And Tango Makes Three

by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is a story about two male penguins who adopt and parent a chick. The book was challenged by one parent who objected to the story. Two committees at the school and district levels approved the book without restriction. However, despite these recommendations, the Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools decided to restrict student access to the book, which is currently available only to teachers or parents. The book has been restricted in all elementary school libraries throughout Loudoun County.


Below is NCAC’s letter to the Superintendent:


Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick, Superintendent

Loudoun County Public Schools

21000 Education Court
Ashburn, VA 20148


February 21, 2008

Dear Dr. Hatrick:

We write to oppose your recent decision to restrict student access to the book, And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, in all Loudoun County elementary school libraries.  We understand that the book was challenged by one parent who objected to the story of two male penguins who parent a chick as an attack on families headed by heterosexuals.  It is currently available only to teachers or parents.  We also understand that two committees of librarians, teachers, principals, parents, and administrators reviewed the book and recommended against any restrictions on the book.  We urge you to accept their recommendation.

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.”

The task of selecting school library materials properly belongs to professional librarians and educators.  District officials and Sugarland Elementary School Principal Angela Robinson did the right thing in assembling teams of specialists to review the book using their educational expertise.  The recommendations of such committees should only be reversed for compelling educational and pedagogical reasons.  Materials should never be removed for ideological reasons.  We urge you not to give in to an individual parent or small group of parents who demand that library policies reflect their personal preferences.  Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children, but, no matter how well-intentioned, they have no right to make decisions for others. 

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.

No one is being forced to read And Tango Makes Three.  But restricting student access violates the rights of children whose parents want their children to be taught tolerance and respect for diversity.  The role of the library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values.  

We strongly urge you to restore full access to And Tango Makes Threein school libraries throughout Loudoun County.  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
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression



» ‘National free-speech groups protest penguin book decision,’ The Loudoun Times-Mirror, 2/22/2008