Two parents challenged the picture book, And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for use in elementary school libraries in Ankeny, Iowa. The parents objected to the story of two male penguins who parent a chick because they say the book is not "age-appropriate". NCAC and ABFFE wrote the following letter to the Ankeny School Board:
Board of Education
Ankeny Community School District
306 S.W. School Street
Ankeny, IA 50023
November 21, 2008
Dear Members of the Board of Education:
We write to oppose efforts to remove or restrict student access to And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, in elementary school libraries in Ankeny. We understand that the book was challenged by one student’s parents who objected to the story of two male penguins who parent a chick because they say the book is not “age-appropriate.”
Based on a true story, And Tango Makes Three is highly acclaimed. The American Library Association honored it as a Notable Children’s Book in 2006, and it was a finalist for the 2006 Lambda Literary Award. According to School Library Journal, “This joyful story about the meaning of family is a must for any library.” In his review of the book, John Lithgow writes, “A little miracle for children. Funny, tender, and true, the story of Tango will delight young readers and open their minds.”
District officials appropriately assembled a team of educators and community members to review the book in response to the complaint. Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that books are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. Materials should never be removed for ideological reasons and never prior to the completion of the review process.
School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular ideas or controversial language. The Supreme Court has cautioned that school officials "may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’" Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has "a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics." Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995).
Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.
The role of the library is to allow students and parents to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values. No one has to read a book simply because it’s on the library shelf. We strongly urge you to keep And Tango Makes Threein Ankeny elementary school libraries. Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. Any other decision threatens the principle that is essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Joan Bertin Chris Finan
Executive Director President
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
UPDATE: ‘Ankeny board says no to limits on ‘Tango’, Des Moines Register, December 16, 2008
Read local news coverage in The Des Moines Register