Saturday, October 3, 2009

Banned Book Week REVIEW: And Tengo Makes Three

Bloggers and blog readers,  I now present you with the number one most challenged book of 2008.  And 2007.  And 2006.  And it was already causing some controvercy in 2005, the year that it was published.  Meet Tango, everyone.

Richardson, j., & Parnell, P.  (2005).  And Tango Makes Three.  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


Now, I know Tango doesn't look threatening.  And she isn't to many.  But let's take a closer look at the plot to discover what all the hub-bub is about.

PLOT SUMMARY:  And Tango Makes Three presents the true story of penguins, Roy and Silo  who paired off in the New York Central Park Zoo.  One of the zoo keepers gave the two pengins an egg to raise.  That would be how Tango entered the scene.

So, what's the problem?  Why all the dramas about this picturebook?  Well, both Roy and Silo are male penguins.  The book describes them and Tango as a family, thus causing major freak outs by those who prefer to think that two men and an infant can't form a family.

While the fact that both Roy and Silo are male penguins forming a couple is a key point in the book, the story does use aloof, distant language, that historically is privileged in information books.  The only time Roy and Silo are described as being "in love" is in the thoughts of the zoo keeper, Mr. Gramzay.

Since, I mentioned the vocabulary choices, I have to admit that I feel And Tango Makes Three leans a little too far away from using child-friendly language and falls into talking down to the readers.  But as far as I know, I may be the only person who feels this way.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Am I truly alone?
The illustrations are done in watercolor, with pale colors that realistically represent New York City, the Central Park Zoo and the penguins. 

And although word on the teacher-street is that Roy and Silo have separated since the book was published, students could go to the Central Park Zoo and meet Tango.

Reasons Censored:

"Anti-family, homosexuality and unsuited for age group"
After several discussions over what exactly makes this picturebook so controversial, I've come to the conclusion it's the fact that this story is classified as nonfiction that makes this book controversial.  Afterall, fictional picturebooks that present homosexual families, such as King and King, are not challenged nearly as often.  It's the fact that And Tango Makes Three could lend itself to the argument that homosexuality can be seen in nature and therefore may be natural that gets some people's panties in a bunch.

Potential Counter-Arguments:

This is a nonfiction book that is educational.  Richardson and Parnell very intentionally avoided presenting bias in their vocabulary choices. 

And Tango Makes Three is not anti-family.  It's all about presenting families in a positive light.  Instead of challenging family, it expands the way "family" may be understood.

Uses in the Classroom:

And Tango Makes Three can be used to discuss the birth process and behaviors of penguins, the fun of going to a zoo, adoption or the structure of a family.

This book could also be used with older young adult students who may be working on research papers.  A teacher could guide them in a discussion over the illustrations.  Do colored pencil sketches lend the story the same amount of authority as photographs would have?

Quotes of Note:

"In the middle of New York City there is a great big park called Central park.  Children love to play there."

"Two penguins in the penguin house were a little bit different.   One was named Roy, and the other was named Silo.  Roy and Silo were both boys.  But they did everything together."

"Roy and Silo watched how the other penguins made a home.  So they built a nest of stones for themselves."

"Then Mr. Gramzay got an idea.  He found an egg that needed to be cared for and he brought it to Roy and Silo's nest."


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