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Anatomy off-limits in children's books?

We're quite comfortable with anatomical words in our house, freely using the word "breast" and "penis," because I subscribe to the theory that it's the most honest way to treat children -- and I don't feel the words themselves should hold any aura of naughtiness (while this is often recommended as a defense against sexual abuse, that's not why I do it -- it just seems right to me). That's part of the reason the uproar I read about in the New York Times regarding the use of the word "scrotum" in a children's book perplexed me.

Firstly, the reference is to a dog's scrotum, and the 10-year-old title character of The Higher Power of Lucky hears the word (a friend's dog is bit in the scrotum by a rattlesnake) and is fascinated by the word's unusual sound, "medical and secret, but also important." To be frank, it doesn't sound like my kind of book, but I now want to read it to all the kids I know as it's been banned in children's libraries and schools all over the U.S. According to one librarian in Colorado, "I don’t want to start an issue about censorship, but you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature." I beg to differ. (And this isn't a man's genitalia we're discussing -- it's a dog's!)

In my opinion, the uproar is ridiculous, on the "seeing a nipple will damage our children" scale of stupendous silliness. If you can't read the word "scrotum," then don't buy the book, I say. The article mentions that librarians from Portland weigh in on the issue, but doesn't say on which side -- as Multnomah County Library is famously liberal, and there are dozens of copies on order for the library system (with an astonishing 53 holds on the copies that are already in circulation) -- I'd say on the side of Lucky.

As I pat myself on the back for living here in Portland with our fabulous acceptance of such things, I wonder, what is your reaction to this anatomical hubbub?


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Well I do wonder why he had to be bit in the scrotum and not one of the hundreds of other places (typically snakes bite dogs on the nose because, well, dogs are nosey that way!). We do use some alternate names but a breast is a breast, and some other things are breasts too according to my son's lyrics to brahm's lullaby:
lullabye and good night
with roses bedight
with lilies o'er spread
is baby's wee bed
lay you down now and rest
may your slumber be breast
lay you down now and rest
may your slumber be breast.

The author has stated the dog was bit in the scrotum because it was based on something that happened in real life. I was outraged by the censorship myself and I am glad I have the forum to state that. The only effect this has is it will increase the book's sales due to people wanting to support the author, and due to curiousity. One librarian said that she believed that the author misjudged her audience, which is supposed to be 9-12. The librarian stated that since Lucky is supposed to be 10, no one over 10 will want to read it. That is just not true. Plus, shouldn't 10 year olds be able to identify body parts? I am pretty consistant with using the word vagina with my daughter, although now I have been informed that the literal translation of vagina is "sheath of the sword" and feminists are using a new word (I forget what it is), but to me it's more important that my daughter know the correct terms for the same reason that Sarah mentioned. If anyone reads the book, I would like to hear a review.

Yeah, even 9 year old boys know they have scrotums, or at least I hope they do. This puritanical attitude of shame around the human body (and now also the canine body?!?) is just so unhealthy in so many ways, I don't even know where to begin. I can't believe that it was actually censored...bizarre.

Oy, so ridiculous. These people are afraid of children hearing/knowing the existence of the word "scrotum" because...? That's the point that was never really addressed in the NYT piece. If kids know the word, what, exactly, do these people think is going to happen? That they'll start mainlining coke and having orgies? Gah.

Alternate names for body parts? I don't get it. We don't call an elbow an "el-el" or something. Why should a penis be a pee-pee or a vulva be a "down there"?

An interesting discussion about this is going on over at Bitch, PhD.

thanks for the link, Zinemama, and I *did* forget to mention how ridiculous it is that scrotums be off-limits. so what happens when your little boy falls on his bike and hurts his scrotum? do you call it a scroo-ha or what? hehehe.

next thing you know they'll be banning the health textbooks. all that talk of "intercourse" and "diseases"! it's sure to make our middleschoolers into prostitutes and drug users, one and all.

It kind of makes me wonder too about the repercussions of not knowing about your body. Not only due to the horrors of sexual abuse, but what about the puritanical attitude that many of our parents and grandparents grew up with...how many men do you think avoided getting their prostates checked out due to lack of knowledge or embarrassment? Same with breast exams, the history of "shame" around breast cancer and discussing it in "polite company." What, exactly, does one do actively with a scrotum? As someone mentioned, it's really no different than an elbow, and maybe books like this give us opportunities to open discussions with our children that we might not otherwise know how to start! I see the answer to the question "Mommy, what's a scrotum?" as probably being "something a boy has that a girl doesn't, and it's right near the penis." Nuff said.

In the spirit of things ridiculous, I just saw an animal documentary on National Geographic where the genital area of the animals was fuzzed out with special effects. The animals were just sleeping or wandering around, not even any special activity! Ye Gads

Ok, this is my 3rd post on this subject, but I can't help it. I was just reading "Where the Wild Things Are" to Tory, and it occured to me that in Sendak's other classic, "In the Night Kitchen" little Micky is running around naked after he falls out of his clothes and his little penis is showing in several of the pictures. Have librarians banned this book? I can't IMAGINE the scandal!!:)

Actually, libraries have banned ITNK. It's a menace to society right up there with Huckleberry Finn, apparently.

I just checked Multnomah County Libraries: They have multiple copies of ITNK...yay Portland! Also, there is a book available called "Frequently Challenged Books" or something similar that is about books like this that have been contraversial.

By contrast, look for Kathy Stinson's The Bare Naked Book, a wonderful book for toddlers and preschoolers that observes not only the various parts of bodies but also something about them: how they work, what they are for, what they feel like. Here, too, you will find "penis" and "vagina," (though no "scrotum" or "vulva") along with the ears, belly buttons, elbows and toes of (mostly white)people of differing ages and abilities. It's available through the Multnomah County Libraries.

It's not like there's a "polite" alternative to scrotum (would "nutsack" be better?)

It reminds me of this story: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/02/08/the_hoohah_monologue.html

I remember my libraries having a banned book month, where they featured banned books. I made it my business to read them all... What a rebel I was as a kid! In my family we call things what they are as well. The word scrotum hasn't come up with my three year old daughter yet, but I will try to be ready when it does.

Phooey on the knuckleheads, and hooray for Portland's embrace of banned books. I agree with cafemama and the other posters that the healthiest and most honest approach to educating children about their bodies is to call things by their right names, without making a fuss. So yes, my toddlers are already acquainted with the terms "penis," "vulva" and "scrotum." I recently stumbled a bit on "clitoris" (which my 20-month-old is already discovering) but principle and a deep breath got me through it. ;)

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