Some believe it is legitimate to shield children and teenagers from information that is perceived to negatively affect that critical time of development. Time and time again, the efforts of artists and authors to incorporate controversial themes in works for children are challenged by parents, schools and libraries. While the right of parents to decide what is appropriate for their children should be respected, the banning and removing of books deprives other families from making their own choices and can send a pervasive, negative message to children about a specific topic or group.
And Tango Makes Three is a true story about the two male penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo. These two penguins acted like a couple so the zookeeper gave them an egg to raise. Many might be surprised to know that the book topped the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of most-challenged books from 2006 to 2010, and it continues to draw opposition across the United States. The book was first challenged in Missouri, when several parents asked two public libraries to remove it. Complaints have also surfaced in Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and North Carolina.
The source of controversy surrounding the book is that some readers have distorted this story of an alternative family to be about encouraging homosexuality. The two most cited lines in support of this argument are the comment by the zookeeper that “They [Roy and Silo] must be in love,” and one section mentioned, when describing Roy and Silo’s activities, that states that “(t)hey slept together”.
While And Tango Makes Three could be used to introduce children to LBGTQ issues, another potential lesson is one of tolerance. Banning the book in a particular community could potentially lead to alienating homosexual individuals and couples, and possibly children. The book conveys to children the importance of strong family bonds. That Roy and Silo both were male penguins did not deprive them of the ties necessary to raise and care for their child.
In light of ALA’s Banned Books Week (coming up this fall from September 24-October 1) we decided to gage public opinion about And Tango Makes Three through a short survey. Of the 59 people that we surveyed online and at New York City’s South Street Seaport, 86% felt comfortable with this book being available to children. The second question in our survey asked how surprised people were that a book of this nature was the most controversial book in the country. The plurality (44%) of respondents was surprised by that fact. However, while the large variety of responses conveyed that people understood why the book would cause controversy, they were surprised that it was the most challenged book in the country.
Recently, the school board of Republic High School in Missouri voted to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer from the school curriculum and the school’s library. As Banned Books Week approaches, it is important to remember the benefit books contribute both within schools and as a leisure activity.
Thanks to everyone that participated in our survey and make sure to check back for more information as Banned Books Week approaches this fall!