Penguin pride

I'm always on the lookout for kids' books that depict diverse families. We're a multiracial family with lots of diversity in our extended clan, and I want our kids to know that we're not unique. I recently read a great book at the library and was surprised to learn that it tops the American Library Association's list of 10 most-challenged books. To "challenge" a book is to try to ban or censor it in some way. This book has been at the No. 1 or No. 2 spot since its publication five years ago.

The award-winning book, "And Tango Make Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, is one of the most adorable children's stories I've ever read. It tells the true story of two male chinstrap penguins who raised a baby chick together at New York's Central Park Zoo. A celebration of families, adoption, diversity and love, it's perfect for my kids and all kids.

My 8-year-old lately prefers books about volcanoes, space invaders and talking toilets. He rolled his eyes when I picked up the book at the library with its cuddly penguins on the cover. Yet, from page 1 he and his little brother were hooked. The authors know how to tell a story. Through straightforward sentences and expressive illustrations we learn all about penguins Roy and Silo, who "were both boys, and they did everything together." When a smart zookeeper witnesses the couple's devotion to each other, he gives them an abandoned egg to hatch. Just like the other penguin couples, Roy and Silo work hard to raise a happy, healthy hatchling. Along with the kids and parents visiting the zoo, we cheer them on.

According to the ALA, there have been dozens of attempts to ban "And Tango Makes Three" from school and public library shelves. Those seeking to remove the book have cited "religious viewpoint" and "homosexuality" as reasons. Protesting this book, which I happily urge folks to read, is just plain silly. I can assure those who fear reading it to their kids that children will not grow up to be gay or penguins because of it. Still, if that's a concern, grab a different penguin book.

I asked children's librarians Margie Cicerrella and Denise Wilson if "Tango" had been challenged in Ashland. "This particular book has not had any complaints as far as I know. We do sometimes get complaints about books and they go through a review process. We take complaints seriously," Cicerrella said. She also emphasized that, "Parents are the first and best teachers of their children. They should always read a book first and make the decision as to what they want to share with their child." Wilson, who is gay and raising five children with her partner, read "Tango" to her kids. "It's just heart-warming, and for our family, normalizing. The book just shows that a family is a family is a family. It's where the love is," she said.

Both librarians agreed that children like to see something of themselves reflected in books. "Children like to see the differences and similarities," said Cicerrella. "They like to know that there are kids out there who look like them or like the same foods or have families like theirs." The theme of this weekend's Pride Parade is "We Are All Family," which is an idea that is hard to challenge. "And Tango Makes Three" is all about family. It is a great addition to any reading list. Parents and children will get a heart-warming tale and a sweet peek at one of the many sorts of families we have in this colorful world.

For other children's books at the library with diverse family themes, try:

"I Love You Like Crazy Cakes," by Rose Lewis — A woman adopts a baby from China.

"Black is Brown is Tan," by Arnold Adoff — a celebration of interracial families.

"Mommy, Mama and Me," by Leslea Newman — lesbian moms raise their toddler.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at

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