Just this morning, I read the ALA's April 11 press release announcing the ten most frequently banned and challenged books of 2010. And for the fifth time in six years, Tango topped the list (in 2009, it briefly slipped to the number two spot, behind Lauren Myracle's ttfn series.)
Presumably, the story behind this most controversial book is familiar by now. Authors Justin Richardson (a psychiatrist) and Peter Parnell (a playwright and Richardson's domestic partner) recount the true story of two male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park zoo who paired off during mating season and were subsequently given the opportunity to hatch an egg that needed care and nurture. Prolific illustrator Henry Cole, who has illustrated over 50 children's books---including Harvey Fierstein's The Sissy Duckling---lends his considerable talent to the project
What is most ironic about the controversy generated by Tango is that it is both visually and verbally an exceptionally gentle book. Working with very unsaturated watercolor and pencil, Cole's palette is very coll and soft, dominated by light blues, greys, and browns (even the penguin's coloring is more charcoal than black). The illustrations of Roy and Silo together are graceful and tender, and their courtship is...well...pretty darned courtly. Likewise, the font feels "light" and almost delicate. Verbally speaking, the authors use parallel sentence structures, repetitions, and short breath units to maintain slow, careful pacing and soothing, balanced sound qualities. Even the most poignant part of the story---the part where Silo and Roy want an egg of their own so badly that they patiently attempt to hatch a rock---derives its emotional force from understatement: "When Silo got sleepy, he slept. And when Silo was done sleeping and sitting, he swam and Roy sat. Day after day, Silo and Roy sat on the rock. But nothing happened." The authors frame the story by briefly referencing other families in the zoo, the human "families of all kinds" who visit and the various species of animals who "make families of their own." Gone are the overt didacticism of early Leslea Newman (Heather Has Two Painfully Earnest, Birk-Wearing, Nuke-Hating Mommies), the sometimes sharp-edged satire of Johnny Valentine in the 90s. This is a sweet and tender story, executed by light, skillful hands. Heck, it even ends with an idyllic melon-colored sunset and the promise of a peaceful bedtime for penguins and people alike.
Miss E's Take: She said that it was a "great" book for kids "because the baby penguin is soooooo cute. Her favorite page, of course, is the one that shows Tango slowly hatching.
But sometimes she skips the bedtime page.
We did talk a little bit about what book banning means, and when I explained that some people don't think that families should have two daddies, she replied, "Well, daddies give you whatever you want, and that's why I want two." Well, alright then...
Note: Although Cole's illustration website is a little busy for my personal taste, I imagine that children will love his "Game Room," which features a memory game, three virtual jigsaw puzzles, and a virtual painting game.
Another Note: Since the publication of Tango, Richardson and Parnell have teamed up to produce a second picture book involving a real-life animal story and a pair o'daddies. Christian, the Hugging Lion, an account of a lion's remarkable and enduring relationship with the two human dads who had him reintegrated into the wild, is a finalist in the 2011 Lambda Literary Awards