18 February 2007

anatomy is inappropriate for children

The New York Times has an article about a children's book that was just awarded the Newbery Medal, "the most prestigious award in children's literature." It's rated at 4.5 stars on amazon.com; reviews are positive, saying things like "[the main character is] a multi-dimensional character whose predicament is compelling", "Readers will gladly give themselves over to [author Susan] Patron, a master of light but sure characterization and closely observed detail", and "Patron's plotting is as tight as her characters are endearing." As far as I've been able to tell, it contains no sex scenes, no promotion of Satanism, and no graphic violence, yet school libraries all over the country are refusing to purchase it. What could be so terrible about this book that should deem it worthy of widespread censorship?

Well, it contains the word "scrotum."

Yes, you read that right. Scrotum. Scrotum scrotum scrotum. And it's not that a scrotum is seen by a character or described by the author, no, but the word is overheard by the main character, a 10-year-old girl, who is puzzled and intrigues by the word. And why don't librarians want to purchase this book for their libraries, despite its obvious merits? According to a librarian in Brighton, NY (literally minutes from where we live), "I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson."

That's what it really comes down to, isn't it? A "poignant Newbery-winning story [that] sails along with believable childlike rhythms and kid's-eye-view observations" is being censored from schools because the word "scrotum" appears on page one, and adults do not want to be faced with describing an anatomical term to middle-schoolers. One would think that these squeamish librarians, being librarians and all, might also have access to books featuring anatomical diagrams, thus relieving them of the problem of even saying the word "scrotum", much less having to explain it! No, it's far easier just to ban the book.

This makes me a little angry, but mostly sad. Is it really so terrible to ackowledge the sexual parts of the human body? It reminds me of a recent conversation in which some friends of ours expressed surprise that James is familiar with the words "penis" and "vagina", and has in fact occasionally seen his parents in various states of undress. It kind of baffles me. The only reason, I think, that anatomical words carry such mystery and secrecy about them is because we make it so. If our culture were less afraid to admit that every male person possesses a penis (and a scrotum) and every female person possesses a vagina, perhaps we'd allow our children to read a book which is not about sex or even naked people, but instead is a touching story about a young girl growing up that happens to contain the word "scrotum".

I think the next time James has a bath, I'll make sure he knows what his scrotum is and where, because it is his body, and since he's five years old, not really any more important than his knee or his kidney at this point.


and rudeness said...


and right on.

and I hear you.

and I am on your side.

and... SCROTUM!

kim said...

I saw that book review as well and had the same reaction you did - it is a part of the human body, so what's the big deal? This just makes me realize how much work parents have to do as our kids get older - we have to teach them what a scrotum is, we have to make sure our kids are aware of books that squeamish librarians might avoid, we have to teach them that private is not the same as shameful - we have to work extra hard to counteract the silly messages they hear at school and elsewhere. It's weird to think that librarians, rather than health/ science teachers or parents, would have to explain what a scrotum is anyway, but clearly parents and other teachers are embarrassed about human anatomy as well.