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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Winners, words, and values

February 21, 2007

I remember when my son — now quite the young man who looks me straight in the eye and will soon tower over me — was really little. We tried our best to protect him from much of the world's unseemliness, and though it's almost impossible now, we still try.

When he was little, we made sure he knew that he could talk with his parents about almost anything. These conversations usually started with some curiosity — a word he had heard or a thought that had him puzzled. They often started with a book. I didn't consciously realize how sharing books would open channels (sometimes it felt like floodgates!) of communication.

That's why I find it hard to understand the brouhaha about this year's Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson). The New York Times reports that many school librarians won't buy this book, perhaps because they are offended by the word or perhaps fearing parents' concerns.

My reaction is simple: get over it. First of all, the book is intended for older children — maybe 4th to 6th grade. And sure, you may not use the offending word even with kids this age, but, they'll eventually hear it (and the word is used correctly with the added benefit of a very plausible reaction from the 10-year old protagonist).

Moreover, the book will likely stick around because it did win this award; it is funny, it is hopeful, and it is well written. And it is an opportunity to open channels of communication with kids. The reactions span a range of opinions – take a look at some of the comments.

My advice to adults: be aware of what kids read – and use it as an opportunity to talk and listen on an equal playing field – as readers all.


What a ridiculous conversation! It is the correct name of a body part and children should know the names of the parts of the body. It is not slang but merely an anatomical description. There are a countless other things we need to spend our time on rather than this.

You don't have to be intellectually superior to use a word that is considered literally inappropriate. Shock jocks do it and sound rather like morons. I am not impressed.

Hope you share it with your son, Kris. And as I always remind adults, everything offends someone!

Very good commentary on that Mers. I agree with you totally. Remember how Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were regarded some time ago. Books are meant to stimulate conversation whether it be children or adults and it seems like this book is hitting both audiences. Bravo!

Your opinion is particularly valuable as a parent, Joanne. I feel like I'm in good company: you and the ALA!

I totally agree with you Maria, as does the American Library Association! Check out their statement regarding the true value of the "Higher Power of Lucky."

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"I'm wondering what to read next." — Matilda, Roald Dahl