Hey, guess what? It’s Banned Books Week! I love this time of year, when the librarians get all charged up about banned books. Really gets our blood pumping. There was an unfortunate incident a few years back when the name of the week was incorrectly publicized as “Ban Books Week.” Given the opportunity, librarians across the country threw out thousands of copies of Guess How Much I Love You, Madonna’s The English Roses, and entire collections of Lurlene McDaniel books. Celebrity-authored books were especially targeted, making for a good day for Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors (though BACA’s official response was “no comment.”)
Of course, now it has been made clear that Banned Books Week is a time to take a look at books that come under frequent challenges for their inclusion in public and school libraries. There are other bloggers, like Bookshelves of Doom, that cover this topic extremely well. I’d rather cover it for laughs. And I find no challenge funnier than that of And Tango Makes Three, a sweet book based on a real story of two male penguins that together raised an orphaned egg. Bottom Shelf Books just did a wonderful discussion of this title, including a video of a gay marriage statement made on their behalf well, sort of. For my part, I’ll re-post my write-up from March of last year, if you don’t mind. The reference to the Colbert show and the specific library incident is so last year, but the rest of it remains true.
How edgy am I? Just so on the cusp of what is hot, that I selected and suggested the book And Tango Makes Three mere weeks before it appears on The Colbert Report.
Apparently, a couple of parents in Missouri objected to this book being in their public library, and somehow the news feeds picked up the story. The library did not remove the book from its collection, but did move it to the nonfiction section, so it would be less likely to “blindside” somebody.
Ah, so many layers to this story. Where to even begin?
There is the sociological implication of our worries about gay penguins taking over the world. For an angry take on that, perhaps, you might go to another site, maybe Prometheus Unleashed. Though I would looooooove to go into it, that’s not what I’m about here at MotherReader.
There is the response of the library to consider, which was not wrong, but was pretty meek. I mean, two parents complain, and you move the book? What if I object that I don’t want my preschooler to inadvertently pick up a book about Noah’s Ark? Should all of those books go into the religion section? There are picture books that deal with the death of a parent or of a pet. Maybe they should all go in the section on grief? Where do you want to draw the line on what is unobjectionable? To the library’s credit, at least they didn’t get rid of the book. So that is something.
There is the mindset of the parents to explore. It is a public libary holding books for all the public. If you don’t like a book, if it offends you in some way... don’t check it out. It is really that simple. You can exercise your parental control to say, “I do not wish to read this book to my child.” So. Don’t. Read. It. To. Them.
There is the worry of introducing delicate subjects to children. Remember, parents, children will ask you questions based on what they are capable of processing, and you, as a parent, can answer accordingly. A child may listen to this book and ask why it was that two boy penguins wanted to stay together. We as parents can say, “Sometimes a man may love a man or a woman may love a woman, and they want to be together.” We do not have to go into the whole gay culture or what a man and a man do together in bed, any more then we would explain the whole bar scene or what a man and a woman do together in bed. When sex comes up with children, I would go with the “when a man and woman love each other very much...” talk, not the “when a man and a woman get drunk and they feel this special itch...” talk.
Then there is the book itself, which I stand by as a lovely, gentle story about adoption and love. You could use it as a springboard to talk about the diversity of the world, but you don’t have to do so. I would be willing to bet that four out of five preschoolers wouldn’t ask a single question about the two boy penguins. So it doesn’t need to be that worrisome. The authors told the story, they didn’t put thoughts in the penguins heads. We are making the interpretation ourselves. There is no gay penguin love agenda.
What is most important here what we can’t forget is how incrediblly cutting edge I am to have suggested the book in the first place.