At the Central Park Zoo, in 1998, the zookeeper noticed two chinstrap penguins who seemed to be especially fond of each other. The penguins would call for each other and complete the typical mating rituals that penguin couples usually completed. The biggest difference between them and the other penguins was that the two penguins, Roy and Silo, were both males. The homosexual pair was then seen by zookeeper, Robert Gramsay, building a nest and placing a rock in the nest—seen as an effort to hatch an egg. Gramzay said that he never saw the pair complete a sex act, but the two did engage in mating rituals like entwining their necks and vocalizing to one another.
After observing Roy and Silo's attempt at hatching a rock as an egg, the zoo staff at the Central Park Zoo provided an extra egg from another heterosexual couple to Roy and Silo for them to have as their own. After thirty-four days of Roy and Silo taking care of the egg, the baby penguin finally broke out of its shell. Roy and Silo then began taking care of a female baby penguin that the staff of the Central Park Zoo named Tango. After six years of their relationship, Silo left Roy for a female penguin named Scrappy. Roy continued raising Tango by himself as Silo continued to mate with his new female partner. Tango eventually grew up and began to mate with her homosexual female partner Tazuni.
Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the two authors of And Tango Makes Three are married, with one daughter. Richardson is a professor of psychiatry, as well as a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Columbia University. Richardson received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University. Parnell is a playwright whose works have been performed at The Public Theater and Broadway in addition to many other venues.
The idea for Tango came after Parnell and Richardson read the New York Times article, "Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name" by Dinitia Smith. The article began with Roy and Silo's story. Reading the article aloud, Richardson states that the life of Roy and Silo "started sounding like a children’s story". While writing Tango, Parnell and Richardson "visited the zoo several times so that [they] were able to write from what [they'd] seen". The two authors also took care to erase anthropomorphism within their drafts of the book. In an interview with The Guardian, the authors stated that, “We didn’t want to put thoughts and feelings into the heads of the penguins.”
The motivation for writing Tango was the way Richardson and Parnell believe the subject of homosexuality is approached by parents. According to Richardson, “One of the areas that parents find very difficult to discuss with their children is homosexuality” and they intended Tango to be a device to ease this difficulty parents experience in addressing homosexuality.
During the writing process both Richardson and Parnell "expect[ed] a negative reaction" to Tango. Although Tango never explicitly mentions homosexuality, "homosexuality and talking to children about sexuality have been highly politicised" states Richardson. The editor of Tango at Simon & Schuster, David Gale, stated that those working on Tango "never expected a reaction to such an extent".
According to scientific research, homosexual behavior in animals has been observed in around 1500 species. Scientists also claim that, typically, animals in the animal kingdom are very unusually fully homosexual, but instead they engage in bisexual activity. As sociologist Eric Anderson of the University of Bath in England says, “Animals don’t do sexual identity. They just do sex”.
Some parents have objected to their kids reading this book due to the issue of homosexuality. Homosexuality in animals is seen as controversial by some social conservatives, who believe that asserting the naturalness of animal homosexuality affects the morality of homosexuality in humans. Others believe that it has no implications and is nonsensical to equate animal behavior to morality.
The American Library Association (ALA) tracks challenges and censorship cases made against literature in public libraries. It reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, and 2008. The book dropped to the second position in 2009 but returned to the top slot in 2010.
Some parents of students at Shiloh Elementary School requested in November 2006 that the book be placed in a restricted section of the library and for the school to require parental permission prior to checking the book out. Superintendent Filyaw organized a five-person panel to examine how to handle the book, and the panel ultimately suggested that the book be censored by being moved and requiring permission. Christine Farmer, the mother of two Shiloh Elementary students and the parental representative on the panel, said, "I don't know why sexuality of any type is appropriate for kids that age. I feel they're learning to count, learning colors. To make that leap to books-- is that really appropriate school material?" Another parent, Lilly Del Pinto, added, “Please let us decide when our kids are ready. Please let us parent our kids.”
Despite this, Filyaw resolved instead to keep the book freely available. The district's attorney advised Superintendent Filyaw that moving the book might be legally challengeable censorship. "My feeling is that a library is to serve an entire population," Superintendent Filyaw said. "It means you represent different families in a society -- different religions, different beliefs. That's the role of a school library."
Peter Gorman, the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), along with other members of the school board, removed And Tango Makes Three (Tango) from school libraries on December 20, 2006. A miscommunication and failure to follow procedure allowed for the ban.
Among the leadership of the school board and county, there was discourse on the propriety of Tango. The GOP county commissioner in Charlotte, Bill James, had communicated to Gorman that he was “opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal” and wanted to know if CMS had the book. Additionally, CMS administrators, Ruth Perez, Ronald Dixon, and Gloria Miller, were in favour of banning of the book, as they stated in their memo addressed to the principals. These administrators asserted that Tango “focuses on homosexuality” and they “did not feel that such information was vital to primary students” nor would the book “stimulate growth in ethical standards”.
The discovery of the administration’s failure to follow the procedure to ban a book occurred when the Charlotte Observer requested copies of the complaints which would have initiated the process to ban a book according to CMS policy. However, it was found there were no complaints on file. Robert Avossa, the chief of staff for superintendent Gorman, had done research on the process for book removal for CMS schools after Gorman asked him to do so after discussing the book with parents and the county commissioner. Superintendent Gorman thought that procedure had been followed when Avossa told him about CMS procedure regarding the removal of books, hence the ban.
After the realisation of the oversight, Superintendent Gorman returned Tango to schools. The case concluded when CMS officials made a statement that “the book [would] be reviewed only if parents ask for its removal, which hasn't happened.”
In 2008, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick removed the book from general circulation at public elementary school libraries on the basis of a parent's complaint. The parent complained that Tango “promoted a gay agenda” and was an “attack on families headed by heterosexuals." After the parent formally challenged the book, the principal of Sugarland Elementary School convened an advisory committee of principals, librarians, teachers and parents to review the book. The group deemed it acceptable, and the principal concurred. Following this decision, the anonymous parent appealed. Another committee of administrators, librarians and parents reviewed the book, and that committee also recommended that it remain in the collection. Superintendent Hatrick decided to override the decision of the committees and the principal and made the book available only to teachers and parents.
Not long after his announcement, Hatrick received a copy of an inquiry from a School Board member about any legal implications involved in the decision regarding this book. This led Hatrick to review School Board Policy 5-7, which includes the “Procedure for Review of Challenged Materials,” and he found that the procedure was not adhered to. Subsequently, he returned the book into circulation, citing "significant procedural errors that he believes void the process followed in this matter."
In November 2008, parents at the local elementary school were concerned with the contents of And Tango Makes Three and requested the library to remove the book. After the library denied their request, the parents appealed to their school board, asking that And Tango Makes Three be placed in a restricted section of the library, so only parents could check it out. The parents’, citing the nature in which the parents believed the book attempts to normalize homosexuality to young children, request comes from the idea that the children of the school should only be allowed to engage with this type of literature with the explicit permission of themselves. The restriction of the book would allow the parents to directly oversee when and where students could read this type of literature. The parents, next, wrote a letter to the newspaper of the city of Ankeny in order to “warn” other parents about the book. In an effort to preserve the book within the school district, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) sent a letter urging the board to preserve students' access to And Tango Makes Three. In this letter, the NCAC and ABFFE state that “Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. Any other decision threatens the principle that is essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves”. In December 2008, the School Board of Ankeny voted, by a vote of 6-1, to keep the book in the libraries as well as to add on an additional process of book review for the school system. During the hearing, the school board’s lawyer argued that a decision to remove the book from the shelves, if challenged, would likely not hold up in court.
In November 2008, the book sustained its placement on library shelves after being challenged by “two parents at Emma Wilson [Elementary] School and one from…Shasta [Elementary] School”, all within the Chico Unified School District. According to an article within the Chico-Enterprise Record, the counter-argument to the challenge followed that “one group of parents cannot decide what all students have access to, but should continue to monitor what their own children check out”. Therefore, the book was voted unanimously by a committee of parents, teachers, librarians and administrators to stay within the appropriate library shelves. Jody L. Strong, a parent whom was in favor of the committee’s decision, commented that the children's book promotes "qualities I want my children to possess", like love, tolerance, and acceptance.
In October 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent an advisory letter to the Calvert County, Maryland Board of Library Trustees, at the time facing a challenge to And Tango Makes Three, explaining that unrestricted access to the book in public libraries is protected freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The ACLU cited numerous judicial opinions supporting this view.Board of Education v. Pico
, 457 U.S. 853 (1982): The Court held that the U.S. Constitution "does not permit the suppression of ideas”, and the ACLU noted that "any attempt by government officials to suppress ideas or information, whether directly through criminal sanctions or 'prior restraints,' or indirectly through political interference with the professional choices made by librarians" is prohibited by the First Amendment's freedom of speech provision.
Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union
, 521 U.S. 844 (1997) and Kreimer v. Bureau of Police
, 958 F.2d 1242, 1255 (3d Cir.1992). According to the ACLU, "Like the right to express oneself freely, the right to receive information and ideas is protected by the First Amendment. These precepts apply with particular force to public libraries", deemed by the 3rd Circuit Court to be "the quintessential locus of the receipt of information”.
Sund v. City of Wichita Falls
, 121 F. Supp. 2d 530 (N.D. Texas 2000). According to the ACLU, "whether those seeking to remove books from the library wish to do so completely or merely to sequester or segregate the challenged books, the courts have held such censorship unconstitutional".
In the Wichita Falls case cited, the Federal Court found unconstitutional a local resolution removing two controversial children’s books from children’s section of public library and placing them in an adult section. The court stated that those looking for the books and those browsing would be unable to locate them. The Court further found "[I]f a parent wishes to prevent her child from reading a particular book, that parent can and should accompany the child to the Library, and should not prevent all children in the community from gaining access to constitutionally protected materials. Where First Amendment rights are concerned, those seeking to restrict access to information should be forced to take affirmative steps to shield themselves from unwanted materials; the onus should not be on the general public to overcome barriers to their access to fully protected information."
Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the book is far from a “true story”. “It’s very misleading,” she said, “and it’s a very disingenuous, inaccurate way to promote a political agenda to little kids". Silo's heterosexual behavior was widely reported in national news, including the Chicago Tribune.
On February 13, 2006, parents objected to the book’s placement at Rolling Hills Consolidated Library and requested a change of assignment within the library stacks. According to Aaron Bailey’s article in the St. Joseph News-Press, parents objected to the book’s placement in the fiction section, thus enforcing the book to be placed in the non-fiction section instead. This transfer of the book was motivated due to the fact that “fewer people browse the children’s nonfiction section” and “because it was based on the true story of two male penguins that hatched an egg in the New York City Zoo”. The permanent move of the book was made on March 4, 2006, just shy of the book being on shelves for one year.
Near Washington, D.C., a mother requested that the book be removed from the children's section and placed in an area specifically for books about "alternative or non-traditional families". The library board of trustees denied the request, concluding that libraries should disseminate information fairly and without bias or judgment. Shortly thereafter, in November 2008, the Calvert County Library Board of Trustees heard another challenge to the book. A parent, describing the book as presenting issues of sexuality to children too young to understand them, asked that the book be removed from the library, shelved with adult books on sexuality, or marked with a "red dot" to alert parents to its controversial nature. The parent charged that the book's statement that penguins Roy and Silo "slept together" is a reference to sexual behavior between the birds.
The book is listed on the "15 Most Controversial Picture Books" because of the controversy surrounding the popular children's book. A school librarian feared losing her job after introducing the book to students.
In July 2014, Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) announced it would destroy three children's books with pro-LGBT families themes as they saw the titles as being "against its 'pro-family' stance following complaints by a parent and its own internal review." The three books, And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express, which features children adopted by a variety of families including gay, mixed-race and single parents, and Who’s In My Family, discusses families, including references to gay couples, came to the attention of religious conservatives two weeks after Pink Dot SG, a gay rights rally. The rally "sparked a fierce debate" between the religious conservatives opposed to the event and Singapore's growing gay-rights lobby." The NLB is a state-funded network of 26 public libraries. The decision was widely criticized by LGBT supporters and the arts and literary community who see the actions as akin to book burnings and other forms of censorship.And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were eventually placed in the adult section instead of being pulped, and the NLB announced that their book selection and review processes would be refined.
Literary criticisms have explored the values of And Tango Makes Three as it is related to settings like the classroom. Jennifer Harvey, a Curriculum Librarian and Assistant Professor at Calvin T. Ryan Library, University of Nebraska, Kearney, wrote a literary criticism where she positioned that the book’s diverse makeup and its subsequent lessons adds to its overall value. In the criticism, Harvey states that “since families vary, literature that explores types of families can improve the chances of the reader having a healthy response to non-normative family units, whether their own, or the family of an acquaintance”. The inclusion of two male parents is reflective of a typical upbringing in American culture, which Harvey is satisfied with being included within the classroom. She argues in favor of the book because it “can increase the likelihood of compassion for difference".
According to the authors of the children's book, the motive for creating this book was to foster inclusivity in book format and in the mindset of young children. A quote from one of the authors, Justin Richardson, prefaced that himself and Peter Parnell, the additional author, “wanted to write a book in which kids who have same sex parents would see their family represented".
Along the same lines of fostering inclusivity, an article written by Anna Paula Peixoto da Silva, recognized that the inclusion of appropriate diverse literature and toys that are reflective of both male and female and "various ages and ethnicities" in elementary school curriculum that spoke to same-sex families creates appropriate spaces for said families. One of the age-appropriate books recommended for preschoolers was, indeed, And Tango Makes Three.And Tango Makes Three, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, April 26, 2005 ISBN 0-689-87845-1
National book awards
American Library Association Notable Children's Book - 2006
ASPCA's Henry Bergh Award - 2005
Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award- 2006
Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year - 2006
Bank Street Best Book of the Year - 2006
Cooperative Children's Book Council Choice, and CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book - 2006
Lambda Literary Award finalist - 2006
Awards from children's groups
Sheffield Children's Book Award - shortlisted - 2008