The Scrotum Screed, or Much Ado About A Word

The other day, I had a conversation with my brother, who is a young adult, a bona fide age fifteen. He was describing his snorkeling trip to Catalina, and the process of tightening areas of his wet suit, which caused him pain. He used a word not normally heard in polite conversation. Do you suppose it was scrotum? Why no. It was not. Now, “polite” listeners may have wished it was, but it was not. This is how the kid talks. One might suggest more “polite” words to him, possibly encourage him to be bilingual, and have one vocabulary he uses with adults, and another that he uses when he’s just comfortably telling a story, but at this stage of the game, one cannot change what he thinks is appropriate. That’s just kind of the way it is.

I wouldn’t have really remembered that conversation except that I listened to the radio recently, and then wandered over to Fuse’s blog, and I want to say just one thing: I’m already well known for just not being good at suppressing my inner adolescent. When I read The Higher Power of Lucky, and came across the word ‘scrotum’ in the first chapter, it surprised a burble of completely inappropriate laughter from me. Totally inappropriate, I’m sure. Her description of what the word sounded like it could mean was priceless. Lucky is misled and confused about many things, which is part of her (and the town in which she lives, and Short Sammy’s) quirky and realistically written charm. Yet the librarians who are getting sniffy, and talking about “how sad” and inappropriate this author has been are confusing to me. Yes, the prose is at first dense. Yes, maybe another Newbery Committee may not have chosen it. But this one has, and it’s done, done, done. What is now the point to getting bent about that one word? And if you read the New York Times coverage of Much Ado About A Word, you get this gem:

“Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.”

Yes! I sit around SCHEMING to find the most ‘touchy’ word that I can find to sneak it in to all of my stories. That’s why I became a YA writer. So I could give “Howard Stern-like shocks” to the adults. (Meanwhile, via the ever hilarious Jessica at Bookslut, the tally thus far of YA books that use that Impolite word. I’ve read some of these books, and not really noticed… again, with that inner adolescent!)

People wonder why it’s sometimes hard to admit to being a writer… it’s not enough that your father is hoping that someday you’ll get a REAL job… now the NYT is sure that you’re some kind of closet shock fetishist. I mean, seriously. Does that not make YA and children’s writers sound completely creepy?

SIGH. Enough, enough…

The UK gears up to celebrate Bedtime Reading Week, a reading promotion geared to encourage families toward sharing books. This year, it’s also a chance for UK authors to break into print.

May I just mention how jealous I am of all of the people who made it to Mitali’s Bay Area readings/book signings? Sigh. Maybe next time.

I was glad to read that the shortlist for the Cybils YA was thought to be quite strong, and that it was as hard for them to choose a winner as it was for us to come up with a short list of only five! Cybils YA winners David Levithan and Rachel Cohn will be interviewed on what it took to write a book together, and hopefully will answer questions about sequels! Stay tuned.

February is so deceitful; we are having the most gloriously sunny weather after dumps of rain. It was seventy-nine degrees on Friday! 79!! And I can expect it to be 40 sometime next week, and gray fogbanks all over again… this is the weather, though, that people travel for miles and miles to the Bay Area to see. Unless they’re your blogging partner, and then they’ve traveled miles and miles away from you, to soak up the sun… in HAWAII.


On an up note, the month wraps up with Reading the World IX, a multicultural children’s book conference in SF this weekend. I am looking forward to hearing artist, author, puppet maker, Brazilian folkdancer and 2004 Belpré Medal winner, Yuyi Morales speak, as well as the savvy and socially conscious South Asian essayist and children’s author Pooja Makhijani (her story of learning to wear a sari, The First Time, was published in CICADA); it will be lovely to hear Our Jane and circulate amongst other artists and writers from various nations and cultures. I hope to run into some of you there.

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