Susan Patron specialized in Children's Services for 35 years at the Los Angeles Public Library before retiring in 2007, the same year her novel The Higher Power of Lucky was awarded the John Newbery Medal. As the library's Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager, she trained and mentored children's librarians in 72 branches. Patron has served on many book award committees, including the Caldecott and Laura Ingalls Wilder Committees of the American Library Association. She is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Lucky Breaks, the second novel in the "Lucky's Hard Pan" trilogy, was published in March 2009.
The Listening Library audio edition of The Higher Power of Lucky is an ALA Notable Recording; the book was translated into twelve foreign languages and has been optioned for a motion picture.
Patron's previous books for children include the Billy Que trilogy of picture books; Dark Cloud Strong Breeze; and a chapter book, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe. All earned starred reviews, and the latter was named an ALA Notable book.
Married to a rare book restorer from the Champagne region of France, Susan is working on the final book in the trilogy.
I bought this book for my 8 and 11 year old boys. And then I bought more for presents for my friends' kids.
The idea that some librarians are choosing to keep this book off the shelves due to the use of the word "scrotum" right at the beginning of the book is more offensive than the word. Reality check: my boys have lots of words for that part of the anatomy, it's about time they read the proper word used in context of another boy saying it.
Surprisingly, if it is the "word" that stuns people, then they haven't read the book and thought about how stunning it is to consider a child (Lucky) listening in on a variety of 12-step groups. But those two aspects, and all the rest of the "shocking" things that happen in this book, are all absolutely appropriate, and beautifully written, to make this book something special.
I highly recommend "Lucky", and I fully agree with the age suggestion assigned it (9-12). My 8yo thought it was awesome, but then, he is in the 4th grade. My 11yo loved it.
The reality is kids in this age range have all kinds of scary ideas and powerful curiosities. Being able to read about Lucky going through such things gave my kids the opportunity to think about and talk about all kinds of things. As a family, we thought this was an excellent book.
As for the librarians and teachers who think they don't want to have to give a vocabulary lesson on the word scrotum, ask them how many times they have heard boys in the 9-12 age range yell a variety of less savory words for that part of their anatomy. The scientifically correct word is always worth teaching.
Lucky has not had it, well, lucky. Her father has abandoned her, her mother died in the desert, and she lives in a tiny dusty town of 43 residents.
Lucky's town, Hard Pan, doesn't have much going for it. There's an improvised beauty salon, a post office, and the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center. Lucky cleans up the Visitor Center, and spends her time eavesdropping on the Anonymous meetings (smokers, drinkers, overeaters, and gamblers). She likes their stories and she's especially inspired by their search for the Higher Power. If only she, Lucky, could find the Higher Power. Then she could stabilize her life.
At the moment, Lucky doesn't feel that stable. She lives with her guardian, Brigitte, a Frenchwoman and Lucky's father's first wife. Brigitte is homesick, still speaks to Lucky with French terms of endearment, and, most importantly, has kept her passport. Lucky knows what that means: Brigitte will leave her in Hard Pan and head back to France.
Brigitte and Lucky live in an improvised home, comprised of three trailers linked together and mounted on concrete blocks. She has one friend in town, a knot-fantatic named Lincoln, and is followed around by a sad 5-year-old boy named Miles with a penchant for cookies and "Are You My Mother?"
Lucky resolves to follow the twelve step program, embarking on the "next step after rock bottom, the getting-control-of-your-life step." She decides to run away during a dust storm, taking a survival pack of her own design with her. Better leave than be left.
"The Higher Power of Lucky" is a charming, powerful tale for the younger Middle Grade reader (7-11). Susan Patron uses the Anonymous metaphor to good effect here.Read more ›
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Boy, a lot of people need to quit clutching their pearls in horror and just get over it. To dismiss a book entirely because of a word (and the CORRECT word at that, not a crude euphemism) is ludicrous; one wonders what would have happen if the slang equivalent had been used. There's a lot more to this book than the "s" word. The opening of the book establishes that this story takes place in a plain-spoken town in the real world. Unfortunately, the controversy over the word has overshadowed this bittersweet tale.
There is a silver lining to the controversy: nothing is more tempting than forbidden fruit. Those who may not have considered reading this book will be sure to seek it out, and many will then end up reading a story they enjoy. I'll bet they won't even think much about the "word" once they get into it.
I enjoyed reading about Lucky's world: the hard, dusty life in a remote California town, and the people who populate it. My favorite character was Miles, a five year old boy with a penchant for cookies and a certain picture book that, in the end, proves to be a much more poignant choice of a book than it first appears. But that's the joy of this book: even in such a relatively small book, all the characters, even those who only appear briefly, are multi-layered people with their own history. That's good writing.
Susan Patron (a librarian herself) has written a good book. Just read it and enjoy it. As for the rest, just let it go.
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I was surprised to hear that some libraries were banning this delightful book for one word, 'Scrotum'. A word I used to refer to 'that place' from the time my son was two years old without embarrassment or making him feel uncomfortable about his body. Since when was scrotum a dirty word? It reminds me of a time when my son was five and overheard the word 'vagina' while we were in the waiting room of my doctor's office. When he curiously asked me what it meant, I was able to explain it in a way appropriate for his age without a red face or the type of reaction that would make him self-conscious. Perhaps grown-ups need to do a bit more 'growing up', for these words are 'out there' in the real world and banning a book isn't going to take away all exposure to commonly used dialogue about the human anatomy (unless you raise your child in a bubble). This is a good children's book, and obviously I'm not the only one who thinks so or it wouldn't have won an award. As parents, perhaps we need to help children feel good about themselves on the inside, and our reactions to words that describe them on the outside can sometimes make the difference between them feeling comfort, or discomfort about their own bodies. As for my own son, he's a mature, confident twenty-one year old in college who shows no signs of 'mental damage' from hearing the words scrotum, vagina, rectum, (he was present when our dog had to have a 'rectal' thermometer), etc. at a young age. I believe many adults have to get over their own childhood memories of unnatural reactions to medical terms for the anatomy, and that's the real reason they avoid books that might put them in the position of explaining anything 'natural'.
But enough of that. This is a fantastic children's story with great illustrations that I found very enjoyable to read, and I plan on reading it to my future grandchildren.
Chrissy K. McVay
Author of 'Souls of the North Wind'
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