Monday, April 30, 2007

The most challenged book of 2006

It is a children's picture book about penguins. Yes, penguins. It is probably challenged so often because it is a true story. It's about two chinstrap penguins who live at the Central Park Zoo. Roy and Silo are two male penguins uninterested in the females, choosing instead to be together. They are clearly devoted to each other, and when the other penguin couples start building nests, Roy and Silo build one, too. But the other couples can do something that Roy and Silo can't: lay eggs. One day the zookeeper notices Roy and Silo sitting on an egg-shaped stone, trying to hatch it. Another penguin couple has an extra egg -- they can only ever take care of one -- and so the zookeeper gives it to Roy and Silo to raise. And they do a wonderful job! Little Tango is born, and Roy and Silo take excellent care of her. You can visit them today at the Central Park Zoo - and maybe even see them online via the penguin cam.

This book gave me goosebumps the first time I read it. It is such a wonderful story, and my children love it, too. It talks about such important things: loving and taking care of each other, finding a way to be happy despite being different or being unable to do things exactly the way those around us do, and the fact that people and families can all be different, and that is okay. These are things I enjoy talking about with my kids.

What is it that makes some people so very uneasy about this book? It is well written, touching, and beautifully illustrated. It has won many major awards, and its literary and artistic value are undeniable. It has been challenged by parents in school libraries, removed from some school systems, moved to the nonfiction section in others; but in most cases it has remained on the shelves, I'm happy to say.

Personally, I find it a bit amusing that this lovely story about penguins can stir things up and maybe, just maybe, engender some intelligent and thoughtful discussion. Or am I too optimistic? I hope not.

If you are interested in more information about the brouhaha, the wikipedia entry about the book has links to articles about the controversy.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005)

Publisher recommends for ages 4 - 8.


  1. No doubt a lot of the brouhaha is the same resistance as to "Heather has Two Mommies," but maybe the dust up is as much due to its artistic and literary merit as to the fact that it's a true story about happy homosexuality in the animal kingdom. People may be less freaked out if the pictures were lame and the text bland as hell.

    I remember once reading a children's book written for children of lesbians; celebrating their two moms getting married. I found it very disappointing. Not only was there no lesbian sex to distract me from researching military academies*, I found the tone patronizing. Far fewer people are probably up in arms over that one because it's just not written well.

    *and that, my friend, is what we like to call in improv, a "call-back." BOOYAH!

  2. Oh, Molly - I laughed SO HARD at your call-back. Very nice.

    And I totally agree with your comments. Even the not-as-funny ones!

  3. i also noticed that the breed of these penguins are "chinstrap" penguins. um, hetero or homo, you can't help but be sexually deviant with the word "strap" in your species label. these penguins make me sick, i tell you! they're only slightly less repugnant than the "horny toad" of the southwest!

  4. Molly - I'm Laughing Out Loud - callback, ha ha ha ha!!!

    Darla - I'm so sorry it seems I've missed a bunch of posts, my bad (blame stupid school). Interesting about this book and that it is a true story, its so sweet. I don't understand people - being a parent means doing work, including censoring your children's reading habits, if that's your cup of tea.

    People who want certain books banned from the library remind me of the Muslim men who want all women covered, basically they are saying that they are so weak that rather than having willpower to overcome "temptation" the "temptation" must be put away from them, regardless of it hurts others. I hope I'm articulating this correctly - but this being an objectionable book is just another example of lazy parenting!

  5. I imagine the parents who object to books like these believe they are being vigilant, good parents. It is a really interesting take on the situation to say they are being lazy, and I think you have a point. It is indeed lazy to simply remove material you find objectionable rather than sitting down with a child and discussing these sometimes difficult topics. Often it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction; often parents don't bother to read the entire book - or any of it at all. That is laziness, too. Very interesting!


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