Monday, February 19, 2007

I would be remiss not to mention

Though not a children's librarian, in addition to running the IRC, I am the education liaison and lucky enough to be charged with juvenile collection development. Selecting children's books, including YA titles, is definitely a job perk. Like many children's librarians, it was with some interest I awaited the announcement of this year's Newbery and Caldecott awards at ALA's Mid-Winter meetings in Seattle last month. Curiosity is a big part of the wait, as well as the intrinsic challenge presented by hoping the chosen title is already part of the existing collection. It is a hit or miss process and while my performance of late with Newbery books has been good; my Caldecott record has been less than stellar. That is until this year when for the first time in ages the Newbery book was not already part of the juvenile collection. We have a small library endowment for children's books and each year when awards are announced the librarian in charge of the funds orders what we need. Translated, we get two copies of the Newbery and Caldecott award winners; one copy goes into the regular juvenile collection and the second into the Newbery and Caldecott specific sections leading off the juvenile collection.

Last Thursday the latest edition of Children's Bookshelf; "a free weekly newsletter from Publishers Weekly about all aspects of children's and YA publishing," arrived via email. In it there was a link to an article by Shannon Maughan at the Children's Bookshelf titled Listservs Buzzing over Newbery Winner:

"What's in a word? Plenty of controversy, if it happens to be a word naming a part of the male anatomy, and if it appears in a Newbery Award-winning novel. In recent weeks the online blogosphere inhabited by children's book professionals has been abuzz with debate over author Susan Patron's use of the word "scrotum" in her freshly minted Newbery winner, The Higher Power of Lucky. Librarians, teachers, reviewers and others have used blogs and listservs as forums to object to or defend the book and the ALA's selection of the title for one of its highest honors. (Children's Bookshelf, 2/15/07)"

Without reading the book, I have obviously been hesitant to comment on the growing controversy. As luck would have it, our copies arrived Thursday and I took home one of them to read over the weekend. Last night, I finished reading The Higher Power of Lucky and am more curious than concerned regarding the uproar. The book features Lucky, a ten-year-old girl. Yes, children reading this book are going to be third, fourth and maybe fifth graders. More importantly, I realize the vocabulary in question, used in several instances, may be off-putting for book talks by librarians in school libraries. I do not want to sugar coat the very real issue possibly faced with having the title in school libraries. However, this book is about more than a single word; one that, I might add, is simply defined at the end of the book without unnecessary embellishment.

I find it interesting that several other topics dealt with in Lucky are not mentioned in the debate. For instance, there is discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, parental death, and another character's mother in jail for selling drugs. Each of these topics is potentially troubling for in-school discussion as well, but what I keep reading about is the use of one word. Higher Power of Lucky is a well- written, meaningful book detailing life-changing events for a young girl. At the books end, Lucky finds a family in the town's small population both figuratively and literally. By focusing on a single vocabulary element, the overall meaning of the book is lost.

Lucky was ordered immediately after the ALA announcement and it fulfills a specific purpose for my academic library children's collection. There was not any discussion of "should we" or "shouldn't we" when making the purchase. Why? We have a large, thriving, teacher education program with a full compliment of children's and young adult literature classes. Award winning books are expected. Even if their school library does not purchase the book, pre-service teachers need to have the opportunity to read the book and make their own determinations for classroom use. But each library and librarian has to make their own choice when adding it to their collection.

There are many different factors to consider, as well as issues of fiscal responsibility and library collection development mission and purpose. I do not foresee public librarians having undue trouble with this title. The "word" and book topic aside, public library patrons will expect to have Newbery and Caldecott titles on the shelves. Not that there will not be questions, concerns, or statements made by parents and patrons (after all, tax money funds the library), but generally speaking the issue is a bit less dicey. School libraries may have a catch 22 situation when making their purchasing decision as they have more stringent policies in place for collection development. School librarians also have parents, administrators, and boards (not to mention the general public) watching over purchases. What to do? The library should have a full Newbery and Caldecott collection, after all these titles have been judged the best in literature for 2206. But hesitancy to make the purchase because of possible outcry is real. Though it is not that simple, I would hate to think of librarians banning books from their library.

Here are a few links that may be of interest:

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1 comment:

Beth B. said...

I enjoyed hearing the librarian point of view. We also blogged about this: