Saturday, February 17, 2007

Higher Power of Lucky - Wonderful and Controversial

Yesterday I had the luck to spend a few hours driving for business meetings and a family visit, which gave me just enough car time to listen to all of the Newbery winning 2006 book from Susan Patron, The Higher Power of Lucky.

First of all, the book is very good. I laughed. I cried.

I loved the setting of this book -- the dusty desert town (population 43) with no restaurants, no schools, and only 3 jobs. The place is Hard Pan, California, where the daily entertainment is when the Judge hands out the mail (one of the 3 jobs). The folks in Hard Pan are wonderful and odd: an assortment of misfits and imports, where probably a good third of them are in some sort of twelve-step anonymous support group.

Lucky lives in an unusual town and in unusual circumstances. Her mother has died, her father has left, and her guardian (her father's first wife) is melancholy being so far from her home in France. Her best friend is destined to be President of the United States, or perhaps a champion knot-tyer. And Lucky spends three afternoons a week listening in secret to the confessions of alcoholics, former smokers, and overeaters.

But in many ways, Lucky's life is pretty typical. She is a ten-year-old girl, and she struggles with things that most girls her age do -- trying to understand the world around her, and within her, as she matures.

Okay, now about the controversy....

The book has the word "scrotum" in it. Surprising, for a children's book, I will admit. And yet, when you think about the things children hear and learn at the age of 10, this word is a pretty good example. Somehow, it fits as both something a young girl might overhear in an adult conversation she's not supposed to be listening to, and something the same young girl might be curious to understand. There are plenty of other words that might fit just as well, but none of them would strike me as any less startling to see included in a book like this.

There are people who want to ban the book from school libraries because of this word.

But I hope you don't let those people stop you from reading it -- it's simply a wonderful story, wonderfully told.


runart said...

There is no end to people's idiocy. It is as bad from a simply linguistic point of view as having a British and American version of Harry Potter. For some reason American children can't handle the word "philosopher" and need it to be "sorcerer" (easier to understand??) or that the word "crumpet" has to be changed to "muffin"?? So a British child knows a vaccuum cleaner to be "Hoover"? It's an opportunity to LEARN - leave the damned word in so they can ASK what it means!!! What child doesn't DESERVE to know the proper name of a body part??? It makes me insane.

Stidmama said...

ditto to runart's comment about the idiocy of censoring outright things with certain words/concepts/situations... and we certainly use the correct anatomical and medical terms for "parts" and actions in our own family, much to the discomfort of non-parents and repressed people everywhere!

On the other hand several of my children's friends (this are kids age 9 or 10 to 14) watch "R" rated movies on a regular basis, I carefully screen even PG-13 movies and only permit those movies I think my kids are ready for. I had one child excused from reading a particular item in school because it is a "hot button" topic for him that would lead to WEEKS of problems in school and at home.

Because of these experiences I would suggest to parents who are shocked by things like this that they have the right to screen things their own children check out from the library or are assigned in school...

Nancy said...

Stidmama, I agree. In fact I wrote several different versions of the last two sentences of my post. In the first several versions, I took a stand on idiocy and censorship. Then I realized I wasn't wholly in support of the stand I was taking. So that's why I ended up just saying, "don't let those people stop YOU from reading it." I figure there are no 10-year-olds reading my blog, so I'm safe.

Anonymous said...

so i read the book on a flight to germany and its pretty good. i told friends in germany about the american idiots, who screamed about luckys screening of real childs life. in germany/europe, there is no one anymore, who burns books about their content. they learned out of history and dignify the freedom of speech. please write more about lucky and her real life, wich is our real life.american double moral standard leads into two different parties. one with extreme christian education and no chance to free your mind and the other is extreme life with all the badest life can serve, but nothing between. a lot of them will feel reliev, if there are no books with real life content. make more books like "The Higher Power of Lucky" and open the eyes of them, who could not be free in their mind. my father said: life is best viewd with open eyes. you can only read with open eyes.
respectfully yours,

Oliver McMuller

Nancy said...

Thanks for your comment Oliver. I agree that life is best viewed with open eyes.

I will say that there are many more Americans who fall in the middle of the two extremes you described. Same as most countries in this regard, I think. However, it is our moral extremists and the bad people who get on the news. I suppose nobody wants to hear news about the millions and millions of people in the middle. We are too boring!

Anonymous said...

Playing the devils advocate here...I can see why some parents wouldn't want their 10 year old reading this book and the "word" mainly bc they aren't ready to answer the questions that follow. I do not believe that it should be banned from libraries; I for one loved the book. However, we live in a time where anyone and everyone is publicly afraid of the reaction of another and so we allow little hissy fits to cause an uproar. It's an unfortunate truth.