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Newbery winner deserves readership, not censorship
by JeffwithaJ on October 21, 2008All dogs must wear pants. And books like The Higher Power of Lucky should be banned. That seems to be the opinion of some regarding this Newbery Medal–winning book for young readers. The mention of a dog’s private parts near the beginning of The Higher Power of Lucky has created a controversy and calls to remove the book from library shelves across the United States. It’s a sensitive issue, to be sure. But what parents and readers should know is that the book is a sweet, tightly written story that absolutely is bigger than one innocent anatomical reference and its resulting brouhaha.
Lucky is a 10-year-old girl who lives in a small desert town aptly named Hard Pan. The soil is rock solid, and many town residents have hit rock bottom. Hard Pan claims only 43 inhabitants but many 12-step programs. In search of her own higher power, Lucky lurks and listens outside the meetings of those who are recovering from tobacco, alcohol, and other addictions. What she seeks is greater security and a higher wisdom. After all, her mother was killed by a lightning strike, and her dad is the definition of “absentee father.” Lucky’s guardian, Brigitte, just might be planning to leave the California desert for her own family in Paris. So Lucky is increasingly desperate for, well, some solid ground among all that hardpan.
From this conceit, author Susan Patron builds a family of characters that is quirky and vibrant. Hard Pan, it seems, is a refuge in the Mojave for the down-and-out. Lucky is at home among such motley, marginalized folks. But she soon realizes that she must run away from Brigitte, and that sets in motion the adventure that will both entertain and enlighten readers.
Patron’s simple little novel has a magnanimous heart. She writes with a wit that doesn’t patronize children and a voice that speaks clearly about both hardship and hope. In a world filled with fantasy-focused children’s literature—the Harry Potters and Artemis Fowls—Patron writes about non-magical subjects like alcoholism and foster parents. She writes for the kids who live in such households, as well as for their friends and the other young readers who care to open such fictional-yet-factual doors. Yes, she also mentions an anatomical part. At the beginning of the novel, Lucky hears about a dog that was bitten in his privates by a rattlesnake. This incident is treated with finesse and a complete lack of sensationalism. (If you’re a parent, I recommend reading the first few pages to see if you agree with me.) After all, ours is a world where canines don’t wear pants and children of all ages witness dogs in this natural light; Patron merely puts an appropriate word to that reality. Then she moves on to more realities, and as she does so, she takes her readers on a heartfelt, humorous, and heartening journey.
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