Ear to the ground

“A Phish song is like a Saturday Night Live sketch. They don’t know when to stop.”

-A comment after an extensive Phish collection vanished with the spring cleaning

Coming of age

Durango is again making big national headlines, though the circumstances are somewhat racier this time. Last Sunday’sNew York Times featured a front-page story on this year’s winner of the Newberry Medal, the top award for children’s literature. Figuring prominently in the news story was a Durango librarian and her objections to the book’s use of a particular word.

The first page ofThe Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, includes “scrotum,” a word defined by Webster’s as “the external pouch that in most mammals contains the testes.” The book’s protagonist, 10-year-old Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in the wall after another character explains that a rattlesnake bit his dog’s scrotum. Lucky doesn’t know what the word means but is mystified by its sound.

Not so mystified are many school librarians across the country including Dana Nilsson, a librarian at Durango’s Sunnyside Elementary School. Nilsson is quoted several times in the story first from a post she placed on LM.net, a list reaching 16,000 school librarians. “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,” she wrote. “How very sad.”

The book’s author, however, was shocked by the objections when contacted by theTimes. Patron, who is actually a public librarian in Los Angeles, said that the book was written for kids 9 to 12 years old. She also countered that the book is a coming-of-age story and one of its themes is learning language and body parts. “The word is just so delicious,” she told the paper. “The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It’s one of those words that’s so interesting because of the sound of the word.”

Nonetheless, the book has already been banned in many school libraries and many others will be following suit, prompting a former chair of the Newberry Committee to cry censorship.

“The people who are reacting to that word are not reading the book as a whole,” Pat Scales told the paper. “That’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”

When theTimes contacted her at Sunnyside Elementary, Nilsson commented, “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship. But you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”

She then added, “At least not for children.”