When I attended the annual SCBWI conference in LA recently, by way of a quick introduction, each presenter characterized themselves with a single word. Some of the words were in keeping with what one might expect from coming from children's book writers, illustrators and publishers; words like poetry, inspire stubborn, and possibilities. Others came up with creative solutions to the one word dilemma (torture for writers who love language) by banding together to come up with statements. Still others like Ellen Wittlinger's word, "basement," and Walter Dean Myers "details" simply served to pique our interest for a later session. Myers keynote addressed the idea that the details you include in a story must be the ones that speak the truth about the character, a truth the reader will follow. In her keynote Wittlinger explained the word basement as one's innermost place, and spoke about how a writer must speak from their own inner most place, especially if writing for teens. This is something that Wittlinger does extremely well. Anyone who has read Hard Love, would agree, and it remains one of my all time favourite YA titles.
The word that received the most enthusiastic response though was "scrotum". If you have followed the news over the last few months, you will be correct in suspecting that this word was spoken by Susan Patron, author of The Higher Power of Lucky, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal and one of the most hotly debated titles of recent years. And yes, the censorship debate rests on that one word which appears on the first page of the book and again near it's end.
It is sad to imagine that some could not travel beyond that one word to follow the extraordinary adventures of ten year old Lucky and her quest to find her higher power. They will never have met the spunky and creative Lucky, nor the other 42 people who inhabit Hard Pan, California. They will miss the opportunity to meet Lucky's guardian, Britgitt, who left France temporarily to look after Lucky as a favour to her ex-husband when Lucky's mother dies. They will miss the fear of abandonment Lucky faces each time Bridgitt gets homesick. They will never know Lucky's friend Lincoln, future U.S. president (if his mother has any say in the matter) and a knot obsessed member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. They will not have gotten to know five year old Miles who is addicted to cookies and a book called Are You My Mother? They will have missed eavesdropping on the twelve-step anonymous programs where Lucky first hears about higher powers and where she learns the secrets of many of the towns inhabitants. Worst of all, they will not get to run away with Lucky and her dog HMS Beagle to the old mine shafts in the desert outside of town where she saves Miles, finds her higher power and where Bridgitt and the whole community of Hard Pan show Lucky just how loved and how lucky she truly is.