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LGBT and "And Tango Makes Three" Childrens' Book

Updated on January 10, 2016
This is a proud papa chinstrap penguin.
This is a proud papa chinstrap penguin. | Source
Penguin egg
Penguin egg | Source

Based on a True Story

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. In 2004, the New York Times ran a remarkable story about two lovebirds at the Central Park Zoo who were attempting to hatch an egg together. They weren't having very good luck. The reason? They were both boys. Roy and Silo were two adult male chinstrap penguins who appeared to the staff two have bonded as a couple. They would engage with each other in many of the mating rituals common to penguins, and neither showed any interest in female penguins at all. They appeared to be very happy together, but something was lacking in their lives.

Male chinstrap penguins are the ones in penguin couples to nurture babies. They wanted to share in that experience the way other penguins did, but they didn't seem to understand the challenges they faced. Zoo officials found these two paternal little fellas trying to hatch a rock.

Zookeeper Rob Gramzay took pity on the two desperate penguins and gave them a fertilized egg to care for. Roy and Silo did their part; they sat on the egg for 34 days... and on the 35th day, they hatched a little girl penguin named Tango.

Roy and Silo at the New York Zoo

The children's book: "And Tango Makes Three"

In 2005 clinical psychiatrist Justin Richardson became intrigued with the story of these paternal penguins and decided to write a children's book about it. Joining forces with his domestic partner, playwright Peter Parnell, and illustrator Henry Cole, Richardson published And Tango Makes Three. Richardson spoke to U.S. News and World Reportshortly after the book was published to explain his motivations and hopes for the book. When the interviewer mentioned the possibility of controversy, Richardson replied, "We're hoping there won't be much of a firestorm."

Critical Praise for "And Tango Makes Three"

Initial critical reaction to And Tango Makes Three was very positive. "Booklist", a monthly trade journal that evaluates new books for libraries, gave And Tango Makes Three a "starred review." Reviewer Jennifer Mattson predicted that "those who share this with children will find themselves returning to it again and again." The American Library Association declared And Tango Makes Three one of its Notable Children's Books for 2006. And Tango Makes Three won the 2005 ASPCA's Henry Bergh Award, the 2006 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and was named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book by the Cooperative Children's Book Council of 2006. However... not everyone was quite as enthusiastic about this children's book, which seemed to place the idea of gay parenting in a positive light.

Yes, there was a firestorm

Across the nation, And Tango Makes Three faced regular opposition from parent's groups and fundamentalist activist organizations who felt the book was inappropriate for children. According to the American Library Association, And Tango Makes Three was the most frequently banned book in America for 2006. And 2007. And.... it still is. Here is just a sampling of the protests that the book has faced since 2006.

  • 2006 - Concerned parent Steve Walden protested the book in his parenting blog, declaring that the true story about penguins who adopted an egg "forced a questionable sexual practice on my children."
  • 2006 - Residents of Shiloh, Illinois complained when the book hit the shelves of their local elementary school. They wanted the school district to move the book to the "Mature" section of the library. The superintendent decided to let the book remain in the picture book section.
  • 2006 - In Savannah, Missouri, concerned parents succeeded in convincing librarians at the Rolling Hills Consolidated Library to move the book from the picture book aisle to the juvenile nonfiction section.
  • 2008 - The Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools, Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick, banned students from checking out the book after a parent complained. He overrode a recommendation from local teachers and staff who wished the book to remain available. Hatrick canceled the ban a few months later.
  • 2008 - In Ankeny, Iowa parents demanded that the book be moved to a restricted section, available only to parents. The school board rejected their request.
  • 2008 - A mother in Calvert, Maryland asked that the book be removed from the picture book section and placed in the Dewey Decimal section dealing with "non-traditional families." Her request was denied. Source.
  • Even now, in 2012, the protests continue. Salon reports that parents in Rochester, Minnesota demanded that the book be removed from the shelves of Gibbs Elementary School. This time, the parents got their way - but only for a little while. School Superintendent Michael Munoz later admitted that he had made a decision that went against district policy, and restored the book to school shelves.


Banned Book Week Celebrations... Featuring And Tango Makes Three

Each year libraries across the United States celebrate Banned Book Week by honoring works of literary or social merit that have been challenged in libraries and schools across the country. In the video below, Bill Moyers discusses the importance of intellectual freedom and celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Banned Books Week.

Judge for yourself

Is this a dangerous book? Listen to...

A reading of "And Tango Makes Three"

Epilogue for Roy and Silo - and for Richardson and Parnell

They became media darlings and raised an adorable daughter, but alas, Roy and Silo are no longer a couple. According to the New York Times, Silo left Roy in 2005, shortly after raising Tango. He set up housekeeping with a new penguin named Scrappy.

Scrappy is female.

Focus on the Family commentator Warren Throckmorton speculated that this turn of events might make some gay rights activists disappointed or angry. Richardson was not upset. After all, Roy and Silo are not humans, and what they do does not necessarily apply to humans. They are... penguins.

However, Richardson and Parnell decided to take a hint from the inspiring story of Silo, Roy, and Tango. In 2009 the New York Times reported that the couple had welcomed their own little Tango. The baby, a little girl named Gemma, was born with the help of a surrogate mother and in-vitro fertilization.


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    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      What a beautiful story recapper, this is so moving. I have always loved penguins and this is my kinda hub. Just beautiful. The photos are so lovely and add to the relevance of the article. Thumbs up and thank you.