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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is it so wrong for a childrens book to refer to a dog's scrotum on the first page?

   
Author Topic: Is it so wrong for a childrens book to refer to a dog's scrotum on the first page?
Zoot
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Apologies if this topic is posted in the wrong forum, it's about a published book but also about censorship so I'm guessing it could stand in both?

Anyhow, 'The Higher Power of Lucky' by Susan Patron has just won a Newbery Medal - one of the most prestigious awards for Childrens Fiction in the world! - yet has caused uproar for refering to a rattle snake biting a dog's scrotum on the first page. It has caused so much uproar in fact some School Librarians have chose to censor it.

Admittedly I haven't got any children yet, but can someone tell me what is inappropiate about the word scrotum? is it not a correct anatomical term? Does anyone else find it sad that such a great book should be banned for a single innocuous word like that?

Here's the full article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/18/books/18newb.html?e x=1329454800&en=0abee8846d8919f4&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited February 25, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited February 25, 2007).]


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Elan
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I cannot judge whether "The Higher Power of Lucky" is a good kid's book since I haven't read it. I don't personally have any objections to the word "scrotum" in a kid's book. It doesn't seem to be any less savory than the book about "How I Poop," or whatever it's called.

The complaints I've read about "Lucky" is that the author "didn't know her audience." One must ask: is her audience children? Or is her audience the plethora of librarians across the country who make the decisions on which books to purchase for children?

Librarians take a lot of heat for the books they choose if parents take issue for the choices. I remember years ago, I co-founded a Montessori pre-school and our beginning library was made from donated books. We immediately had two parents object to a book entitled "The Wizard of Wallaby Wallow" because it contained "magic." Mind you, the parents objecting hadn't even READ the book.

I truly doubt that any author who has been awarded the Newbery is going to be hurting, either for sales or for future offers from publishers. Frankly, all the hullaballo about the book is probably the best publicity she could have gotten.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited February 25, 2007).]


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J
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Just one of the many downsides to the urbanization (effeminization) of America. I grew up in farm country, and no one would bat an eyelash at an elementary school kid reading about something like that, because most of the kids already had a working knowledge of animal anatomy. What pass as routine chores where I grew up (I'm thinking particularly of cleaning horse sheaths) would probably result in a call to the police if one of these oversensitive librarians moved out there.
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Survivor
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Was it Lucky that got bit by the rattlesnake? Because then I'd say that it belongs on the first page. Otherwise it's just dumb.
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CoriSCapnSkip
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Lucky is a 10-year-old female owner of a dog. Whatever dog got bit was presumably male.

Sorry I'm not familiar enough with horses to know all the intricacies of cleaning. I was at a fair where some people had a pony and the guy said, "He needs to be cleaned up again," and the woman proceeded to clean...*that*...with her bare hands. I thought, my gosh, I wouldn't touch that with my bare hands for a goodish bit of money! I'd probably have a special cloth, maybe even gloves. Is using a cloth or gloves for this task considered unforgivably effete? Is bare hands usual, or only done in some cases?

[This message has been edited by CoriSCapnSkip (edited February 25, 2007).]


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dee_boncci
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If I was writing a children's book (as opposed to YA/Teen), I'd probably have the doggy move enough at the last second to get bitten on the tail or leg or something. I might do that for the older age groups too. But that's just me.
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Mystic
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Saying it my head, the dog getting bit on the tail loses all the power of "the dog was bit on the scrotum". I haven't read the book, but thinking back to my childhood, I remember little things like that made the book memorable. You felt as thought there existed an entire extra world out there for when you grew up, a world with new words and things to learn about. I mean, look at Cat in the Hat or anything by Seuss for that matter. Kids love those books because they spark your imagination and make you wonder about what the next stage in your life has in store. I don't remember getting excited about those books where the author didn't take chances like that. Bridge to Terabithia is a Newbury winner and is about to made into a movie, and one of the main characters died. I was eight when I read that book, and it changed my entire perception of reality. The Giver by Lois Lowry won the Newbury Award and it has a boy dreaming about getting naked with a girl, babies getting euthanized, and girls getting their bras at a public meeting when they are older. Again, changed my reality. As an added note, these books inspired me to write, so I am in heavy support of anything that makes a kid think and open up new doorways in their mind.
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InarticulateBabbler
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Did the dog atleast take a crap on the rattlesnake???? Tell me he got something...besides a chomp on the giggleberries!
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kings_falcon
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Sheath cleaning is just no fun. Unless they are racehorses who are trained to - ahm - "drop sheathe" on a whistle, you don't want to know what you have to do to get them to drop for the cleaning. Trust me on this.

I loved Bridge to Tarabithia as a kid. We just took our kids to see the movie. They acutally did a good job with the story. Both my son (8) and I cried. Anyway, is it appropriate to have a MC death in a kid's book? Depends on your POV.

Let's face it if a snake is going to bite a dog there are a limited number of choices on where. I would think a bite on the muzzle would be more likely but . . . as long as it fits the story, I'd be okay with it. In fact, I'd be more offended if she didn't use the proper word and called it something silly (no offense to InarticulateBabbler) than using the right word.

A cottonmouth took a chunk out of my gelding's (castrated male horse) leg near his hock (that's essentially his knee for all you non-horse people). Our best bet is that the horse rolled on the snake from where the bite was. Anyway, the darned thing struck higher than I would have expected.

Assuming that in Lucky it made sense that the snake was somehow under the dog before it struck, the location makes a lot of sense to me.



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Robert Nowall
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I'm inclined to think yes, there is something wrong with the idea of doing so. I haven't read the book---not part of my natural reading habits---but it seems the kind of thing that kids would giggle over and then move on to something else.

I gather a Newberry Medal is considered a sales booster---but will controversy kill sales? (Probably not, actually...)


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Zoot
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To be honest it's not the sort of book I would normally go for but my girlfriend banged on about it so much I gave it a try and absolutely loved it...I wasn't thinking so much about the effects on the author's career, as the school kids that will be deprived of reading it because of a few prissy do-gooders.

As I said I wouldnt have a problem with the whole thing so much if it wasn't a correct anatomical term, say something like 'giggleberries' (never heard them called that before!) or the 'dog's bollocks', which incidently in Britain means something cool.

And did anyone notice the objecting comments in the last paragraph that said 'there was no place for men's genatalia in good literature'? Which makes we wonder whether these people actually read the book.

Any road I guess there's more tragic things going on in the world right now but do-gooders are one of my current hobby-horses. We have them this side of the Atlantic, too...

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited February 26, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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No offense taken, kings_falcon.

My comment was, in effect, to show that I thought that the critics were too damned serious.

Furthermore, I don't know if the snakebite is important to the story, but I assume it does. How hard do you consider your opening page?

But, you have to admit, just to leave it at the snakebite's location encourages the imagining of a plethora of humorous responses.


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franc li
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Do kids on the farm really call it a scrotum, or would the call it balls? Does the standard treatment for snake bite ensue? (This is where I would get really scared for all parties involved.)
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franc li
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Okay, as I'm reading about this it occurs to me that the "Higher Power" aspect is going somewhere. Apparently her context for hearing the word "scrotum" is because she's listening in on a 12-step meeting.
http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=522283

Well, this is more of a young adult novel than a kid's book. It's got 144 pages. It's probably on a par with The life of Pi which had occasion to discuss bodily functions one way or another.

Turns out it's now the ALA Newberry award. I guess this is just another volley in the culture war.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited February 27, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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Okay...

Now the complaints about the use of "scrotum" seem even less justified. And I am a father who reads YA books to his kids.

In the context that it is used (a little girl eavesdropping on a COMPLETELY ADULT conversation, and a little girl trying to guess what the word means--wrongly, I might add) I think the term is necessary. She's not just throwing "scrotum" around (pun intended), someone else is using it, and drilling the unfamiliar term into her head. And it COULD have been replaced by myriad stronger slang terms.

I am reminded of a car trip with my cousins when I was eight or nine:

One of my cousins was my age, the other a year older. When Steve (the older) called Joe an "erection", an argument ensued as to whether or not the claim was legitimate.

Since the car had no muffler, the debate was clearly heard only from the backseat. My aunt was oblivious. Until..

Joe leaned forward, between the seats, and asked, "Mom?"

"Yes?" she replied.

"What's an erection?"

My aunt broke out with laughter, but she never got upset. She didn't go on a hunt for the Steve's source of the word, either. And, that day we all learned what an erection was. The definition confused us even more. Even Steve had not really understood the insult he tried to use. Consequently, the word was never again used in that context.

On simply hearing that a "dog's scrotum" was mentioned in the first few paragraphs of a children's/YA book, I wondered how it could be justified. But, I gave the author the benfit-of-the-doubt. I don't take Those-Who-Would-Censor all that serious anyway. However, I could understand--at just knowing that the word "scrotum" was used--why people WOULD get upset.

But the librarians and parents who wish to censor the book are making a common mistake: They aren't reading it, to see if their concerns are justified.

Taken out of context, I could make comic strip tell you to murder somebody.

Thank you, franc li, for posting a link that has the provocative excerpt.


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RMatthewWare
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Dogs have scrotums. I think that's something kids can understand. Would the librarian prefer the author to say the snake bit the dog's balls? This is silly. I remember watching the mandatory growth and development videos in sixth grade. The class was divided into boys and girls and we each watched the movie. It was pretty graphic in the use of terminology and illustration to show exactly how a boy and girl become a man and woman.

Personally, I don't like the idea of a snake biting a dog's s scrotum because, having one myself, the idea seems painful. I can feel for the dog.

Matt


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franc li
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It's more the subsequent treatment of puncturing of the bite wound with a knife and oral suction that probably makes people freak out. That is to say, the rattlesnake bite is as troubling as the scrotum.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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Well was the dog fixed afterward? Or did he have to go through life after with the pain?
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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J
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I love my dog, but if he got his scrotum snakebit, he'd be on his own as far as triage care.
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wbriggs
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I grew up on a farm. I don't think we ever called those things anything! But then none of our animals ever got bitten there.

I should weigh in on the original topic. I don't see the point in reading a book that doesn't refer to a dog's scrotum on the first page.


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CoriSCapnSkip
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Yeah, I looked up the horse sheath thing. The accepted way would seem to be DEFINITELY use soap, water, and gloves, NOT bare hands. One site even said don't plan an important date or job interview afterwards, so presumably most full-grown horses are a lot grosser than that little pony.

Thanks for the excerpt. Glad to see the context and to learn the poor doggie was okay and chewed hell out of that snake!


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franc li
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I saw this book at the library the other day and decided to read it. It was pretty good. I mean, I guess it would normally go in the Published Hooks and Books section, so if I decide to make a more detailed review I shall post it there.

SPOILERS

The dog killed the snake, which probably would have struck the dog's incapacitated owner, then the owner's wife took the dog to the vet and left incapacitated owner. This experience caused the owner to realize that he really shouldn't be alive anymore, so he joined AA. Not only might the snake have bit him, but he was unable to help his dog, though fortunately someone had. The wife kept the dog.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited August 05, 2007).]


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JeanneT
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I see that no one else got a giggle over J's little rant over the effeminization of America because of the attempted banning of a book by a female. It made me assume that if the book is banned we're effeminized (not threatening to me since I'm female) and even more effeminized if we CAN read the book by the female. Can't win, can we? *giggles*

As far as the book is concerned, I read some of the comments by some of the librarians and had to wonder where the h*** they're educating librarians these days. A less salacious scene is hard to even imagine than the one the word is used in. Lordy.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited August 06, 2007).]


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HuntGod
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Ym only complaint would be that "scrotum" probably violates the tone of the piece. "Balls" would probably have been more appropriate, but would have garnered a more vehement objection.

I know a young boy relating the story would probably not say scrotum, he'd say balls or nuts.

A young girl would probably say "down there" or "privates" some such euphemism, depending on who she was relating the story too.

Of course I haven't read the piece, so it may be perfectly in line with the tone and voice.

As a father of two young girls (9 and 11) I would not be overly concerned in them reading "scrotum", "balls" or "nuts" in that context. I would also expect them to giggle...


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franc li
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The story was being told by an adult, and the 10 year old girl was eavesdropping. When I think about the story, I get kind of teary. The dog was so brave, and it was so tragic in a "can't even afford trailer park" way. I think it was written well.
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