I just finished reading the 2006 Newberry Award book The Higher Power of Lucky after hearing of the kerfuffle it caused amongst teachers and school librarians everywhere for its use of the word "scrotum." Since it was a dog's scrotum, I'm not sure it was as scandalous as folks made it out to be, but when our hero, Lucky, asks her guardian at the end of the book what a scrotum is, you can hear in the character's answer the threat that this question implies.
After answering, Brigitte, the guardian, asks Lucky why she wants to know.
"'It was just something I heard someone say,' said Lucky.
"For some reason, Brigitte said, 'You know if anyone ever hurt you I would rip their heart out.'"
And for this reader at least, the reason Brigitte said that is clear. Is she asking because a man's scrotum has appeared in Lucky's life? And throughout the book Lucky seems on the cusp of discovering something about her sexuality. It's lurking just behind the text, but is never stated outright. I suspect that also had something to do with the disapproval this book received.
That and the emphasis on evolution. This whole book works on the assumption that evolution is a scientific fact. There's much mention of adaptation as well as evolving. A schoolteacher (imagine!) teaches about how polar bears adapted to their environment. And there's more mention of Charles Darwin in this book than in any other I've seen, much less a children's book. Lucky's dog is HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin is her favorite scientist. I didn't hear any mention of this in the press, but I wonder how much this affected the attitudes of some teachers and parents.
Personally, I liked the book. I liked the tone and the language. But can I just say, no more orphans! Lemony Snicket can do it because he is being ironic, but why the endless appeal of the parentless child in children's literature? I have grown tired of the convention, but then, I'm not a child any more.