part of the character’s learning about body parts.

Yet there it is on the first page of “The Higher Power of Lucky,” by Susan Patron, this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. The book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says 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,” the book continues. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

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.”

If it were any other novel, it probably would have gone unnoticed, unordered and unread. But in the world of children’s books, winning a Newbery is the rough equivalent of being selected as an Oprah’s Book Club title. Libraries and bookstores routinely order two or more copies of each year’s winners, with the books read aloud to children and taught in classrooms.

“The Higher Power of Lucky” was first published in November by Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, accompanied by a modest print run of 10,000. After the announcement of the Newbery on Jan. 22, the publisher quickly ordered another 100,000 copies, which arrived in bookstores, schools and libraries around Feb. 5.

Reached at her home in Los Angeles, Ms. Patron said she was stunned by the objections. The story of the rattlesnake bite, she said, was based on a true incident involving a friend’s dog.

And one of the themes of the book is that Lucky is preparing herself to be a grown-up, Ms. Patron said. Learning about language and body parts, then, is very important to her.

“The word is just so delicious,” Ms. Patron said. “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.”

Ms. Patron, who is a public librarian in Los Angeles, said the book was written for children 9 to 12 years old. But some librarians countered that since the heroine of “The Higher Power of Lucky” is 10, children older than that would not be interested in reading it.

“I think it’s a good case of an author not realizing her audience,” said Frederick Muller, a librarian at Halsted Middle School in Newton, N.J. “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.”

Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.

In the case of “Lucky,” some of them take no chances. Wendy Stoll, a librarian at Smyrna Elementary in Louisville, Ky., wrote on the LM_Net mailing list that she would not stock the book. Andrea Koch, the librarian at French Road Elementary School in Brighton, N.Y., said she anticipated angry calls from parents if she ordered it. “I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson,” she said in an interview. One librarian who responded to Ms. Nilsson’s posting on LM_Net said only: “Sad to say, I didn’t order it for either of my schools, based on ‘the word.’ ”

Booksellers, too, are watchful for racy content in books they endorse to customers. Carol Chittenden, the owner of Eight Cousins, a bookstore in Falmouth, Mass., said she once horrified a customer with “The Adventures of Blue Avenger” by Norma Howe, a novel aimed at junior high school students. “I remember one time showing the book to a grandmother and enthusing about it,” she said. “There’s a chapter in there that’s very funny and the word ‘condom’ comes up. And of course, she opens the book right to the page that said ‘condom.’ ”

It is not the first time school librarians have squirmed at a book’s content, of course. Some school officials have tried to ban Harry Potter books from schools, saying that they implicitly endorse witchcraft and Satanism. Young adult books by Judy Blume, though decades old, are routinely kept out of school libraries.

Ms. Nilsson, reached at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango, Colo., said she had heard from dozens of librarians who agreed with her stance. “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship,” she said. “But you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”

“At least not for children,” she added.

Note: I suppose it's better to let children giggle over this word in the locker room? :( (LF)
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Postby natman » Sun Feb 18, 2007 7:15 pm

Considering today's society, even in liberal circles, I can't imagine that the author would expect any less outrage from a bood intended for third-grad audiences.

Why, for example, didn't the author simply say he got bit on the butt, fanny or rear end, or even behind?

I believe the word was purposely used for shock value... a third-grade version of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe failure". :?
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Postby jochanaan » Mon Feb 19, 2007 1:15 am

On the other hand, if he's going to be bit there, why not call it by its proper name? Boys have scrotums ("scrota"?) too.
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Postby Strandloper » Mon Feb 19, 2007 2:23 am

Hi, folks –
since the book is based on a true story, I feel that the author had to ask herself whether she ought to censor it. And personally I feel she took the right decision. If the librarians of America haven’t grown up, it is hardly her fault.
As for whether one should refer in the plural to scrotums or scrota, my preference is generally for the English form, rather than the Latin.
Here in South Africa there is constant talk of building stadia for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. The guy in the street has no idea what stadia are, but he knows what stadiums are.
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Postby jochanaan » Mon Feb 19, 2007 2:36 pm

You're probably right, Strandloper. After all, we're posting in English, not Latin. ;)
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Postby LivingFree » Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:53 pm

Well, speaking from both sides of the table --

If one wants to entertain or educate young readers, using "scrotum" in our social context is not very prudent. It actually keeps the book away from many who would benefit, and colors the rest of the book for others. On the other hand,

If one wants to push society to the edge (again), it really doesn't matter a lot. E.g., the value in Janet Jackson's prank (and subsequent anger followed by apology) is still being talked about, and will likely soften society's views somewhat. So this will too, but at what short term price?
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Postby Strandloper » Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:24 am

Hi, LF –
the context here seems to be less critical than the Janet Jackson incident. But you may have a point.
What did come to mind, though, was the journey of an Australian who decided to trek along the South African coast with a pack mule.
Asked what the mule’s name was, he answered: Scrotum. And that was published in a local newspaper.
But the next time he was interviewed, the mule’s name had changed to Daisy, and so (it seems) the name stayed.
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Postby TheNakedNomad » Sun Jan 06, 2008 5:02 pm

Many years ago, a visiting evangelist was preaching at our church, and he told of a time when an old lady came up to him after one of his sermons, angry about something he'd said.

He asked her, "What did I say?!?"

She said, "Trousers!" And she said it as if it were a dirty word.

He gave her (and us, the congregation)... a blank look. The congregation laughed at the total absurdity of it.

Anyway, it was pretty clear he had no clue why that old lady would find the word "trousers" so offensive, and probably no one at my church but me knew either. Some while before, though, I had read a book on how the English language had evolved, and about how words and expressions had come into and out of usage, changed their meanings, and stuff, and there was a story in there that explained this "trousers" thing. (I didn't go up and tell the evangelist about it, though. I probably should have, however. He'd have probably found it interesting.)

It dates back to when, at least in the USA, the only proper way to go swimming was in bathing suits that went from neck to wrist and ankle. It was also believed beyond indecent to show any part of ones legs or arms, for any reason at all. In fact, the very mention of ones' arms or legs was considered beyond indecent. You couldn't use the words "limbs" either, that was just as big a vulgarity. They invented a euphemism for the arms and legs: "benders." Well, that swiftly became a vulgarity, too, so they had to invent new euphemisms to replace that, which of course also swiftly became vulgarities. One of the euphemisms-that-became-vulgarity was... you guessed it... "trousers!"

This all went away when the utterly lunatic idea of neck-to-ankle swimsuits went out of style, but some old people still kept with them the idea that those words were just not to be used in polite company. At that, some of them may not even have understood why it was made a vulgarity in the first place, but just monkey-see-monkey-do internalized it anyway.

On a different note, though... One thing I have noticed is that human nature often is to look at a situation and, if there is a possibility of something untoward or sinister about something, but an equal or perhaps even greater possibility of it being totally innocent, will just automatically assume the sinister explanation as a matter of course, and the innocent, non-sinister explanation doesn't even cross their minds. They assume the worst, and that the worst is the only possible explanation. It just frosts me when I see it. This "scrotum" thing is clearly an example of that. And frankly they should be ashamed of themselves for assuming a non-innocent explanation for it.
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Postby jochanaan » Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:10 pm

NakedNomad, it's hard to believe that "society" was ever that prudish! :roll: But I've always wondered if extreme prudery is merely the flip side of an unhealthy fascination with sexuality--or sometimes a side effect of early abuse...
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Postby Strandloper » Mon Jan 07, 2008 3:01 pm

Often enough it’s one or the other, Jochanaan – and sometimes both.
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