Banned Books Week 2019: And Tango Makes Three

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Today we are going to highlight the most frequently challenged book of the late 2000’sAnd Tango Makes Three (New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005).

Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, this picture book tells the story of two male chinstrap penguins who adopt an egg together. Roy and Silo are a long time couple living and playing together with the other penguins in the Central Park Zoo. During mating season, they build a nest together, but they can’t lay an egg.

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The zookeeper Mr Gramsay notices them and decides to take action! He knows another penguin couple has recently laid an extra egg they can’t take care of (chinstrap penguins tend to lay and care for one egg at a time). So he puts the egg in Roy and Silo’s nest. After they take turns sitting on the egg:

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Tango is born!

Roy and Silo raise their adopted daughter Tango (it takes two!) as a happy penguin family.

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The book was very popular and won multiple awards including: the ALA’s Notable Children’s Book Nominee in 2006, the ASPCA Henry Bergh Book Award in 2005, and was named one of the Bank Street Best Books of the Year in 2006. It was lauded as a great book for parents and educators to use for introducing children to diversity of families and to the idea of homosexual couples. Part of appeal of And Tango Makes Three is that it is based on a true story. Parnell and Richardson (a gay couple themselves no less!) were inspired to write the tale after reading about Silo and Roy in a New York Times article.

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Two real chinstrap penguins with a chick. Roy and Silo? A heterosexual couple? If you can’t tell the difference, does it really matter?

But at the same time it was objected to by numerous detractors for, well, many of the same reasons. In fact, objections were so sustained and diverse that in 2011 Dr. Martha L. Magnuson published a study analyzing the motives behind the numerous objections to And Tango Makes Three.

But the impact of the book goes far beyond children’s reading and the “culture war” debates about what to expose our children to. At the time of release, the book became part of an ongoing zeitgeist of interest and controversy regarding homosexuality in animals. The book helped spark debates about “natural” behavior, inspiring research in the scientific community and interest in the general public. Not bad for a picture book…

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