Banned Books Awareness: “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson

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And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book (ages 4-8) written in 2005 by Justin Richardson, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in New York, and Peter Parnell, a playwright (The Cider House Rules).

The story is based on true events about a couple of chinstrap penguins living in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. Roy and Silo, two male penguins, are “a little bit different.” They cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples; but when the others started hatching eggs, they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it.

As one might expect, they have no luck; that is, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo to this day. The 32-page illustrated book also includes an author’s note which provides more information about Roy, Silo, Tango, and other chinstrap penguins.

This enjoyable story about the meaning of family has become a huge hit and a favorite of children and adults. It has won several awards including the American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year, Bank Street Best Book of the Year, Cooperative Children’s Book Council Choice, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and Finalist for Lambda Literary Award.

But by 2007 the book also garnered notoriety when it topped the American Library Association’s “Most Challenged Books” list, where it still remains. Homosexual behavior occurs among hundreds of species. Some species have even changed gender if female/male ratios become too skewed for propagation of the species. So this true account of an actual event, which is a natural phenomenon, has become a target because opponents argue that it portrays homosexuality as “natural” and begs the question that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt and raise children.

Due to the penguins being of the same sex, some adults in the United States have objected to children reading the book. The existence of homosexuality in animals is considered controversial by conservative religious groups who oppose gay rights movements because these findings seem to point to the occurrence of homosexuality in humans.

Opponents contend that the book is aimed at promoting the “gay agenda” and the fictional children’s book has no place in school libraries, let alone being aimed at children at all. But the simple truth is this is NOT a work of fiction. It is a story based on actual events and actual participants. Banning the book does not, nor will not, erase history. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.” co-author Justin Richardson told the New York Times.

Senior penguin keeper Mr. Gramzay said that he never saw the pair engage in a sex act, but the two did engage in mating rituals like entwining their necks and vocalizing to one another.

In November, 2006 in Shiloh, Illinois, parents of students at Shiloh Elementary School requested in that the book be placed in a restricted section of the library and for the school to require parental permission prior to checking the book out. The school’s superintendent resolved instead to keep the book freely available. In Missouri, parents had the book moved to the school library’s non-fiction section.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Peter Gorman, the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, ordered the book removed from school libraries on December 20, 2006. Gorman agreed to let a committee review the decision due to concerns that the policy on challenging books was not followed.

In 2008, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick removed the book from general circulation at public elementary school libraries on the basis of a parent’s complaint, overriding the decision of a Sterling, Virginia school principal and staff members who deemed the book suitable for young readers. Hatrick subsequently returned the book into circulation as he found “significant procedural errors that he believes void the process followed in this matter”.

In Calvert County, Maryland near Washington, D.C. a mother requested that the book be removed from the children’s section and placed in an area specifically for books about “alternative or non-traditional families.” The library board of trustees denied the request, concluding that libraries should disseminate information fairly and without bias or judgment. Shortly thereafter, in November 2008, the Calvert County Library Board of Trustees heard another challenge to the book. A parent, describing the book as presenting issues of sexuality to children too young to understand them, asked that the book be removed from the library, shelved with adult books on sexuality, or marked with a “red dot” to alert parents to its controversial nature. The parent charged that the book’s statement that penguins Roy and Silo “slept together” is a reference to sexual behavior between the birds.

In Ankeny, Iowa parents at the local elementary school asked in 2008 that this book be placed in a restricted section of the library so only parents could check it out. The school district’s lawyer argued that such a decision, if challenged, would likely not hold up in court. PEN America and the American Library Association sent letters urging the board to preserve students’ access to Tango. On December 15, 2008 the Ankeny school board voted 6 to 1 to keep the book in general circulation.

In Chico, California, a school committee formed of parents, teachers, librarians and school administrators, voted unanimously to retain the book on the shelves of the Chico Unified School District libraries following the complaints of three parents that the book was unsuitable for young children.

The book is listed on the 15 Most Controversial Picture Books because of the controversy surrounding the popular children’s book. A school librarian in Massachusetts feared losing her job after introducing the book to students.

* to read the previous discussion thread visit my original posting of this article on Facebook*

Sources: American Library Association, evilslutopia.com, School Library Journal, Booklist, New York Times
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

5 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson

  1. Pingback: You Can't Read That! | Paul's Thing

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