RHC 2017: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Read Harder Challenge 2017

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2017 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.

This is cheating a little bit, since this is a 32 page picture book. But the American Library Association named it the most frequently challenged book from its publication in 2005 to 2010, with the exception of 2009, when ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle temporarily knocked it out of the top spot (caveat: there are some very real questions about ALA’s data gathering practices in these matters). I’m starting this challenge three months late and I’m not duplicating any titles, so I’m going to absolve myself for this selection.

[And another caveat:  a challenged book is not the same thing as a banned book. A challenged book is a book that a community member has requested be removed from the library’s collection or relocated to another area of the collection. The library may or may not honor the request, depending on its collection development policy, and most public libraries have very carefully crafted policies approved by their boards designed to protect controversial acquisitions. You will not be prosecuted for reading or possessing a challenged book. This is an important distinction.]

I bought And Tango Makes Three for my daughter, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this, one of the founding tomes of the LGBTQ+ picture book genre, is honestly kind of dated (at least as an introduction to LGBTQ+ issues). Today, I can buy all kinds of books for the smallbear that don’t tiptoe around sexuality with phrases like “a little different.” For examples, please enjoy this list of 40 relevant titles from Autostraddle.

And Tango Makes Three is not the book that parents need to start conversations about sexual orientation anymore. I don’t think there’s any reason to approach the subject in the abstract (“well, honey, remember how those two boy penguins liked to wrap their necks around each other? That’s why those two men are holding hands.”) when you can be direct and not make a huge thing out of it (<shrug> “Some boys like other boys. Some girls like girls. Some people like both. Some people like neither.”). We also live in this amazing moment in the U.S. where “gay” or “transgender” are not dirty words in most reasonable circles, and we can teach our children what those words mean. That’s not to downplay very real and ongoing civil rights struggles, but rather to point toward the tangible progress that’s been made. We’ve seen an incidental gay character in a Disney movie; maybe we’ll see a Disney princess fall in love with the princess in the next tower soon (in the mean time, here’s this wonderful comic book to tide you over).

I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on Tango. It is a really, really cute book and a sweet zoo story about an adoptive family. And the baby penguin is so, so, so precious. I think it’s a great choice for any small person’s bookshelf; I’m just grateful that it can also sit next to a wide selection of books that deal openly and directly with the huge variety of human families and relationships.

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