Gay Penguin Fable ’Tango’ Marks Three Years at Top of ’Challenged’ Books List

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Apr 21, 2009

Once again, the story of two make penguins nesting together and raising an adopted chick as their own has reached the top of the ranks of books targeted for censorship in school libraries.

"And Tango Makes Three," a children's book that recounts the true story of a pair of male penguins who adopt a penguin chick, has been "challenged"--been the focus of formal requests for de-accessioning from school libraries--more than any other book for three years in a row.

The book, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, had its origins in a newspaper account of how the two male penguins were observed not only nesting together, but also caring for a small rock as though it were an egg, noted An April 16 article in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

A zookeeper gave the couple a real egg, which the penguins tended faithfully. When the chick hatched, they parented the new arrival with equal attentiveness.

The Guardian article noted that challenged book s in American school libraries included a novel about a Muslim from Afghanistan trying to set things right decades after betraying a young friend: Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel "The Kite Runner" has appeared on the most-challenged list right along with perennial favorite "And Tango Makes Three" this year.

The article quoted the deputy director of the American Library Association, which publishes an annual list of challenged books.

Said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, "Books that address same-sex parenting, or same-sex relationships, are particularly prone to challenges in the U.S."

Added Caldwell-Stone, "In the case of 'And Tango Makes Three,' there are many parents who believe it inappropriate to teach children anything at all about homosexual relationships, even in the form of a picture book about a true story," the Guardian reported.

The article noted that the three books that comprise British author Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy is another perennial favorite, with American parents seeing the books as an attack on Christianity.

"His Dark Materials" rose to second place on the new list, which reflects a count of challenged books during 2008. The article said that a film version of the first book in the trilogy, "The Golden Compass," had precipitated a spike in challenges against that book, especially from Catholics.

The article quoted Pullmann as saying, "They never learn," and saying he felt "glee" at the news that his book had made the list.

"The inevitable result of trying to ban something--book, film, play, pop song, whatever--is that far more people want to get hold of it than would ever have done if it were left alone," Pullman was quoted as saying.

"Why don't the censors realize this?"

In the past, classics such as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou had ranked prominently on the challenged book list, the article said.

The total number of challenges in 2008 hit 513--an increase from the 420 noted in 2007. But Caldwell-Stone was cited by the article as saying that the incidence of challenged books may be severely underreported.

Added Caldwell-Stone, "While not every book is right for each reader, every reader has the right to choose reading materials for themselves and their families and should be able to find those materials in libraries, classrooms, and bookstores.

"Our goal is to protect one of our most precious fundamental rights--our freedom to read."

Another kids' book dealing with a gay character to hit the top ten: "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," by Sarah S. Brannen, in which a child helps celebrate her uncle's marriage to his make life partner. (The characters are all guinea pigs.)

The ALA draws attention to challenged and banned books in the U.S. with an annual Banned Books Week, the article reported. This year the week will be observed Sept. 26-Oct. 3.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-04-24 10:00:18

    I’d like the religious media to ban my book, TANGO, AN ARGENTINE LOVE STORY. It has the right ingredients-tango, gay guys,and and a few penguins. I could use the notoriety. Please tell me where to send a copy.

  • , 2009-04-24 10:01:38

    I’d like the religious media to ban my book, TANGO, AN ARGENTINE LOVE STORY (Seal Press). It has the right ingredients-tango, gay guys,and and a few penguins. I could use the notoriety for sales. Please tell me where to send a copy. - Camille Cusumano

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