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>Reviews in a word

>I’ve been submerged with Guide proofreading, a semi-annual communal exercise in eyestrain and Twizzlers and chocolate-fueled mania; yesterday I couldn’t stop calling everyone “enthusiasts” after reading the word one too many times. The eternally unsolved question about typos also came up: should a review mention their presence in a book even when they are few or solitary? Publishers prefer that we not mention them at all, of course, asking us instead to notify them so a correction can be made in the next printing. But our readers will probably be considering the first printing–and if we tell them of a typo they might not buy it, meaning that a second printing becomes questionable.

This is not unassociated with the problem The Higher Power of Lucky has been having with its scrotum.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >It doesn’t seem quite fair to me to mention a typo or two. They aren’t the author’s fault or the book’s fault and they ought not affect their prospects. But I recently read a novel riddled with so many grammar and usage errors that my English-teacher obsessiveness forced me to read it with a pen in hand — that’s another story.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >My first novel comes out this year and I am already so fearful about the possibility of a typo slipping through — please, please, please, let one or two go.


  3. Anonymous says:

    What are you hinting at? Was “scrotum” misspelled? Or are you wondering if it’s fair for reviewers to focus on the scrotum passage?

  4. Anonymous says:

    >As a reviewer of mostly novels, I’ll let one or two slide if they’re not symptomatic of larger problems (like an overall aura of carelessness in editing, production, plot and character consistency, etc.–which, in fact, it often is). I’d imagine that in a picture book, where the text has to accomplish so much with so few words, typos are more problematic. I do, however, note glaring errors (i.e., not just a mispelled word or a single agreement problem), such as a missing phrase (yes, sometimes an entire line gets lost over a page break and no-one notices), an incorrect (read: hopelessly out of touch) pop culture reference, or factual goof-ups. Funny enough, I’m less bothered by mispelling than by grammatical errors: mispellings seem to be a one-time mess-up, something that was missed…grammatical errors make it read like the editor or author doesn’t actually have full command of the language.

    Other thoughts?

  5. Anonymous says:

    >And, oops, didn’t edit my own post and caught in my own hypocrisy… that’s “they often are,” not “it often is.”

  6. >Hey Roger,
    I like being anonymous in Amsterdam, but I won’t be here….
    So what’s the story on the Lucky’s scrotum? (I haven’t read it yet.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I’d never think to mention a typo if it were clearly a typo and there weren’t a zillion typos in the book. I do get tired of finding typos in finished books, though. Copy editing seems to be a lost art.

    And, in regards to “scrotum” in Susan Patron’s lovely book, I should hope no review would comment on it. It is not a curse word nor an offensive word and is used for a good reason in the story.
    As my husband quipped when reading about some teachers’ fear of parent reprisals at reading this word–“Come on teachers–have some balls!”


  8. >Doesn’t Horn Book get books as arcs, before the copyediting is finished? Thus you wouldn’t know whether the errors will be carried over into the book that’s released to the public?

    I agree that it’s harsh to nitpick over what is obviously a copy error or two. However, a few times I’ve seen books with remarkable numbers of errors–repeated words, missing words, punctuation, misspellings. All kinds of things. It really does distract from the reading experience. I don’t believe it’s the authors fault, but still…Does there come a point when a reviewer should mention it?

  9. >A two paragraph review of my first book spent one paragraph detailing a typo, what it was, what page it was on.

    the other paragraph questioned that the word ‘rape’ was mentioned in the book, but not included in the glossary.

    i would have preferred a negative review to a persnickety one.

  10. >Are you not getting uncorrected page proofs for review? I know that even at that stage we are all busying copyediting the proofs, nine or ten times each before the book goes into printing.

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >We would only mention a typo if we saw it in a finished book–galleys and ARCs are full of ’em.

  12. Roger Sutton says:

    >And “scrotum,” which appears on the first page of The Higher Power of Lucky, is apparently causing problems for teachers who want to read the book aloud and are afraid of parental complaints. I’m sure that author Susan Roman, a children’s librarian, and editor Dick Jackson, who went through this sort of thing editing Judy Blume, thought, er, long and hard about using this word and decided it was worth the trouble. Good for them.

  13. shahairyzad says:

    >When my book was in production, I got to proofread the typeset pages. None of my corrections were in the bound galley, however, because the bound galley was already being printed before I’d finished proofreading.

    The next time I got to look at my book was on the pub date. Needless to say, there were typos in the final version. Some I had corrected when I did my proofreading, but the corrections did not make it into the final version. Others were introduced AFTER I’d done my proofreading, giving me no opportunity to catch them.

    My point is that today’s rushed production schedules give an author very little chance to catch all the errors. And the publishers seem to feel that perfection is just too expensive–they’ll settle for 98%. But when a reviewer nitpicks over typos, it’s the author who takes the criticism to heart, not the publisher. And as readers can’t hope to find a corrected version anyway, what purpose does it serve to dwell on the typos?

    Send a letter (or corrected book) to the publisher, if you must. But don’t drive a red pen through the author’s heart.

  14. >As a reviewer, I wouldn’t as a rule point out typos in a novel or lengthy work of nonfiction. They seem to be, as others have noted, a fact of life these days. But typos and misspellings in a picture book–particularly one with minimal text–are harder to excuse. Every word in a picture book is supposed to count, isn’t it? and, c’mon, there aren’t that many of them!

    As to previous comments that typos aren’t the author’s fault, or the book’s fault (not quite sure what was meant there?)–every book is necessarily the end product of many people’s efforts. The reviewer’s job is to review the book they’ve got in front of them, regardless of how it got to be that way.

  15. >Sorry, meant to sign that last post —

  16. >I know I may get flamed, but can someone please enlighten me: why is it important that the bite was on the dogs scrotum? I’m all for using biologically correct terms without squeamishness, but am opposed to using them for shock value (not the intended purpose here, but seemingly a common effect, nonetheless). I’m thinking about the intended audience of the story here (generally estimated at about 9-11 in reviews in the CLCD). What does it add to the story’s meaning for them, that the dog was bitten in the scrotum?

    I’ve thought about other considerations: Does it make Sam hit a lower rock bottom? Does that particular location help him find his higher power? Considering from another angle, why would that particular location be meaningful to Lucky? I can’t determine that the scrotum are crucial for any of these particular purposes…

    I, personally, find it quite amusing. I think, however, it may distract attention from the story rather than add to it, much as a fart by a student in a class of fourth graders may momentarily make it quite difficult for the rest of the class to think about whatever point is being made in the classroom at that moment…

  17. Anonymous says:

    >Ifaren, you assume that the writer’s job is to serve the need’s of fourth grade story time. I rmember once being lambasted by a teacher because of something in a book that she didn’t want to read aloud and so wanted me to know that she would not be reading my book during story hour. I said to her I never wrote the book to be read during story hour. Or any other hour. I wrote a book. I wrote the book to write the book. This had never occurred to her. Art for art’s sake. You can all approve or disapprove or mindfuck this one to death – it’s not a committee decision.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >The copyeditors at FSG are the most amazing people on the planet. I dare you to find a typo in one of their finished books.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >Long and hard, Roger? You crack me up!

  20. >Anonymous,

    Thank you for your response. I appreciate the comment about art for art’s sake. That is something to consider, of course.

    This book, however, won a prestigious children’s literature award. That award defines an audience, and it creates a larger audience than the book might otherwise have commanded. My community is literate and literary. My students at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are thoughtful and discerning. Part of the librarian’s art here, as elsewhere, is to match books with readers who will appreciate them.

    Analyzing an author’s prose in this context is a valid and useful activity. Word choice is important. My question remains unresolved, alas: “scrotum” –just a cheap laugh, or integral to deeper meaning?

    (Irene Fahrenwald)

  21. Anonymous says:

    >If people want to go around handing out prestigious children’s awards, that is entirely up to them, but it doesn’t put writers in the pockets of these people or you and your discerning and uber intelligent company. If you think you can hope to know why writers do anything you know nothing about writing or writers.

  22. >My goodness. Still, the question is unanswered.

  23. Anonymous says:

    >Perhaps your time would be better spent pondering why this is such a concern for you. Is it because you find such things funny or because you need to have a scrotum be more than just that. You have a much better chance of answering such concerns since they are your own and therefore something you have some chance of understanding. Perhaps you might even wonder if she didn’t say scrotum because that is, in fact, where he was bitten.

  24. Anonymous says:

    >And I’m sorry to be so harsh with you, Irene, but perhaps the reason the question is unanswered is because it is a silly question.

  25. >I am sorry that you seem so sensitive to questions being raised about an author’s work. I had hoped for an interesting discussion of an interesting book, a discussion involving various points of view based on evidence in the text.

  26. Roger Sutton says:

    >PATRON, Susan PATRON. Susan Roman is another (former) children’s librarian. Don’t know where my head was at, sorry. They’re both swell gals but hardly interchangeable.

  27. Anonymous says:

    >But you did get a discussion, Irene. Just not the one you wanted.

  28. >No, I got an ad-hominem attack. Oh well.

  29. Anonymous says:

    >And Irene, I think you might consider how your situation is not unlike Susan Patron’s. You put something innocently out there for discussion,hoping as you say to have an intelligent discussion and look what happens, it gets taken out of your hands and run sadly afoul with by some overly sensitive idiot. Not unlike Susan who wrote a book and puts it out there and can not now control someone fixating on the word scrotum. And so it goes.

  30. Roger Sutton says:

    >Note to Anonymouses, any and all: you are welcome to debate me and other posters here but it would be both helpful and polite to somehow identify yourself (pseudononymously or not) consistently so that others know whether they are replying to one person or several. A simple initial at the end of your posts would suffice. Thanks, R.

  31. Anonymous says:

    >(Forgive me if this is a repeat comment, I seem to have encountered a blogger error on my previous attempt)

    I think Irene has asked an interesting question. Is there some significance to the fact that the dog was bitten on the scrotum? Is it significant to the story or to characterization? I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but I am very curious about it. Does the word serve the story? If so, I am all in favor of it. But I have yet to hear an explanation of how it does.


  32. Anonymous says:

    >Over at CCBC net and in my children’s lit seminar at vandy the scrotum issue is being tossed about (hee hee). One point that came up is that the word, its use, its “shock value” parallels the character’s (and most kids’) experience with new words and situations that, when we are young, just don’t yet have a category into which they fit all comfy and cozy. They do stand out because they’re weird or they create a shame we can’t verbalize, or an adult laughs or makes a face, and kids file it away as “something that gets a reaction, but not quite sure why”. I think we as adults fixate on it more than kids do. You say ‘fart’, they giggle or try to produce one of their own and then the moment kind of passes. Granted, ‘scrotum’s’ a little farther up the alert-o-meter … I don’t know. I’ve found that the more it’s addressed head-on, the more it’s diffused and life goes on. The build up and censorship make it a bigger deal than a few giggles ever could.


  33. Anonymous says:

    >Bryn said, “You say ‘fart’, they giggle or try to produce one of their own and then the moment kind of passes.”

    Now, Bryn, that goes right up there with “long and hard.”

    Made my day.

  34. Roger Sutton says:

    >I like the way “scrotum” sets up the tone and character right away. It is a funny word. Surprising to see it bag a Newbery, though. (Just for you, Robin.)

  35. Anonymous says:

    >My concern is that the wonderful writing, deft character development, keen sense of place, emotional depth etc. seems to be taking a back seat to this obsession about the use of the word scrotum. The use of this word is in keeping with Short Sammy’s personality, and Lucky’s confusion about the word and what it means does mirror her confusion about the adult world in general.

  36. Anonymous says:

    >I have to confess that when I saw scrotum in the book, I thought: wow. I haven’t seen that in a children’s book in a long time … ever? In an adult book even? It felt almost like a new word.

    I think it’s being over-thought here; I’ve lost sight of why it’s important. I’m lukewarm about the entire book itself, actually, and I didn’t realize reviewers had spent time on the word. But as a writer I can tell you that why we write what we do and how reviewers interpret it is a never-ending marvel. scg

  37. >the problem I have with scrotum is that it isn’t a word that is really much used and so calls attention to itself. i think the author just needed the balls to use balls which would be a much more natural locution. It’s the hedging it that makes it slightly icky.

  38. >R., the last anonymous speaking of anonymous an overly sensitive idiot was the same anonymous as the above in the debate with irene, if that is your question

  39. >I read an ARC of “Higher Power” early last year. I started reading it one night in bed, and I laughed out loud at the word we all seem so alarmed about. I turned to he who shares my bed, and I said, “I want to give THIS book the Newbery. It says ‘scrotum’ on the first page!”

    It was a joke. After reading the novel repeatedly and finding it as lovely as JR above did…I have to say I am glad we DID give it the Newbery. It is so vastly superior to other “award” books I could name (from this and past years). The whole slate of ALA/ALSC/YALSA award books this year is just phenomenal.

    If some ninnies want to get their unmentionables in a bunch over a word that tastefully names a piece of anatomy nearly 50% of humans have about their persons, that is their prerogative. If they want to miss this great book, that is their loss.


  40. Anonymous says:


    I just wish that the people defending the use of “scrotum” were not so ninny-and-bunchish themselves. I haven’t read any of the other debates about the use of the word, only Irene’s comment, so I don’t know who else’s panties are in a twist, but it seems like a reasonable question to ask, “does this work well when read out loud?”

    The question doesn’t pre-suppose that the only good book is one that can be read out loud, nor that only books suitable for reading allowed should be awarded prestigious prizes, or that the questioner is a nervous nellie offended by human or animal biology.

    Most of us have had read-aloud moments that went bad, when kids lost interest or were turned off, or laughed so hard they lost track of the story and then couldn’t be re-engaged. For me, those moments are not among my happiest memories and I’d like to avoid more of them, if possible.

    I think Lucky does make a good read aloud exactly because, as you demonstrated with your bedmate, the best thing about the scene is sharing the humor with someone else. Still, gauging the audience is important. It works best, I think, if they already know what the word means the first time they hear it. And of course, it’s important that no one ends up feeling life-long humiliation as the only person in the class who didn’t know the S word. I think Roger blogged awhile back about the lingering effects of those kinds of moments.


  41. Anonymous says:


    I disagree (on the point that it works best if readers already know the word)…Lucky’s finding out what the word means later is important to the story. Readers might be finding out too.

    If you want to read about people with a problem w/ the word in question go to CCBC-Net.

    -Duck again

  42. Anonymous says:

    >Wow, I would hope that a typo or two or three wouldn’t reflect on the author or the book. Fact is, it’s the publisher’s job to make a book right. And copy editing is an art that seems to be dying. I agree on that.

  43. Rosefiend says:

    >You ought to proofread some cattle sale books, Roger. The cattlemen are always talking about scrotal circumfrence and semen sales. Kind of freaky at first, but after a while you get over it. What bothers me about proofreading is when my eyes get really dry, so when I drive home I’m constantly blinking.

    I could see how reading the word “scrotum” to a class of fourth-graders would bring everything to a screeching halt. Maybe discuss with the students (before opening the book) how words make us uncomfortable, or make us giggle nervously, and why this is so? Or perhaps one should simply edit on the fly, though some might not be as good at that.

    It’s just a good idea to always read through a book you intend to read aloud to a class.

  44. >Well, how on earth did that get under my Rosefiend name? Anyway, that post was by me, Melinda.

  45. Anonymous says:

    >I teach Creative Writing for Children at a university in middle-America.

    The Newbery Day was the first time the
    class met for the semester. I took in all the award books and started reading
    them to the class, sight unseen. It was a great way to introduce the students
    to the issues currently being discussed in children’s literature.

    I opened The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, and started reading cold, not knowing what to expect, except that if the Newbery said it was good, I expected something great.

    Ah, the discussion about that word, scrotum. We are a mostly rural area
    with lots of conservative folk. Some students said they wouldn’t let their
    kids read that book. If that’s in the first couple pages, what will follow? they wondered.

    The debate raged about what age they would allow their kids to read the book.

    Would they read the book first and then, perhaps, pass it on to their kids if the rest of it panned out (pun intended)?

    (Folks, these are college students, thinking the book should be put aside for a
    couple years b/c of one word!)

    THAT is why the word matters. First impressions do matter and these college students decided the word was inappropriate for the intended age level. This decision will doubtless be repeated endlessly in conservative areas, at least.

    Pesonally, I read the book and found myself lukewarm to it, as another poster said. I didn’t believe a French woman would–at the drop of a hat–come over the US, find this tiny city in the desert–and stay. I never bought into the basic premises of the story.

    Also, it was hard to catch the rhythms in the book, and that made it hard to read aloud. The Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor’s Center is a mouthful, especially when coming upon it cold.

    Opinions vary widely, as they say.

  46. rindawriter says:

    >Dear me, I HAVE been working at home, copy editing, for doctors and psychiatrists far, FAR too long…no shock value at all for me in this entire discussion…sorry.

    We have no children, but if we did, they would have long since, before fourth grade, become immune to all sorts of parts-of-the-body words.

    If I read this book out loud in class to fourth-graders, I’d pause, smile patiently, let everyone laugh, and then ask politely, “does everyone know what we’re laughing about here?” And “Do I need to explain anything furhter in what we’ve just to anyone here? I can explain it in private up here at my desk to anyone, if you’d rather.”

    I can hear the giggles and see the head shakes now; children get embarrassed and laugh at things that make them feel embarrassed like any adult does. We’d laugh again. And then I’d finish the story.

    If an irate parent came in to talk to me, I’d ask them if they knew exactly what their children were watching on TV and DVD’s……bet ya he/she wouldn’t have a clue…

  47. rindawriter says:

    >P.S. Dear, DEAR authors: There is a simple solution to worrying about typos in the final edition of your books.

    Go to copy editing school. Go thence in humility and lowliness of heart and learn Thou there how to master thine own language and write it well.

    Authors are generally given an opportunity to proof galleys. If you, dear authors, went to copy editing school, you would then be able to proof your own work in galleys and thereby catch all the nasty mistakes that the editors let slide through. Then you would never have to worry about typos or mangled grammar ever, ever again….in your published work.

    And noooo I don’t copy edit my comments here…I would go insane having to be perfect ALL the time everywhere…

  48. >An interesting article concerning Lucky appeared in my email this afternoon from the Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf.

    Listservs Buzzing over Newbery Winner

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