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Banned Books Week: “And Tango Makes Three”

In honor of Banned Books Week (September 24-October 1), we are re-running an editorial about a book that the North Kansas City School District considered banning in February of 2010. The North Kansas City School Board ultimately decided to leave decisions about what children should read up to their parents, although they did place some restrictions upon what students could check out from school libraries.

Have to admit, I think the North Kansas City School Board rivaled Solomon in wisdom when they decided to restrict access to this controversial children’s book only for the child of the man who complained about it.  Absolutely, I support the right of parents to decide what is in the best interests of their own children. More power to him for making a principled stand. But …

I’m thinking about what is best for my child, and how impossible it is for the School Board to please both that family and mine. My husband and I have what is considered to be a traditional marriage between a man and a woman, but …

One of my aunts came out of the closet back in the ’50s when that was an especially brave thing to do. And we have a number of people in our circle of friends are gay and lesbian. And, I’m wondering, with family background like the one I describe, how come my daughter uses the word “gay” like so many of our young people do, as an epithet? She’s not getting this attitude from home, I assure you.

And I’m not meaning to blame the school district, either. My husband and I firmly believe it is our responsibility as parents to communicate our values to her. It is not the school district’s responsibility. But …

Why should it be controversial to have a book about a same-sex relationship between penguins in an elementary school library? I’ve read the book, and — artfully — I think it would have been a better story if the author had been more subtle. Instead of anthropomorphizing Roy and Silo by saying, “They must be in love,” it might have been better to simply show the relationship and allow people to draw their own conclusions.

The illustrations are adorable, by the way.

If you haven’t seen the book, you might want to take a look. If you can find a copy.

When I first heard about the controversy, I was curious to read And Tango Makes Three to see for myself what all the fuss was about. But …

My daughter tried locating a copy in her school library. No luck.

I tried finding a copy available for check-out from a public library north of the river. No luck.

I tried finding a copy to purchase from a bookstore north of the river. No luck. Although Barnes & Noble did assure me they had copies on order. I’m assuming I wasn’t the only one asking for it.

One thing about targeting a book for censorship is that attention makes more people interested in reading it. Which — if you truly object to the content — may not necessarily be your intent.

Another thing about targeting a book for censorship is that action often causes it to disappear from libraries. Controversial titles have a way of being checked out, never to be turned in again. Which is not healthy in a democratic society valuing freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is such a complex value, especially in a pluralistic society like ours. Interestingly, it includes not just the right to speak but also the right to hear. It includes the right of children to hear about families of children with two daddies. It includes the right of my child to experiment with language she has picked up on the playground. It includes the right of another family to protest a book in an elementary school library. And it includes my family’s right to tell our daughter she is not allowed to use “gay” as a bad word ever again.

If you’d like to read this award-winning children’s book for yourself, here’s a link to the Amazon page where you can order your own copy: http://www.amazon.com/Tango-Makes-Three-Peter-Parnell/dp/0689878451

And — if you’d like to read more about the controversy — you might be interested to know that this threat of censorship in our district was significant enough that it generated an article in the School Library Journal: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6715241.html?industryid=47055


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


2 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: “And Tango Makes Three”

  1. I have to say upfront, that I would not want my child to read this book. But I guess I’m not sure what either of the opposing sides’ points are. I don’t see the need for the “banning” the book (or any book). You don’t have to officially “ban” it and make it some big contentious issue– you just don’t order it into the inventory. There are probably a couple MILLION books that are NOT in the school libraries, right? So, “And Tango Makes Three” would just be one of 2 or 3 million that aren’t on the shelves.
    On the flipside, I don’t see the point of insisting that it IS made available in school libraries, either. So, it’s not the school library. Who cares? Again, there are probably a couple million OTHER books that aren’t there either. I can think of 4 branches of the public library that are all within about 7 miles of my house. If a parent wanted to their child to be able to check out that book, they could always go the public library to get it. Why do they INSIST that it has to be available at the school? It’s just people trying to shove their agenda down everyone elses throat. On both sides.

    Posted by Tracy Keeney | September 26, 2011, 3:51 am
    • Good morning, Tracy. I respect your opinion, and — you are right — librarians make decisions every time they order books about what they think students should be reading. The issue in North Kansas City was whether to remove a book from school library shelves at a parent’s request.

      Posted by jwmartinez | September 26, 2011, 1:03 pm

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