We just finished reading the newest Newberry Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky. What a treat! This book has gotten a lot of press for its inclusion of the word "scrotum". I hope all the brouhaha makes the book MORE attractive to kids, even if it makes parents wary. It's a wonderful book.
As we've been reading this book, I've been guilty of wishing the author had chosen a different place for the dog's snakebite. It didn't seem to me that it would have ruined the plot if the dog had been bitten on the nose, say. This dog isn't even a character in the story -- we just hear the story as Lucky eavesdrops on one of the "anonymous" groups that meet in the "Found Object Wind Chime Museum". But last night, when we finished, I realized it was exactly right. This word is necessary to the artistic structure of the book.
It's a word that makes Brigitte, Lucky's guardian, wary, just as any good parent would be if a child came home asking about such a private word.
The title refers to 10-year-old Lucky's preoccupation with eavesdropping at various 12-step "anonymous" meetings. She would like to have the help of her own "Higher Power", and she is trying to act out the Serenity Prayer -- to have the courage to change the things she can, the serenity to accept the things she can't, and the wisdom to know the difference. There are lots of things about Lucky's life she could wish were different. Her mother died two years before in an accident. Her father has no interest in children. And her guardian, her father's ex-wife, may be going back to France. Patron creates a character in Lucky that has a kid's eye view of all this. She understands the power that adult decisions have in her life, but she doesn't know how to interpret these adults and their actions.
In this way, scrotum is a word that represents the reality of Lucky's life -- just as Lucky only has a sense of the meaning of this word, so she only has an inkling of the adult reality around her. She tries to change the things she can in a very kid-like way, colored by her own fears for her future.
If you enjoy good children's books, try this one. I've just been sort of grown-up and serious about some issues surrounding this book -- but it's not a grown-up or serious book -- just a good one.