Resplendently Scandalicious Scrotaphobias

Allow me to destroy your mind: SCROTUM!

Gee, that was almost too easy.

Okay, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: There’s a front-page story in the NY Times today about Susan Patron’s Newberry Award-winning book The Higher Power of Lucky.*

The novel starts with a ten-year-old girl named Lucky hearing a conversation from next door. The neighbor’s dog has just been bitten by a snake . . . on his scrotum. (Poor thing.)

Lucky hasn’t heard this word before. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.” Like any language-loving kid, she finds these secret words fascinating. (Much like my tridecalogism obsession in Midnighters, but along a somewhat different axis.)

Cue the real world.

According to the Times article, has been burning up with this seven-letter kerfuffle. That’s not exactly true, but some school librarians have actually said they’ll ban the book, and the debate has leaked out to various litblogs and library sites. So I thought I’d offer my thoughts.

First some odd but revealing quotes.

The Times reporter writes, “Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.”

Hmm. How does one “sneak” something into a book? Everything in a book is right there in black and white, literally. The only people past whom the contents of a book can be snuck are people who don’t read books. You know, the ones who leaf through them distractedly, looking for reasons to ban them.

Nice of you to adopt their framework, NY Times.

And by the way, the word (cover your eyes!) “scrotum” appears on page one of Lucky. That’s some pretty crappy sneaking. All my snuck-in words are printed upside down on page 217 in invisible ink. (Hint: Lemon juice.)

Also bizarre is the phrase “leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book.” Yes, that’s us lazy authors, leaving librarians to ban our books. Why can’t we ban our own books for once?

A teacher and librarian from Colorado is also quoted: “This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn’t have the children in mind.”**

This is just so random. Who else would Susan Patron have in mind, except children? Children who find fascination in new words. Word-nerd kids for whom the mysteries of the body and those of language are wrapped up together. And does anyone really believe Patron is trying to get on Howard Stern with this?***

But I don’t mean to be harsh, especially not on school librarians! I know you have a tough job. You have all the usual trials of working at a school, plus tons of crackpots hanging around waiting to pounce on every word in every book you shelve. I also realize that librarians have more at stake in this than I have. Like, their jobs. And I get that my books are YA, while Lucky is middle grade, and will admit that I haven’t ever used the word “scrotum” myself. (The subject hasn’t come up.)

But let’s remember that we all have children in mind. They are our readers, without whom we’re just wasting our time. No authors I know are trying to sneak, offend, or randomly envelope push. We’re trying to write the best, most relevant books we can.

That often means balancing the needs of kids who want to read their own stories in their own vernacular with the needs of parents who don’t want their cotton-candy invented memories of what childhood is like disturbed. This is a very hard line to walk.

Susan Patron walks this line by telling an uplifting tale of surviving the loss of a parent, while throwing in one amusing anatomical term. I walk this line by writing about bomb-throwing, eco-terrorist, self-harming, champagne-drinking, tattooed heroines, while never using dirty words. (The astonishing thing is that I get away with it and Patron doesn’t. Even with the age difference, this tends to support what I said about some folks scanning rather than reading.)

But we all face the same problem: it’s impossible to please everyone. So all we authors and librarians can ask of each other is, yes, to keep children in mind. Especially these children:

The word-loving kids, for whom silly seven-letter terms that make adults blush are pure magic, the sort that animates a lifetime of language acquisition.

The kids who face abuse and addiction at home, whose only way to understand what they’re going through is through narratives that will curl your hair and mine.

The bomb-throwing kids, for whom tales of future revolution give a framework for their own necessary confrontations with authority.

The vacuum readers, who consume anything and everything, and thereby learn to filter out whatever they’re not ready for.

As long as we keep all these kids stocked up with lots of books, we’re doing a pretty good job.

Now a question for my teen readers, for whom this post was no doubt really boring:

What’s your favorite dorky-dirty word? The kind that makes you giggle, and you’d get vaguely in trouble if you used it at school.

Mine is “dingleberry.”

*Full disclosure: The publishers of Lucky are Simon & Schuster, one of my 29 publishers worldwide. Dude! I just counted : I have 29 publishers!

** “They didn’t have the children in mind?” Why “they”? Lucky is written by one author. Is this a conspiracy? Why am I always the last to be informed of the scrotum-sneaking children’s literature conspiracies? I pay my dues! And why are people always worried about “the children,” and not just “children”? What’s up with that?

***Some people seem to subsist entirely on outrage, and think everyone else is constantly trying to outrage them, because we want to get famous or something. Trust me on this: Most of the time, we had no clue you’d be outraged!

93 thoughts on “Resplendently Scandalicious Scrotaphobias

  1. Diddo they are the keepers of the books who could hate them. Its either love your librarian or go broke buying all your books. And we just get a little upset with librarians just like we do writers (like when you killed off Zane yep i’m still mourning) sometimes. And i’m sure both groups get tired of us fans.

  2. This reminds me of the days when I was still in school (2 years ago) when I had to look hard for books or found a book that was gone a week later for bad themes (such as being a lesbian or gay) or words. Sometimes it’s just plain sad that they are taken away for a word such as “pucker” or “uranus” or “jesus juice”. Yes i swear that last one was in a book before. Such is life I guess doesn’t matter to me since I buy books these days like I have for years now.

  3. Now I’m picturing a conversation between Ellie and Tally:

    Ellie: Honey, I don’t care that you’ve been cutting yourself and doing whatever Shay does and getting tattoos all over your body and breaking laws and breaking bones and running away and making stuff explode and engaging in hand-to-hand combat and drinking, as long as you never use body-part words.

    Tally: Uvula.


    Tally: I’m leaving. *boards out the window*

    Seriously though, people seem to think that they have to protect kids’ pwecious widdle eaws from normal words that THEY’RE GOING TO HEAR ANYWAY.

  4. Please i begging you if you read this message and have the awnser email me at

    ok so what is the exact wrighting in the letter that shay left for tally for the way to the uglies

    i could not find the book anywhere help me soon i have to have it for tomarrow

  5. I sent you the poem, haddy-la. Word-for-word, punctuation mark-for-punctuation mark. Hope it helps!


  6. how cum no one tells me when he makes a new blog entry and when the name sayse scott is that refering to scott westerfeld

  7. yes it is refering to Scott Westerfeld, the fawsomeset guy in the world. (thats not a fictional character) and, if you read my post above, you can see tht all this censeorship crap makes me very mad. to words for you censorship people who ban stuff because it says one word you’d rather not enter this so called tickle me pink candy land world where everything is perfect: FREE SPEACH. if you dont like something such as the divinci code or harry potter because it goes against what you believe, DONT READ IT.
    ok rant over.

  8. Just thought you might want to know that it’s free speech. With two e’s. Sorry if you are offended. Just thought that the constitution of the US of A should be portrayed corectly.

  9. hey scott. Im one of your “teen readers” and i totally didnt find this boring. In fact I accidently burnt my dinner (stroganoff) reading it. :] And I find it totally bogus that they would ban an amazing book from a library for having a few naughty words. ^_^ I dont care if the librarian will get in trouble, if its a great book than thats all that matters! Screw the stupid “parents who don’t want their cotton-candy invented memories of what childhood is like disturbed” as you so geniusly put it. oh, haha, by the way, my favorite “dorky-dirty word” is vaginal. ^_^

  10. yea its like just get the “f” over it. my favorit thing, that wonk get me in trouble, to tell people i dont like is BURN!

  11. I know a lot about dirty, not dirty words. I teach middle school and often I rush over words like breast because it cause adolescent boys to giggle, but my incident yesterday topped the cake. The students and I were burning time at the end of class and completing a MADLIBS about “Proper Care of the Scalp” together. Someone innocently offered “ball” for a noun. When “ball” was placed in the sentence the phrase became “Then massage your ball…” Yeah. Enter massive amount of giggling. Oops! Luckily I do not allow them to use words like scrotum! 🙂

  12. nobody affended me i realy dont care its just yesterday was a bad day for me and i wasnt feeling good
    Does anyone wach the news well my school was on the news some creap thretend to bonb the school i cant beleive it that stinks anyway i dont care what you say but u proboly will never catch me using lanuage.

  13. And when i agreed with her i was agreeing that i missed ZANE not the other if i agreed with that than i wouldnt have any friends!

  14. What I hate is formerly okay words that now have dirty connotations. For example, I hate that I have parents who giggle when I read the poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” which has the now dirty sounding line “What a lovely Pussy you are.” Sigh. One of my fav childhood poems is now an off-color punchline.

  15. Whoa, Lyra, somebody really banned the Lorax? What a lame excuse! The logging industry has defamed countless forests, and they’re upset because somebody called them on it. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Sorry for ranting, I’m a tree-hugger extraordinaire.

  16. We don’t really ban books from libraries in the UK! There is no way a librarian would consider banning a book because it has the word ‘scrotum’ in it. They would assume that 50% of their readers have a scrotum, so what the hell? Neither would they ban books that have words like ‘fuck’, ‘bugger’, etc. A publisher probably wouldn’t include the latter in a book for middle years, but they would be fine in a YA book if they served a purpose (eg realistic depiction of character/voice).

    I write children’s books, and the publishers will object if there are words they don’t want – or, more often, pictures – if it’s for a book they want to sell into the US as well as the UK. In non-fiction books we aren’t allowed pictures of people showing too much flesh (even in books about the human body or art history!!!) and there are various words that some publishers won’t allow, including wardrobe, sausage and hedgehog. Just off to write a story about a hedgehog whose scrotum got stuck in a wardrobe door while he was eating a sausage….

  17. none taken capt. cockatiel. i can’t spell to save my life. im used to people correcting me.

  18. Children’s books. I think people who aren’t in touch with kids think children live in cocoons where innocence is preserved. It’s an idealistic view that is quaint and honourable but unrealistic.

    I teach and I know what kids are like. From a teacher’s perspective teaching Shakespeare with words like bosom and ass (Midsummer Night’s Dream) is great. The kids love it. If bosom can get a laugh, I think scrotum definitely would. Now whether this is good or not from a class management point of view is another thing. It definitely helped to sell the play to the kids. They were scrabbling over reading it!

    When I was head of department I so wanted to teach Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time but was aware of some parents’ potential objections to the F word on the first page. As a teacher you have to be conscious of these things. Come to think of it Curious Incident also had a dog at the start- dead this time. Mmmm.In any case, all this publicity can’t be doing the Power of Lucky any harm though can it? Kids’ll want to read it just to see the word and adults will just to see what all the fuss is about.

  19. my word is cheeseball. Meand my friend will giggle at thsor hurs.or until teachers think we’re on crack-kinda immature, but it’s just so FUN. 😀 i do like dingleberry though. I think i’ll use it.almost asu to say as “chimmichanga”, or however u spell it.
    😀 idn’t it cute?

  20. hehe you said scrotum… im acting stupid and immature as much as I can before I turn thirteen (oh what a dreaded age). For the record I don’t think that books should be banned just because they cuss. Hell, I’m 12 and I cuss. *not something to be proud of*

  21. Wow, that was a great post. I always find it ironic that Fahrenheit 451 is banned, which seems to me to happen because it disses our government and such and actually speaks poorly of book banning.

    “Worst reason to ban a book: “Defamation of the logging industry.” *jawdrop* That cute book by Dr. Seuss that actually discourages greed and such, The Lorax, was banned for that very reason. Dude. How pathetic is that?”
    Actually, if you were saying bad things about the logging industry now, you could go to jail for that! Paranoid, much? They’d call you a terrorist for little more than writing The Lorax…But anyway, Dr.Seuss is lucky he lived fifty or whatever years ago!

    My favorite dorky-dirty word would have to be “pituitary.” VEry dorky, and it is kinda dirty, seeing how it controls reproductive organs or something like that. You can never use it, though!

  22. vacuum reader. huh. that explains my weird childhood…
    banning books should be a sin. stealing from people the joy of reading. but on the good side, now more people will want to read the book.
    mine is tushies.

  23. Eh, stupid moronic book banning people…. A really good friend of mine just wrote a whole reasearch paper on this topic. This whole thing reminds me of the time our school’s academic team (probably fifteen of the most perverted people you’ll ever meet) broke into the “Dirty Books Drawer” in our school library. It was mostly just anatomy books and such. Ridiculous.

    Which also brings to mind my favorite unintentionally dirty happening. One day, during academic team practice, my dad, a somewhat prudish man (so much so that I am not allowed to say “fart” in his presence), stopped by to watch us.Fun stuff, when our coach asked the question, “What is the name of the title character in Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’.” And according to Murphy’s law, another student had to ring in, knowing the answer was Bilbo, but unintentionally replacing both “B”s with “D”s.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen my father quite so shocked.

    And my favorite dirty/not dirty word is “yak”, my friend’s word for vomit.

  24. i bet those librarians don’t have anything better to do. that, or their trying to draw attention to themselves. one little word. come one. hmmm, my “dirty” word would have to be anus. its so funny to say.

    i thoroughly enjoyed reading about the bomb-throwing, eco-terrorist, self-harming, champagne-drinking, tattooed heroines, that was the best book.

    and the lemon message, could you give us a hint?? 🙂

  25. yeah im not sure which book to try it on. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. i wonder which one? lets go try all of them! perfect reason to go get so yesterday and the lst days. (i havent been able to get them yet)

  26. I cannot say how much I agree with all of you that book banning is a terrible, horrible concept. My 8th grade LA teacher (whom I admire tremendoulsy) was looking for a new book for advanced readers to put on the summer reading list. She asked me to read My Sister’s Keeper and tell her if if was appropriate. It was a great book, but she couldn’t put it on the list. Jus because of swear words, references to homosexuality, and some “graphic” scenes. Come on. I read it and I didn’t turn out to be some mass rapist, so how much harm could it do? Book banning is an antiqued idea and it should be treated like the plague- it exists, but don’t spread it. You can hear worse things taking a walk in my health class, and that is required of all eigth graders. Knowledge is power and should be spread, not withheld.

  27. Ooops! I forgot my favorite dorky word- defenestrate. It isn’t dirty at all, it just sounds funny… “I’m going to defenestrate you if you don’t stop talking”….. or something to that effect…. and it becomes a tridecalogism if you ad an s or a d to the end- “I defenestrated him yesterday” or “She defenestrates people on a daily basis” fun……

  28. Hm, my favorite dorky-dirty word is “tromboner.” My friend made it up when he was trying to figure out what to call a trombone player in a band. He giggles like dorkness whenever he says it.

  29. Mine is “testicles.”

    We are studying banned books in my Children’s Lit class in college, but we aren’t required to read the book we write our paper and take a stance on; the professor said that secondary sources were fine.

    I was very, very angry. THIS is what they are teaching future educators.

  30. Banning books is just ridiculous! If anything, music should be banned. I’m not saying music with one swear in it. I’m talking about songs such as “Maneater” “Fergelicious” and, the queen of them all… “My Humps.” That’s what’s teaching kids a bad lesson, not a book with the word “scrotum” in it!

  31. My favotite dorky-dirty word is probably vagina. Mostly because my friend, who’s a guy, always says “Va-jay-jay” and it’s funny in a really creepy way.

  32. That’s crazy they should be happy those kids are reading. I agree with the music ban. I even like a few of those songs, but I could flip through the radio stations and hear a bunch of inuendo in a few seconds. If they’re smart enough to read and comprehend the word scrotum then I think they’re old enough to handle it.

  33. In 5th grade, my friend and I would look at each other whenever the teacher said, “thing, balls, it,” and so on. She would say “yur-uh-nus” to avoid saying, your anus. My favorite dorky dirty word is, “coconuts or bazongas”

  34. My word is neither dorky nor dirty, but for some inexplicable reason it causes a bit of a stir when I say it at school:gay. It’s weird. It’s like my school does not want to acknowledge the fact that gay people exist. I was telling my friend about The Bermudez Triangle (by Maureen Johnson) and the vice principle heard. She turned five shades of red and looked like she was about to reprimand me but then realized she couldn’t because I didn’t do anything.

    I’m not gay, but I know a couple people who are, and I love them just as much as my straight friends. I think I need to transfer schools. Mine is full of homophobes.

    Wow, this has become long and really off topic.

  35. Ok, call me utterly stupid..

    But I’ve been looking ALL over the books at page 217…… My mom has begun to ask why the hell am I black lighting the Midnighters books.. While she’s reading them…

    Were you being sarcasric? Am I Gullible? Or am I brilliant?

  36. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Resplendently Scandalicious Scrotaphobias, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  37. Surely no word causes more giggles than “penal” (as in, “Convicts were sent to penal colonies in Australia”)…

    Hee hee

  38. wow. this post is absolutely HILARIOUS!!!!!

    my favorite word is dork. becauz even tho nobody but my friends actally no what it means, and everybody else uses it as if it were a perfectly normal word, it always makes me laugh when i accidentally call one of my friends that and they get mad at me. hehe.

    -Lizzy-wa OUT! :mrgreen:

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