Gay Penguin Book Shakes Up Illinois School
SHILOH, Ill. – A picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin is getting a chilly reception among some parents who worry about the book's availability to children — and the reluctance of school administrators to restrict access to it.
The concerns are the latest involving "And Tango Makes Three," the illustrated children's book based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo that adopted a fertilized egg and raised the chick as their own.
Complaining about the book's homosexual undertones, some parents of Shiloh Elementary School students believe the book — available to be checked out of the school's library in this 11,000-resident town 20 miles east of St. Louis — tackles topics their children aren't ready to handle.
Their request: Move the book to the library's regular shelves and restrict it to a section for mature issues, perhaps even requiring parental permission before a child can check it out.
For now, "And Tango Makes Three" will stay put, said school district Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw, though a panel she appointed suggested the book be moved and require parental permission to be checked out. The district's attorney said moving it might be construed as censorship.
Filyaw considers the book "adorable" and age appropriate, written for children ages 4 to 8.
"My feeling is that a library is to serve an entire population," she said. "It means you represent different families in a society — different religions, different beliefs."
Lilly Del Pinto thought the book looked charming when her 5-year-old daughter brought it home in September. Del Pinto said she was halfway through reading it to her daughter "when the zookeeper said the two penguins must be in love."
"That's when I ended the story," she said.
Del Pinto said her daughter's teacher told her she was unfamiliar with the book, and the school's librarian directed the mother to Filyaw.
"I wasn't armed with pitchforks or anything. I innocently was seeking answers," Del Pinto said, agreeing with Filyaw's belief that pulling the book from the shelves could constitute censorship.
The book has created similar flaps elsewhere. Earlier this year, two parents voiced concerns about the book with librarians at the Rolling Hills' Consolidated Library's branch in the northwest Missouri town of Savannah.
Barbara Read, Rolling Hills' director, has said she consulted with staff members at the Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City zoos and the University of Oklahoma's zoology department, who told her adoptions aren't unusual in the world of penguins.
She said the book was then moved to the nonfiction section because it was based on actual events. In that section, she said, there was less of a chance that the book would "blindside" someone.