Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrating Banned Books Week

Banned! The Higher Power of Lucky

It might just be the one book that made me want to write children's literature (Okay, maybe the exact equation is more like: HP of Lucky + The Kneebone Boy + Freak the Mighty + Holes = Gail Shepherd chained to a desk trying to channel the 12-year-old mind). By the time I even got to the offending word on page one, I was totally hooked. In Susan Patron's Newbery-winning piece of genius, The Higher Power of Lucky, we come upon 10-year-old  Lucky Trimble, "crouched in a wedge of shade behind the dumpster" eavesdropping on a 12-Step meeting. Short Sammy is explaining how he hit rock bottom.
Sammy told of the day when he had drank half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all day in his parked '62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.
Scrotum! Scrotum, scrotum, scrotum, scrotum, scrotum! The word launched a raging debate among librarians in 2007, and school libraries all over the country declined to put the book on their shelves. Some compared Patron--a librarian herself--to shock-jock Howard Stern, saying she and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, were just pushing to see how far they could go for the fun of it. Never mind that The Higher Power of Lucky is one of the smartest, most joyful, most brilliant children's books ever -- destined to become a classic. Never mind that the word is a perfectly respectable term for a body part -- and that we're talking about a dog. And never mind that Lucky, probably like most kids, doesn't know what the word means. But she thinks it sounds like something you might cough up when you're sick, "something medical and secret, but also important."

In an interview that year, Patron called the flapdoodle "a form of arrogance" on the part of librarians, who ought to be curators, not decidinators: "Our job as librarians is to connect kids with books and information," she said. It's for parents to decide what their own children should be reading from the larger pool.

It's Banned Books Week, folks. Go buy yourself one and read it to any kids you have handy. UPDATE: And please read Sommer Leigh's incredible, eloquent essay on why even the grittiest books for teenagers are so vitally important.


  1. Great post - I will have to put this on my to-read list. And I love Neil Gaiman's comment in the video about rogue librarians gone to the dark side. :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! Those boys in the Outsiders movie were all so young and beautiful, weren't they?

  2. Oh my gosh, I LOVE Freak the Mighty and, um, everything else Rodman Philbrick has written for kids.
    To celebrate Banned Book Week, I'm reading Push by Sapphire. It's completely engrossing. The format reminds me a bit of Flowers for Algernon, although the subject matter is nothing alike.

  3. @Donna, I haven't read Push, but I was really crazy about the movie version of Precious. @Sara, I know, isn't that Gaiman quote fabulous? They're not "real" librarians. Bwaaahahhhaaaaa.

  4. Haven't heard of this, but then I know more about YA than MG, but I have read Holes and loved it. That's the thing about banned books -- when you get down to the reasons why they were banned, they are often so ridiculous, the result of some small-minded person somewhere, and everyone else is too PC to stand up and say something different. Scrotum? Really?

    Anyway, I did see your comment on my old post, and yes there is an update coming. Basically the whole queried too soon story, got cps and betas, made changes, and ready to try again. Soonish... :)

  5. Oh, I remember the flap over the word scrotum. So absurd sometimes the things the collective "they" think are ban-worthy. Makes me wanna go include the word scrotum in my word count today. :)

  6. *laughing* L.G. Maybe we should run a contest?
    @bluestocking, glad to hear you're up and at it again!