Saturday, February 24, 2007

Potty Mouth! For Shame! - Reflections on the Newbery Medal

Heavens to Betsy such a commotion has rippled through the world of children's librarianship that one would think Dr. Seuss had been found alive and well in the woods of Montanna with a case amnesia and a fear of rhyming words. I am of course referring to the use of the word (hold your breath and cover your eyes, this is scary) scrotum in the Newbery Medal book Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Granted the word shows up on the first page, and may not be the most familiar word to kids. It may not also be a word that parents or educators really want to pop up every day in their children's conversations, but it is by no means a word that children should be unfamiliar with. (with which they should be unfamiliar? I hate that ending in a preposition thing.) Off the top of my head, I can think of dozens of words that would be much worse to have on the first page of a book, and I bet you can too. Personally I'm in favor of children and adults using correct medical terminology.

I have not had the fortune to read Higher Power of Lucky yet, but my boss has an advanced reader copy I hope to get my hands on soon. I can not imagine not stocking this book because of one simple word. The librarians who are doing so should have their librarian stripes stripped. Granted, it is easy for me to talk from my large well-funded and well-supported urban library. I'm not dealing with a small town or hugely conservative community. But in all the cases of the book being pulled (and the tons of discussion on PUBYAC), I've not heard of a parent complaint. It seems to primarily be librarians pulling this book pre-emptively to avoid a complaint. Censorship battles can be hard, exhausting, and detrimental to our public image and librarians exist only upon the sufferance of the public good will. Picking your battles is all well and good, but don't retreat before the bugle call has sounded. Stock the book and wait. Most likely I imagine there won't be a huge battle and we'll all move on to more pressing issues. But let us not become our own enemies by censoring our libraries before any one else has the chance. We owe more to our public, we owe them a chance to see all the material and make up their mind about it. Just as we believe that no one group has the right to dictate what stays on the library shelves for the general public and we fight for books such as And Tango Makes Three, we have to remember that librarians don't have the right to censor either.

Ms. Patron - this librarian is with you! (Okay, she may never see this, but I get swept away in my own dramatic speech, in my mind remember I'm issuing a rallying cry, holding books up and fighting the book burners - an active imagination is what makes me a good children's librarian.)

Of course other people have said this much better than I:
Cynthia Lord and the other Newbery Honor Book authors support Susan Patron

Author Neil Gaiman Chimes In

There are many more popping up, but I'll leave you with those two.

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