Clearly Susan Patron, a public librarian from Los Angeles, did something right when she wrote the novel The Higher Power of Lucky because it won her this year's Newbery Medal, America's highest honour for children's literature.
But she has also triggered a firestorm among conservative librarians and schoolteachers because of a certain word that appears on the book's very first page.
"The word is "scrotum" - a clear enough anatomical expression, one might think, but one that has caused untold consternation among certain cultural guardians who believe children need protection from even the mention of certain body parts."
The word is "scrotum" - a clear enough anatomical expression, one might think, but one that has caused untold consternation among certain cultural guardians who believe children need protection from even the mention of certain body parts.
"The inclusion of genitalia does not add to the story one bit and that is my objection," said Dana Nilsson, a teacher and librarian from Durango, Colorado. "Because of that one word, I would not be able to read that book aloud. There are so many other options that the author could have used instead." Libraries all over the country have either banned the book or are considering banning it - citing either their own moral shock or the anticipation of a storm of protest from parents if they went ahead and stocked it.
The word comes up because the book's main character, an orphan called Lucky Trimble, hears a neighbour talking about a dog bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. Patron told The New York Times the word was both important - because it indicates ways in which 10-year-old Lucky is preparing to grow up - and funny. "The word is just so delicious," Patron said.
"The sound of the word to Lucky is evocative. It's one of those words that's so interesting because of the sound of the word."
Librarians writing on blogs and professional websites have countered with all sorts of objections, arguing for example that "scrotum" is a word suitable only for readers older than her target audience. Some do not appear to have read the book with the kind of care one might expect of their profession.
Ms Nilsson, for example, appeared in one of her postings to be unaware that the scrotum in question belonged to a dog. "I don't want to start an issue about censorship," she wrote. "But you won't find men's genitalia in quality literature ... At least not for children."
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited