And Tango Makes a Banned Book

A children's book about penguins causes a big stir
A children's book about penguins causes a big stir

As it says in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal.” Yet, throughout history, the idea of a “dominant” race or culture determines who is not equal and when it is justified to treat another disrespectfully. Homosexuals are currently experiencing oppression from the perceived dominant group of heterosexuals and they are struggling for their rights. Homosexuality is a taboo subject for many Americans. Unfortunately, some of those people who consider homosexuality to be a taboo subject have the power to implement their views onto the rest of society: book banners. A children’s book about penguins is currently causing a big stir. And Tango Makes Three, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, is a children’s book that has been banned since 2006 on the basis of being anti-family, pro-gay and anti-religion.[1]

This children’s book is based on a true story of two male penguins, Silo and Roy, at the Central Park Zoo. The zookeeper notices that Silo and Roy are different than the other male penguins, because they prefer to be around each other instead of female penguins. Silo and Roy go on to build a nest but are unable to hatch a chick. The zoo keeper decides to give Silo and Roy an egg after realizing their predicament. This egg hatches and becomes their baby penguin, Tango, and he is raised by two great parent penguins. Though the book received several national book awards, it continues to be restricted reading for young readers. The longer this book remains banned, the more it reflects society’s unwillingness to look in the mirror. A prominent idea in America is that society is “advanced” and “tolerant” to the highest degree. Banning books about extremely relevant topics, factual ones for that matter, and allowing religion to enter the public school system, does not reflect an extremely advanced and tolerant society.

The decision to ban this book doesn’t just affect the gay community, it affects everybody. One of the charges against this book is that it is anti-religion. Americans, however, have the right to have any religion, or lack of religion they please. This can be inferred from the Free Exercise Clause within the first amendment. [2]Religion and education were bound to collide into conflict immediately after the decision was made to separate church and state. But did they really get separated? Banning books about homosexuality in a public school system goes against the objective of a learning environment. Education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”[3] Is a person expected to know one way of thinking for their entire span of adulthood? Education is not about trying to incorporate religious beliefs into a state’s facility for education.

This book is based on a true story. The banning of this book shows society’s reluctance to accept that homosexuality exists. Since homosexuality occurred between two penguins, this may send the message that homosexuality is natural. This is not a bad message. With all the unrest about homosexuality, young homosexuals shouldn’t have to feel so isolated and grow up thinking they are unnatural or inferior. Heterosexual youth should learn to be accepting to different kinds of sexuality. Young readers learn tolerance by reading books like these. Co-author Justin Richardson explained,

“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."[4] The fact that this book is banned shows that modern day society feels threatened by homosexuality. This may be because homosexuality challenges an identity many people have accumulated through interpretations, or misinterpretations, of the Bible.

According to the American Library Association, this book is frequently challenged on the basis of sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group. Parents in states including Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina have taken action to get this book off shelves and unavailable to elementary school students. Mecklenburg County Commissioner, Bill James, supports the banning of the children’s book since it focuses on homosexuality, and he “did not feel that such information was vital to primary students,” and “did not believe the book would stimulate growth in ethical standards."[5] Parents agree with James, in that they are “opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal.”[6] These reasons show that modern day society is not as tolerant as people may think. A society that bans books about current issues, and in this case a factual issue, is one that is afraid. This book is very suited to its age group because it discusses diversity in sexuality in an easy to understand, neutral manner. The book does not promote or negate homosexuality; it simply discusses it through references to an actual event.

Religious conservatives are the main supporters of the ban. Their view is that the book supports sin and should be banned since God punishes gay people because they choose to act on their homosexuality. However, these people are forgetting that ,while the Bible never explicitly said that gay people are not equal, it did say, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:17-18). Even if people are religious conservatives, that doesn’t mean that a book should not be available to those who aren’t. Children learn to hate through socialization, most strongly from their family. And Tango Makes Three promotes tolerance and that is a pure and religiously “good” principle.

Throughout history, fear has driven societies in the past to exile those with ideas different than the “mainstream,” accepted ideology. One of the earliest examples of this is the trial of Socrates in 399 B.C.E.[7] Though his ideas were thought to be “radical” at the time, now they seem ridiculous to have been ridiculed. People in that society felt that their identity was being challenged, as people often have a religious aspect to their identity. This is very similar to what is causing this children’s book to be banned. Having the youth read this book will foster an idea that same-sex couples are equal to heterosexual couples. People with discriminatory views, however, do not feel that is true and want to prevent their children from influencing culture to be more accepting of homosexuals. People are afraid of change, and youth are most likely to affect change. After all, the saying, “the youth are the future,” is relevant no matter to which time period it is applied.


[1] Italie, Hillel. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/16/the-kite-runner-on-americ_n_187639.html (20 February 2010).

[2] Mullally, Claire. First Amendment Center. http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/rel_liberty/free_exercise/index.aspx (20 February 2010).

[3] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

[4] Miller, Jonathon. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/nyregion/24penguins.html (20 February 2010).

[5] : Newspapers, Mcclatchy. Globe Newspaper Compnay. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/12/20/schools_chief_bans_book_on_penguins/ (24 February 2010).

Helms, Ann D. McClatchy Newspapers . http://www.jameslogancourier.org/index.php?itemid=1261 (20 February 2010).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Linder, Doug. UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY (UMKC) SCHOOL. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/socratesaccount.html (24 February 2010).

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