Banned Book Review: And Tango Makes Three

Once again the Rejectionist has challenged her devoted readership—in honor of Banned Book Week, she’s asked us to read and review a banned book.

The only problem I had was  choosing a title.  Looking at the lists—and there are many, many lists—it turns out that mostly without knowing it,  I’ve read a lot of books over the years that someone somewhere wanted to keep me from reading.*

But as much as I love and\or respect  The Color Purple , Huckleberry Finn, George Orwell, and so on  (and on and on),  I thought I’d choose something I hadn’t read before.  And since I’ve spent the last few days  jumping up and down on my “spare the children, spoil the future” soapbox, I decided to find a banned children’s book I hadn’t read before.

The book I chose** has been attacked almost every year since it was released.***  Our library system owns several  copies, all but one of which were checked out, which shows how popular it is.^

And Tango Makes Three  is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York, who choose each other as partners.  They do everything the other penguin couples do,  which includes building a nest together.  Unable to lay eggs, they take turns sitting on a rock, until the penguin keeper gives them a fertilized egg.

Roy and Silo take care of the egg and it hatches into a female penguin that the keeper names Tango, because “it takes two to make a Tango.”  The two penguins successfully raise Tango together as a family.

Full confession:  I actually teared up.  The illustrations are so expressive and cute and Tango is so bright-eyed and fuzzy-wuzzy .  . . ahem.  Henry Cole did a fantastic job.

So did Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.  This story makes its point through simple facts and clear sentences—no hammer necessary.  Ray and Silo aren’t anthropomorphic— these are real penguins whose behavior is interpreted, in part, through their keeper.  They are exactly like every other penguin couple, except they can’t produce an egg on their own.

And let the terrified rest assured:  while Roy and Silo are affectionate partners, those condemning  (or hoping  for^^) graphic penguin lust must look elsewhere.

A child reading this book will take away at least four  gentle ideas:  Homosexuality naturally occurs in the animal kingdom.  Families of all gender combinations occur in the animal kingdom.  Roy, Silo, and Tango are liked by zoo visitors and loved by each other.  No animal was harmed during the original events of this story.

No wonder every homophobe who encounters this book is threatened by it.

My children loved it.


* I’d also like to thank and give kudos to my public school system for requiring me to read so many of these books, although I certainly didn’t thank you at the time.   Sort of kicks that “inappropriate for age group” grievance in the teeth, doesn’t it?

**With the help of yet more lists and a friend—thanks, Grace!

***Not in our library system, though.  We blessedly get few complaints about items in our collections—The only one I can remember was an illustrated juvenile picture book of the human body that someone’s toddler was dragging around by a single page.  I think we gave the mother a copy of our Unattended Children Policy and everyone agreed to call it a draw.

^ And it’s short with lots of pictures— a bonus, since I left this review until the very last minute.

^^Or both—I always wonder about people who protest too much.

Ban Ignorance!

I’ve been reading through various lists of books that have been challenged or banned over the years, and I have to admit that I’m confused about some of the reasons behind the challenges.

Especially when a book is accused of promoting something.  A lot of them are.

I do realize that there’s no arguing with the kind of person who challenges My Friend Flicka because it uses the word dam, spelling and definition be you-know-what.*

But  to quote one of my favorite fictional characters:** “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Promote means “to help or encourage to exist or flourish.”   None of the following examples help or encourage the things for which they are vilified.  At all.  The exact opposite, in fact.

You can’t tell me that Go Ask Alice “promotes” drug use and promiscuity.  The descriptions and outcomes of the main character’s behavior are not pleasant.  Even Alice thinks she’s made the wrong decisions all down the line and she isn’t rewarded for them.  Spoiler alert:  she dies of an overdose.

Will someone please explain how George Orwell’s 1984 “promotes” communism?***  Was there a fun version of this book that I missed?  A happy ending that was somehow bowdlerized without editorial note ?^   If the constant critical surveillance, doublethinkspeak, and utter lack of decent chocolate aren’t enough, weren’t the rats something of a clue?

Does anyone really think that William Golding was “promoting” violence and mob rule among children?  You think maybe he was envisioning a Lord of the Flies summer camp franchise, complete with piggy roasts?  Read the whole book, please, and then point out specific examples of how this story makes anarchy look like a happy alternative to parental authority.

And let’s not forget any of Chris Crutcher’s books—please.  I’ve met Mr. Crutcher, I’ve heard him speak,^^ and I’ve read almost everything he’s written, even when it was painful to do so.  You cannot convince me that this man is in favor of child abuse, bullying, or any kind of violence, whether physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual.  Don’t even try.

I believe that, in view of the actual content of this (admittedly small) sample of books, the phrase these challengers should be using in place of promotes is informs reader of.

Except challenging a book because it informs the reader doesn’t, ah, promote the same sense of outrage, does it?

Protecting the children is a much better catchphrase than leaving children in ignorance.

Plus, leaving children in ignorance about the tough stuff doesn’t often work the way one might hope; “Do it because I say so” has a very limited shelf life.   Even before they learn how to read, kids need to know why or they’ll go find out for themselves—it’s hardwired.   By the time they can read, they need to start learning why and how and who, so that they can learn to protect themselves and each other before it’s too late.

And too many children already know all about the toughest stuff possible—they’ve experienced it.  These kids desperately need to know that they aren’t alone and that they can make it.  These are the kids in need of protection—and keeping them ignorant is about the worst thing that can be done.

The only way to protect our kids is to promote information.

Books do that.


*As told to me by one of my children’s lit professors who had each of us write a defense of a challenged children’s or YA book—I did Norma Fox Mazer’s Up in Seth’s Room.

**A recovering alcoholic who uses bad language right before he kills a member of the aristocracy.

***So called after Thomas Bowdler, who published edited versions of the works of Shakespeare and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire so that women and children could read them without disturbing their content little lives with the racier passages.

^Just to be clear, I’m not agreeing—or disagreeing— that communism is evil.  I’m arguing against the premise that this particular book is in favor of it.

^^If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, do it.  He’ll make you laugh, break your heart, make you think, and inspire you.   Bet you a dollar.

Ban Censorship!

I wrote this in the early nineties as a college essay.  I think it still works.  The footnotes were added by present day me.


You’re reading a book and you don’t like it.

In fact, it disturbed you—the language was stronger than you like, or the characters don’t think like you, or they deal with things you prefer to pretend don’t exist.  Or someone told you it was a metaphor for all the things you were warned about in Sunday School, up to and including Satan worship in all its innocent-looking insidiousness.

So you stop reading and you toss it into the library return box.*

But then you get to thinking.**  That’s a public library, which means other people might see that book on the shelf.  And, not knowing what you know, they might read it. Not everyone has your skills in ferreting out filth—some of them might not have your moral compass or fortitude.  And maybe some of them aren’t even adults.

Young people might pick it up–children might be tempted by the cover alone.

You must protect the children.

So you write a letter about this immediate threat to just about everyone you know who thinks the way you do or cares about the safety of the innocent. And you might exaggerate a little about the content to strengthen your case, sure, but this is war.

And you get a lot of names and petition the library to ban the book from the library.  For the sake of other people’s children.

And the challenged book committee  looks at the book, reads it from cover to cover*** .  .  . and tells you that they’re keeping it.  It’s the responsibility of parents to monitor their own children’s reading habits, if they so choose.

This is unacceptable.

Because if this book stays, then you might have been wrong about it, and you can’t be wrong about something like this, because that would be embarrassing means that some of your core beliefs might be mere subjective opinion, and that can’t be right.  Right?

And instead of taking a long look at those core beliefs or hating the sin but not the sinner or writing an informative review of the book for your newspaper, or even reading the book again to strengthen your argument for the next round. . . you get mad.

You will protect these idiots from themselves.

So you check the book out again—all the copies—and you blacken or rip out all the offensive stuff before you return them.  Or maybe you don’t return them at all.  Maybe you hold yourself a little bonfire, complete with homemade signs and the local news.

Except . . . people want to know what the fuss is all about.  And for some reason they aren’t taking your word for it.  They’re buying the book—they’re reading that ridiculous, satanistic metaphor! In droves!

And then the library calls.

They want to talk to you about the criminal charges you’ll be facing if you don’t pay for replacements of the books you sanitized—plus processing fees.

So you storm over to the library to protest this gross injustice at great length and at top volume.

And in return for all you’ve done for the community, you’re banned from the library.

To protect the rights of other people’s children.


*Possibly with your kitchen tongs, which you will then boil in alcohol.   ‘

**Which, frankly, isn’t your strong suit.

***Why did they need to do that?  You didn’t need to do that.

Whatcha Doin’ Saturday Night?

Whatever you answered, if your plans don’t involve Roger Corman, change them.

Watch this instead:

Official Drinking Game Rules, courtesy of Barbara Poelle, are posted over at Hey, there’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room.  

And due to her generosity—and rules 7 and 7b—I’m the proud soon-to-be owner of a copy each of Tracy Kiely’s Murder on the Bride’s Side—for which I’m 9th on the reserve list at the library—and Sophie Littlefield’s Banished, which has a reserve list like whoa, and it isn’t even out yet.

So on Saturday, please raise your glass with the rest of us (we few, we happy few) to the engineered marvel that is Sharktopus, the living chutzpah that is Roger Corman, and to the official caricaturization of Eric Roberts’ career.