Friday, 16 October 2009

Subversive Penguins


I recently became aware that a childrens picture book had topped the American Library Associations most challenged book list for the third year running. Of course I immediately wanted to read it and requested it from my library.

and tango makes three is the true story of the behaviour of a pair of boy penguins called Roy and Silo at Central Park Zoo in New York in the late 90s. Roy and Silo, formed a bond, hung out together, and made a nest out of rocks just like the other penguins did. They even tried to incubate a rock. Cute. Their keeper had of course noticed this behaviour, and in 2000 when another penguin couple had two eggs they gave one of their eggs to Roy and Silo to incubate. This other pair had had two eggs before but never managed to raise both chicks. Roy and Silo did an admirable job, and 34 days later Tango (it takes two, oh dear) hatched.

This book has been very controversial since its publication in 1995. People like Steve Walden get themselves all in a lather about it. I'm not sure that poor Steve gets the point. The keeper didn't really "steal" an egg from other penguins. He gave Roy and Silo an egg that he knew would not hatch if left with it's own parents. And the book isn't about sex. It's about penguins.

Sadly all did not end up rosily for Roy and Silo. I do love the quote at the end of this article from the authors

"The book is" no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.


Interesting evidence from that same article that will please the opponents of this dreadful book about penguins- Tango has paired up with a female penguin, Tazuni, for the past two seasons. Man, they're right, exposure to this story will do enduring harm to our children.

Being a reckless kind of parent I read this book with my 8 year old son tonight. He's a bit beyond the picture book stage now, although he knows I like them and that occasionally I'll pick one to read with him when he's running late for bedtime and we don't have time for a few chapters of whatever book we're actually reading together. Being the son of a reckless parent, he liked the book. He liked that chinstrap penguins weren't endangered (the author's note at the back states that there were 42 chinstrap penguins at Central Park Zoo, and over 10 million worldwide). I think he saw it as an environmental tale rather than any exposition of homosexual love. He has a keen interest in the natural world, and we've read many books where the young were raised by animals other than their own parents in efforts to conserve a species, including the wonderful Old Blue (one of his enduring favourites about how the Chatham Island Robins were saved from extinction).

Thankfully unlike Steve Walden I didn't have to spend an hour "undoing the damage" that this book had wreaked, nor did it reck my entire evening. And my son, he just went to bed.

2 comments:

Sue T said...

Good for you Louise for checking this out AND for posting a blog on it! Glad the boy liked it too!

Sue T said...

Subscribing to this post which I forgot to do when I commented!