Adventures in Reading

Revisted Reviews: Higher Power of Lucky

A few weeks ago my mother sent me the link to a New York Times’ article: With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar. Why are some people so shocked? Why has this book already been pulled from the shelf? Because the word “scrotum” appears on the first page.

Thus in my unfailing curiosity I checked this book out from work to actually see what all the hubbub was about. The word “scrotum” does indeed appear on the first page as our young, heroine Lucky eavesdrops on a conversation and overhears a story about Short Sammy’s dog Roy being bit on the scrotum by a rattlesnake.

Following the use of the “scrotum” in the book it reappears a few pages later as: “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important, and Lucky was glad she was a girl and would never have such an aspect as a scrotum to her own body. Deep inside she thought she would be interested in seeing an actual scrotum. But at the same time—and this is where Lucky’s brain was very complicated—she definitely did not want to see one.”

Now if we move beyond this atrocious and horrible idea of using anatomically correct terms in children’s books, The Higher Power of Lucky is the story of a young girl living in the Mojave Desert. The population is 43 and the history we’re given is that Lucky’s parents are divorced and two years ago Lucky’s mother dies accidentally from stepping on a fallen but live electrical line after a storm. Rather than her father taking care of her, Brigitte—Lucky’s father’s first wife—comes to California from France to take care of her.

An important concept in the book is the idea of finding your “higher power,” which Lucky picks up (as well as the “scrotum” story) from eavesdropping on the local 12 Step-esque programs. These programs occur at Hard Pan’s local Found Object Wind Chime Museum where Lucky holds the wonderful job of sweeping the front porch. The programs include Gamblers, Alcoholics, Smokers and Over Eaters groups and those members who have beaten their addictions share stories of how they hit “rock bottom” and managed to find their “higher power.”

The word choice of “scrotum” is entirely appropriate as Short Sammy explains “even though it bit him in the worst place it can hurt for a male” his dog Roy still managed to rescue Short Sammy (who was too drunk to even notice the snake) by killing the snake. Waking into sobriety Sammy makes a deal with himself that if Roy is okay that he’ll stop drinking, go clean, and join AA. Realizing that he was too drunk to even care for himself and could have been killed in the situation Short Sammy realizes that he’s “hit rock bottom” and now attends AA-meetings to share how he found his “higher power.”

The book becomes a story of the complications and trials and tribulations in a child’s life that may not seem quite so serious to adults to downright serious concerns for some children in non-traditional family units. The book becomes a tale of Lucky hitting “rock bottom” and ultimately finding her “higher power” by the end of the book. Also at the end of the book the reader will find:

After a moment Lucky said, “Brigitte, what is a scrotum?”

“It is a little sack of the man or the animal which has in it the sperm to make a baby,” said Brigite in her deep, quiet voice. “Why do you ask about that?”

“It was just something I heard someone say,” said Lucky.”

Overall I don’t think there is anything objectionable in this book but only librarians (for the most part it seems) worried about parent’s squeamish reaction. And can you blame them? In the United States where sex ed largely seems to have gone the way of the dodo, as we’re replaced more and more with abstinence only courses, how often does the public school have to explain or even say the word “scrotum”? The Higher Power of Lucky is an excellent choice for the Newbery medal and if you find yourself with a few free hours on a rainy Sunday I do suggest you visit your local library or bookstore to take a look.

There are many more thoughts on this over at the Newbery Project and some thoughts from Book Nut.


It’s amazing what cautious readers react to. I’m glad you took the time to pick this book up to find out what all the hubbub was about.

Comment by kelskels

Kelskels: The Power of Lucky is one of my (growingly few) successes when it comes to reading books with a lot of hubbub surrounding it, but it was an interesting read and I’m looking forward to rereading it with the Newbery Challenge.

Comment by bookchronicle

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