Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Books Week: Review of "And Tango Makes Three"

As you may have heard, September 26, 2009 - October 3, 2009 is Banned Books Week.  According to the American Library Association, "Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."  You can check out the lists of most frequently banned books, by year, on the ALA site (use the column on the left hand side to see other years).

In honor of the week, I decided to read and review And Tango Makes Three.  The book topped the list of frequently challenged books in 2006, 2007, and 2008.  The reasons cited include being "anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group."

And Tango Makes Three (Hardcover), by Peter Parnell. This book tells the story of two penguins, Roy and Silo, who become a couple at a New York zoo. The author's note at the end explains, "All of the events in this story are true . . . After years of living side by side in the Central Park Zoo, they discovered each other in 1998 and they have been a couple ever since. Tango, their only chick, was born from an egg laid by another penguin couple named Betty and Porkey. That couple had often hatched their own eggs, but they had never been able to care for more than one at a time. In 2000, when Betty laid two fertile eggs, Rob Gramzay decided to give Roy, Silo, and one of those eggs a chance to become a family." The illustrations are lovely, as is the text. Of course, parents will understand the concept of homosexuality at play here, but for a young reader, the message is fairly subtle.
"Two penguins in the penguin house were a little bit different. One was named Roy, and the other was named Silo. Roy and Silo were both boys. But they did everything together. / They bowed to each other. And walked together. They sang to each other. And swam together. Where ever Roy went, Silo went too."
Bookworm's interest at 22 months: Not much, at this age. I pointed out the penguins, and that's about it. I explained that the cover showed a baby and two Daddies, and that was fine with him. He doesn't always know the distinction between "man" and "woman" yet, so this book wasn't likely to phase him as out of the ordinary.
Parent's Peeve: I didn't expect to like this book much -- not because I am offended by homosexuality, or even its presence in children's books, but I figured it would be a sort of rushed, overly trite book trying too hard to make a point. Of course, it is true that it is trying to make a point, but it does so in the context of a really lovely, beautifully illustrated story. I think a child reading it would just take it at face value. Two boy penguins became close friends and did everything together (nothing unusual there). If the child understands where babies come from, they might get that it would be impossible for the two boy penguins to have a baby, and they'd see a zookeeper helping them out with an "extra" egg. Call me crazy (or liberal), but I just can't see spending time and energy trying to ban this. It may not suit every family, but what book does?

Does anyone understand what the "anti-ethnic" criticism is with this book?  Because the baby penguin is brown?  I don't get it.  

If you looked on the ALA site, what titles surprised you?  Are there any books that you refuse to let your children read, or that you actively keep out of your home?  Did you also do a post about Banned Books Week?  Leave a comment with the URL to your post so we can check it out.


Christy said...

I haven't read the book but from your description I definitely don't see what can be considered anti-ethnic. We are doing a project with a banned book this week, "Draw Me a Star" by Eric Carle.

liz jenkins said...

We loved that book and while my daughter was really too young to "get" the homosexuality aspect, she had no issue with the 2 daddy thing. It was a lovely story, well written with beautiful illustrations. We have gay friends and it's just a non-issue as it should be.
I do find it difficult sometimes with books that have subject matters that involve way more discussion than we are ready for, mostly in areas of historical issues such as slavery, wars, etc.
One of the hardest issues I have right now is a 7 year old who reads at a 5th grade level - trying to find challenging books with topics that don't cause me to cringe or want to ban myself!