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Last week, for the sake of one word, “The Higher Power of Lucky”—this year’s Newbery Medal-winning children’s book—was banned in many school libraries across the country. Apparently, librarians object because the author employs a word on the first page considered inappropriate for its young audience: “scrotum.” According to the New York Times, the book reads, “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much.”
Unfortunately, in their heavy-handed approach, school librarians have subverted the true purpose of censorship and undermined the judgment of the Newbery Medal committee. Censorship is supposed to protect children from being corrupted by substandard portrayal of important topics and issues. It is not intended to keep children ignorant of the adult world, but to ensure that children learn about adult issues in the correct manner. With the amount of improper and faulty information around, censorship serves a vital role in society, but this case is a clear example of its abuse.
First of all, banning an award-winning children’s book from public school libraries is counterintuitive. While awards and professionals are often wrong, in this case librarians have acted hastily. Censorship should be enforced on a case-by-case basis, not only because people mature at different ages but also because there is simply no definitive law that says that a child must be a certain age before he or she can encounter the word “scrotum.” Instead, in this particular case, the response demonstrates a knee-jerk reaction to one taboo word, rather than appropriate consideration of the context in which it appears.
Furthermore, such action defies a judgment by those experienced in dealing with children’s literature—the Newbery Medal committee. Their opinion should have more weight than those of librarians, yet the latter are clearly giving themselves the benefit of the doubt.
Admittedly, librarians are just trying to protect these children from the vulgarity and impropriety of the world, but their actions are in fact more detrimental to the maturity of children than they are helpful. If award-winning literature is not a valid source from which to build one’s knowledge, it is unclear what is. And ten years old—the age of the book’s heroine—is surely old enough to have developed the ability to cope with a few advanced anatomical terms.
Of course, it is the responsibility of parents to have “the birds and the bees” talk with their children, but not all do. While literature does not replace this role, I would rather a child increase their vocabulary—in male anatomical terms or any other—through reading than through absorption of playground wisdom or a television set.
And there is a difference between gratuitously employing “adult” words in a children’s book and complementing one’s narrative with the use of words that signify the mysterious adult world around the protagonist. If taboo subjects are brought up in a children’s book and dealt with in the proper manner, then it should not be censored.
Sadly, this case highlights the general problem with over-protecting children. Many adults fail to realize that gradual, limited exposure to the lewd and violent world is vital to a child’s mental and social growth. Protecting children too much will simply make them unprepared when they inevitably face adult issues. After all, if a ten-year-old can’t consult responsible sources that include words like “scrotum” or “menstruation,” then what are the chances of him later consulting them about sex and drugs?
Ronald K. Kamdem ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall.
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