Offensive word in children's book sparks controversy

NEW YORK, Feb 21 (Reuters Life!) - An award-winning children’s book is causing a bit of a stir in publishing circles because of a word that some librarians and parents might find offensive.

“The Higher Power of Lucky” by Susan Patron is about a 10-year-old orphan girl named Lucky. But the book, which won the 2007 Newbery Medal, an award for the most distinguished American children’s book, has ruffled some feathers because it contains the word scrotum.

It has sparked an online debate among librarians and the media about whether the word has a place in a children’s book.

Diane Roback, the children’s book editor at the trade magazine Publishers Weekly who first reported the story, described it as a “storm in a teacup.”

“Most of the objections that have been raised have come from school librarians who are concerned about possible parental objections,” she said in a telephone interview.

Patron, who is a librarian as well as an author, defended her choice of words and said she wrote the book for the 10-year-old girl who lives inside her whom she described as curious about everything.

“I was shocked and horrified to read that some school librarians, teachers, and media specialists are choosing not to include the 2007 Newbery Medal Winner in their collection because they fear parental objections to the word scrotum, or because they are uncomfortable with the word themselves,” Patron said on the Publishers Weekly Web site.

Roback said she doesn’t think the controversy will negatively impact sales of the book which came out in November with a first printing of 10,000 copies. Previous experience suggests it could boost sales.

“I can’t think of a book for this age group that has this word in it. But it is not so shocking,” said Roback.

She added that the irony is that Patron is a librarian and the award was given by the American Library Association.

“Both of those things, I think, speak to the fact that Susan wasn’t doing this gratuitously,” said Roback.

“She may have wanted to educate kids and to do it in a plain talking way. Later in the book she explains what a scrotum is. It is something she felt she wanted kids to learn.”