The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron


The 2007 Newbery Winner came out swinging when it was immediately blacklisted in some school libraries for its casual use of the word "scrotum" on the first page. I read a little about it, saw the sample in which the word was used in context, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I read it, and here's what I think.

As far as the controversy, here's the deal...
On page 1, Lucky (a 10-year-old girl) is eavesdropping on an AA group meeting and hears a guy known as Short Sammy talking about the day he hit rock bottom and decided to clean up his life. On that fateful day, Sammy was sitting in his truck getting all liquored up when a rattlesnake crawled into his passenger seat and tried to attack. Sammy was saved by his dog, but during the ensuing battle, the dog was bitten on the scrotum. When she hears it, Lucky doesn't even know what it means. It doesn't come up again until page 6, when she wonders to herself what a scrotum is and decides that "it sounded like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important, and Lucky was glad she was a girl and would never have such an aspect as a scrotum on her own body."
I don't care who you are, that's funny!

Only once does the word come up again, and only when Lucky is asking her guardian to explain it, who does so in a matter of fact and technical way that satisfies Lucky's curiousity and puts an end to her wonderings....

So honestly, what's the big deal?

First of all, from what I have read, the only fuss (and there is quite a bit of it) about this libro is that it contains the word scrotum. It seems sad to ignore the remainder of the content just because of one word! Second of all, keep in mind, people, that the John Newbery Medal is presented to the most distinguished piece of literature for children published the previous year. Books are evaluated on interpretation of the theme or concept, presentation of information including accuracy, clarity and organization, development of plot, delineation of characters, delineation of setting, and appropriateness of style.
Books that receive this award are intended for older children. (Previous books receiving this prestigious award include: The Giver, Holes, A Year Down Yonder, Number the Stars, The Whipping Boy, Bridge to Terabithia, and Sounder....anybody who knows anything about any of these books will know they aren't sweet stories to share with little ones.) I could see cause for concern if 6-year-olds were reading this book, but since it is written on nearly a 6th grade level, I think those kids can handle the author's use of the word here. Also, when you evaluate the work as a whole, it is not about one tiny little word! The book is about Lucky's path in dealing with some major events in her life, including her mother's death and her father's abandonment of her. The recurring theme is change and learing what makes you, you. I like it, a lot! I think this book would be a great choice for student book clubs and discussion groups. Know that there will obviously be a slight distraction as the kids giggle over "the word," but they'll get over it just as quickly as Lucky does.