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.