July 21, 2024

Newbury 451 (2007)

From the April 2007 issue of District Administration Magazine
By Gary S. Stager

Angus Solomon sighed Ms Lowry. ‘Is that a penis you’ve drawn in your exercise book?’

Angus jumped, startled, and remembered where he was.

Ms Lowry was standing next to his desk, staring down at the page. Other kids were sniggering.

Angus felt his mouth go dry and his heart speed up. For a second he thought about lying. He decided not to.

‘No, Miss,’ he admitted, ‘it’s a submarine.’ Ms Lowry nodded grimly. ‘I thought as much,’ she said. ‘Now stop wasting time and draw a penis like I asked you to.’ She pointed to the one she’d drawn on the blackboard.

That’s not fair, thought Angus. I wasn’t wasting time.

He took a deep breath.

‘Excuse me, Miss,’ he said, ‘I wasn’t wasting time. I was working on my pirate character for the school play. He lives in a submarine and “

‘Enough,’ interrupted Ms Lowry. ‘You know perfectly well play rehearsals aren’t till tomorrow. Today we’re doing human reproduction. I don’t want to hear another word about pirates.’

Thus begins the best-selling children’s book, Bumface, by one of Australia’s finest authors, Morris Gleitzman. Bumface has won countless literary awards and is a regular poll winner anytime Australian children are asked to name their favorite books. You would be hard-pressed to find an Australian fifth grade classroom without a copy of the book.

Why does this matter? It matters because those radicals at the American Library Association just presented the Newbery Medal to The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. The book joins the likes of Sounder, A Wrinkle in Time and Johnny Tremain in the pantheon of outstanding American children’s literature.

However, the New York Times reports that school librarians are banning the book from coast to coast. School libraries haven’t witnessed this much hysteria since Captain Underpants saved the day.

The Higher Power of Lucky tells the story of a “scrappy” ten year-old orphan girl who hears the word “scrotum” through a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book continues, “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

The use of a clinical term describing a part of the human anatomy has apparently shocked some school librarians while countless others are  refusing to purchase it, regardless of the book’s literary value or appeal to children. This represents another milestone in schools’ contribution to illiteracy.

Do encyclopedias include scrotum? (link to the World Book Encylcopedia entry) You bet they do! Will schools lock up the encyclopedias? Many of them have already banned Wikipedia. In fact, just last week, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska proposed legislation banning all interactive web sites, including Wikipedia and blogs.

If teachers don’t wish to read anatomical words aloud, can’t the books be available in the library anyway? The author’s livelihood is threatened by this censorship and our students may be deprived of a great read.

Children go home to Maury and watch “I had Sex with My Mother’s Boyfriend! He’s My Baby’s Father.” (February 12, 2007 program) How do we serve students when teachers are afraid of words like scrotum? Isn’t it the responsibility of educators to speak with candor, clarity and calm? Scrotum isn’t half as funny as an adult who can’t say the word aloud or phonics texts in which every word begins with the letter B.

I realize that this country has a long tradition of banning books, despite our professed belief in freedom, but shouldn’t we grow up a bit? Are our Aussie counterparts that much more sophisticated and less neurotic?