Parents Want Gay Penguins Book Blocked

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 16, 2006; 10:55 PM

SHILOH, Ill. -- A picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin is getting a chilly reception among some parents in this village who worry about the book's availability to elementary students _ and the reluctance of administrators to restrict access to it.

The concerns are the latest involving "And Tango Makes Three," the illustrated children's book based on a true story of two male penguins _ Roy and Silo _ in New York City's Central Park Zoo who adopted a fertilized egg and raised the chick as their own.

Complaining about the book's homosexual undertones, some parents of Shiloh Elementary School students believe the book _ available to be checked out of the school's library in this 11,000-resident town 20 miles east of St. Louis _ tackles topics their young children aren't ready to handle.

Their request: Move the book to the library's regular shelves and restrict it to a section for mature issues, perhaps even requiring parental permission before their child can check it out.

At least for now, the district's chief isn't budging. Though a panel she appointed suggested the book be moved and require parental permission before it is checked out, Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw says "And Tango Makes Three" will stay put _ at the advice of the district's attorney, who says moving it might be legally challengeable censorship.

Filyaw considers the book "adorable" and age appropriate, written for children ages 4 to 8.

"My feeling is that a library is to serve an entire population," Filyaw said. "It means you represent different families in a society _ different religions, different beliefs. That's the role of a school library."

Lilly Del Pinto thought the book looked charming when her 5-year-old daughter _ a kindergartner at Shiloh Elementary _ brought it home in September. Finding the watercolor illustrations "pretty and beautiful," Del Pinto said she was halfway through reading the book to her daughter "when the zookeeper said the two penguins must be in love," jarring Del Pinto.

"That's when I ended the story," she said.

Del Pinto said her daughter's teacher told her she was unfamiliar with the book, and the school's librarian directed the mother to Filyaw.

"I wasn't armed with pitchforks or anything. I innocently was seeking answers," Del Pinto said, agreeing with Filyaw's belief that pulling the book from the shelves could constitute censorship.

"I've not spoken with anyone who says to get rid of it," Del Pinto said. "Of course, we know the kids eventually are going to learn about the homosexual lifestyle. That's not the issue. Please let us decide when our kids are ready. Please let us parent our kids."

Del Pinto says that while she may not "celebrate" homosexuality, "they're valued people."

"We certainly don't want to discriminate or hurt anyone," said Christine Farmer, the mother of two Shiloh Elementary students and the parental representative on the five-person panel Filyaw tapped to examine how to handle the book.

That panel's decision, Farmer says, "was to put this in the parents' lap and let them decide" the book's appropriateness for their children.

"Kids have to be kids at this age," Farmer says. "I don't know why sexuality of any type is appropriate for kids that age. I feel they're learning to count, learning colors. To make that leap to books _ is that really appropriate school material?"

"I just feel like this has opened a Pandora's box _ are we keeping in mind the kids and keeping them kids as far as we can."

The book has created similar flaps elsewhere. Earlier this year, two parents voiced concerns about the book with librarians at the Rolling Hills' Consolidated Library's branch in the northwest Missouri town of Savannah. The book was moved to the library's nonfiction section at the Savannah library and another branch near St. Joseph, Mo.

Barbara Read, Rolling Hills' director, has said she consulted with staff at the Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City zoos and the University of Oklahoma's zoology department before moving the book, saying the experts all told her adoptions aren't unusual in the world of penguins.

She said the book was moved to the nonfiction section because it was based on actual events. In that section, she said, there was less of a chance that the book would "blindside" someone.


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