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Banning Tango

There's good news and bad news in the world of children's books.

First, the good news: And Tango Makes Three, a picture book for 4- to 8-year-olds about two penguins who are into homosexual “parenting,” is the “most challenged” book on the American Library Association's (ALA) Banned Books Week list.

This means some parents are still on the job and are not turning their children over to the tender mercies of the Free Sex Lobby, which effectively runs the ALA.

The bad news is that the ALA's annual campaign of parental intimidation appears to be working. As ALA Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom Judith Krug happily told the Sacramento Bee:

“When we started Banned Books Week [in 1982], hundreds of books annually were removed from libraries and occasionally bookstores. Last year, we had 40 removed.”

It would be nice to think there were fewer offensive books, but when you equate responsible, concerned parents with book burners, as the ALA routinely does, most folks pause before entering that briar patch.

To the Bee's credit, they quoted American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, who laid out the real agenda behind Banned Books Week (Sept. 29 to October 6):

“This is false hysteria created by the American Library Association. It's all fantasy land. Just because you remove the book from the school library because you deem it inappropriate for children to read does not mean that the book is banned in America.”

Only 29 books were actually removed from library shelves in a year when 546 challenges were reported. The vast majority of successful challenges involved reclassifying books from children to youth, or youth to adult.

That doesn't matter to media favorite Krug, who has taken up mind reading: “Every time there is a formal challenge, the final intent is to ban the book,” she told the Bee.

The Chicago Tribune supported Banned Books Week with a commentary on October 6 by Sharon Coatney, a past president of the American Association of School Librarians, who begins by saying, “I don't think I've ever met a children's book I didn't like!”

Really? Perhaps it's time to launch the Junior Jihad series.

Coatney concedes that parents should have input about what their own children read, but “should not and cannot direct the choices of other children.”

Sounds good, but translated it means that professional librarians like her get to make all decisions about what's on the shelves.

This is why school libraries are minefields studded with abominations like Robie Harris' Perfectly Normal. This lavishly illustrated book, endorsed by Ann Landers, contains pornographic cartoons of frontal nudity, kids masturbating, and crackpot assertions such as: Greek homosexuals made better soldiers than straight men. Enough librarians and politically correct parents have purchased Perfectly Normal to drive up sales to a reported million-plus. If sales start lagging, don't be surprised if they attach a “bonus condom” to each book cover.

On the whole, the media seem to have lost interest now that the ALA appears to have prevailed. A Nexis search from September 24 to October 6 indicates that the major networks ignored Banned Books Week, as did The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. The Chicago Tribune, in addition to the Coatney commentary, ran a more or less balanced news article by Stevenson Swanson.

Only New York's Daily News seemed to have the old fire. On September 24, Brian Harmon led his piece this way: “They are American classics, read by millions, young and old. And yet, Of Mice and Men, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye share another more controversial distinction. Each ranks among the nation's most challenged books by parents and administrators.”

Not to quibble, but none of those books made the Top Ten list this year.

Here are some that did:

• The Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar, in which New York teen brats engage in constant sex, drugs and drunken parties.
• Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories, which feature Satanism and a tale about a butcher who grinds up his wife for sausage.
• Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, which includes obscenities and masturbation.

In mid-September, parents at a Chicago middle school tried to get The Chocolate War removed from required reading lists for seventh graders, but the principal refused. What did Coatney say about not dictating choices for other people's children? Apparently, school officials are exempt.

Despite a paucity of evidence, Harmon showcased Hofstra University library administrator Sarah McClesky, who ominously warns, “The freedom to read is continuously under attack from private groups, and sometimes from parents and school administrators.”

Mr. Harmon noted later that the most challenged book in 2006 was “Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell's award-winning And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins parenting an egg from a mixed-sex penguin couple.” Hmmm. Where else would fertilized eggs come from? Still, it's nice that Harmon acknowledges nature.

One detail missing in media reports is that the Tango saga, based on a real life story at New York's Central Park Zoo, ended quite differently. In the book, the two males, Roy and Silo, live happily ever after with “their” daughter Tango. In real life, zoo officials added a female named “Scrappy” to the mix. Naturally, one of the males, Silo, took off with Scrappy, leaving Roy to stare dully at a wall.

The Chicago Tribune's Swanson noted that not a single library actually removed And Tango Makes Three. Not bad for the “most challenged book of 2006.”

At the very least, librarians should move And Tango Makes Three to the adult fiction shelves. That might also jack up next year's Banned Book List, and elicit more media interest.


Robert Knight is Director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.