Kids Might Learn the Darndest Things from Books

BlogHer Original Post

Frequently I marvel at the fact that the US somehow managed to become a dominant global power given the puritanical insanity that dogs our educational system. The latest brouhaha is over the use of the word scrotum in a children’s book, and the number of librarians who have thus banned the book from their public shelves. According to The New York Times, in The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, the main character, a 10 year old girl named Lucky, overhears someone telling another person about how his dog was bit by a rattlesnake on the scrotum. Patron told The Times that the incident was based on a true story. Lucky then mulls over the word scrotum for a few sentences.

The book, of which I know nothing else about because the only thing being discussed is the horrible, vile, evil use of the word scrotum, won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature. I am going to take a leap of faith here and assume that means that the other thousands of words in the book have some sort of merit in forming a story beyond dog bite on the scrotum. Teachers and librarians are banning the book because they don’t want to have to define scrotum to kids. One librarian told the times that “…you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature. At least not for children.”

The Book Moot has a lot to say about these two objections to Lucky, including the pressure that librarians face from parents.
At first, I wondered if the objections to this book rose out of the fact that male body parts were being so casually contemplated in the book, and worse, by a girl, but Natalia at My Tongue Broke Out in Unknown Strains reminded me that we must protect children from the truth about reproductive organs for both sexes. Natalia explores Lucky banning as well as an incident in Atlantic Beach, FL in which a theater was asked to change its marquee, which advertised The Vagina Monologues, because a woman’s niece asked her what a vagina is. (Yes, it would be awful if this child learned about vaginas. She’d be destroyed for life.)

Both of these incidents to me are feminist issues. What do we teach our children about their bodies and when we do so are ultimately personal decisions. Yet the stigma that parents and society pass down to children about genitals has always been out of control in the United States. They are body parts, no more, no less. When a kid asks, “what’s this?,” they have the right to a straightforward answer. I know that young boys will grab their scrotums (unlike the librarian quoted in The Times, I happen to understand that scrotums are not only on men; boys have ‘em too), and ask their parents what it is. This curiosity is part of being a toddler. Just like when girls ask what their “thing” is called and jab their fingers at it. There is nothing more secret or shameful about the names for reproductive organs than telling a child what the technical term for “eye” or “toe” or “ulna” or “spleen” is. Being upfront seems to me like the healthiest solution for everyone. If parents teach their kids these basic concepts, then the teachers and librarians won't have to worry so much.

Thus when I was visiting my friend Alex a few weeks ago, her three year old son matter-of-factly told me that he has a penis and his dog has a penis, but his mom has a “gina,” I told him he was right. Alex and I chuckled at his earnestness. Really, he might as well have told me that he had two hands and his dog had paws. Then her son went back to watching Blue’s Clues. No trauma involved.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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