Archive for March 1st, 2008

Have you read a banned book this week? – Freedom to Read Week

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Freedom to Read Week is almost over but I wanted to mention it, nonetheless. The Freedom to Read site has many resources that describe various ways that members of the public – alone and in groups – and various governments have attempted to limit what people are able to read. My favourite sections, though, are the list of banned books and the results from the survey that the Canadian Library Association, in partnership with the Book and Periodical Council, sends to Canadian librarians about which books, magazines and DVDs have been challenged in the past year. I used it as inspiration to purchase a book for Reid. None of the picture books challenged or banned in Canada since 2000 were available at an Ottawa-area Chapters, Coles, etc., although they were available for order. I did find a copy of And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson at After Stonewall, a bookstore that specializes in literature with gay, lesbian and bisexual themes and a copy of And Tango Makes Three and The Basketball Player by Roch Carrier is available through the Ottawa Public Library.

And Tango Makes Three was identified by the American Library Association as the most frequently challenged book in U.S. public libraries. It was also removed from the collection of the Calgary Catholic School District here in Canada. More importantly, perhaps, it has received a number of national book awards, including:

* ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Award (2005);
* Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award (2006);
* American Library Association Notable Children’s Book (2006); and
* Quite a few others, but you see where I’m going.

Having read the book, I have to say that I don’t agree that the book should have been banned but I do think that I understand why it has received so many awards.

And Tango Makes Three is the based on the true story of two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who were observed trying to hatch a rock that resembled an egg. Zookeepers gave them the second egg of a mixed-sex penguin couple and Roy and Silo hatched and raised the chick as a family.

And Tango Makes Three features lovely watercolour illustrations of the zoo animals. The story tells of  “two penguins in the penguin house [who] were a little bit different” in that they were both males who liked to do everything together and the zoo keeper thinks to himself. “They must be in love”. And that is all of the talk of the sexuality of two of the three protagonists in the story. They don’t march in parades and wave placards demanding equal rights for same-sex couples; they don’t paint rainbows on their bellies and seek acceptance. The authors could have had their characters doing these things and would have been within rights. If the book tended toward activism, objections would be easier to understand. I wouldn’t agree with them but I would understand them better. What is especially troubling for me, is that this book is based on a true story. Those demanding it be banned are asking that the truth about part of nature be denied to children. If you have a chance, you should read it to your kids. They, and you, will appreciate the message about the importance of families - regardless of how they are constituted.

I have a history of reading banned books. When I was in highschool, Angel Dust Blues was pulled from the curriculum and I was one of the many who rushed out to the bookstore to buy a copy for myself. It seems to me that it was a letdown – a decent enough story with a mention of drug use. I’d never been into drugs but I didn’t see it as particularly outrageous and it certainly didn’t promote drug use. The bookseller told me that it wasn’t particularly popular until after it was pulled from the curriculum.

In addition to reading a banned book, you can free one through Bookcrossing.com. The Freedom to Read Week site describes this as particularly appropriate since banned books are often passed furitively around in cafes, on park benches and the like and those are the places where books are passed around through Bookcrossing.com.