A lot of fuss over one word

Here are the things I hate about the whole “scrotum” discussion:

*It makes librarians look like idiots. From one point of view, it makes us look like twittering old-fashioned ladies who get fussed easily. From another point of view, it makes us look like conservative-baiting, agenda-driven, untrustworthy guardians of children. How many people reading that article do you think looked at it and thought, “Yay, librarians are awesome!”

*It is polarizing. It is pitting school librarians against public librarians, and way too much of the discussion on the various listservs like Child_Lit and CCBC involves public librarians throwing stones at school librarians without any real empathy for the position school librarians are in. We are all in the same boat, but some of us can row a little further out without having our oars taken away than others.

*It isn’t fostering healthy discussion that might offer support to the school librarians who want to risk buying this year’s Newbery winner; it just bashes the ones who made an instant decision not to buy. I don’t think any of the ensuing discussion will have changed their minds, because it has been so (sorry!) self-righteous.

*It distracts from what to me is the real issue with use of the word “scrotum”. Here’s the background, for those of you who haven’t yet gotten your copy of this surprise winner. Ten-year-old Lucky is listening in on an Alcoholics Anonymous-like meeting where one of the members is describing when he hit bottom. It was when a rattlesnake bit his dog on the “scrotum” and he was too drunk to be able to help his dog. To me, the problem with the word “scrotum” is that it does indeed stick out from everything else in the book. Is it realistic to think that this character would have used that word in that context? It doesn’t ring true to me. He’d likely have used a word that one really can’t get away with in children’s books, so does that mean you have to use the clinical-sounding word “scrotum”? No. As one of my staff commented, he could have just said “privates”. Same point, better match with character, less fuss all around.

That said, I am proud that public librarians seem almost universally to be picking up this book. And to me, it seems like an opportunity to pick up this book just BECAUSE it won the Newbery Medal. You can just as easily use the argument that “People expect to find the Newbery Medal in the collection” as any of the more conservative excuses not to purchase. The bottom line is, kids do have a right to read the best books, and the Newbery medal by definition is the best of this year’s books.

Well, personally I’d have picked Laura Schlitz’s sublime A Drowned Maiden’s Hair. But, that’s neither here nor there.

This entry was posted in Children's book awards, Children's books, Public libraries, Youth Services. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A lot of fuss over one word

  1. Ian says:


    Hi Ian–I tried posting a comment after I got the message and even though I was logged in, I didn’t even have the option. sdl

  2. Ian says:

    What did it say instead ?
    It says post a comment but it’s not a live link–nothing happens when you click on it or try to highlight it.

  3. Ian says:

    What browser are you using?
    IE 6.0

  4. Don Burkhart says:

    Test with Mozilla

    Thanks, Don! sdl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s