By Lawrence Jones
A children's book about two male penguins that hatched a chick together was pulled from school library shelves earlier this month in Loudoun County, Va., for its pro-gay message.
The 2005 award-winning book, "And Tango Makes Three," draws on the real-life story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York. The book, recommended by Simon & Schuster for children ages 4-8, says the two penguins sleep together and attempt to make a nest like other boy and girl penguin couples. At one point, an observer in the book says that the two "must be in love." Roy and Silo then name their chick "Tango" because it takes two to tango.
An unnamed parent at Loudoun's Sugarland Elementary School objected to the book several months ago and said it promoted a gay agenda, according to officials.
Following the complaint, the school principal and a district review committee comprised of principals, librarians and teachers convened to review the book. The group did not find the book inappropriate. A similar opinion was reached by a second committee that examined the book after the parent appealed the first review.
The final decision came from Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, who overruled them. He removed the 32-page book from the shelves of 16 elementary schools in Loudon County and placed it in the professional collection at each school library. Students can still access the book through the request by a parent or teacher.
According to officials, "Tango" is still in the general collection at one middle school and two high schools in the county, reported The Washington Post.
Wayde Bayard, spokesman for Loudoun County Schools, told Fox 5 News in Washington, D.C., that Hatrick thought the book's content might not be developmentally appropriate for some students.
"It might just explore some mature themes that younger children may not particularly understand," said Bayard.
He said it was "fine" that children were exposed to such themes but advised that a parent, adult, or teacher be with the children as they read the book.
Gay rights advocates have criticized the book's removal as censorship and rejects claims that the book is gay propaganda.
But according to Peter Parnell, co-author of the book, presenting the issue of same-sex couples to children was the aim of the book.
In a past interview with U.S. News, Parnell said he "wanted to write a book that treated the subject of same-sex couples that kids will adore."
"Tango is so cuddly. We're hoping kids will love it and beg their parents to read it again and again, since children are bumping into children from these same-sex families at school and at birthday parties. This [book] makes it comfortable for parents to talk about these families," he said in 2005.
The incident with Loudon County was not the first time the book has been protested by parents.
In November 2006, parents of students of an elementary school in Shiloh, Ill., requested that the book be placed in a restricted section of the library and for the school to require students to get parental permission prior to checking the book out. They were turned down by the school superintendent. Other complaints had also surfaced in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois, according to the Boston Globe.
John Stevens, a school board member from Potomac, recently criticized Loudon Schools in his blog for not having policies that allow parents and gay rights activists to appeal Hatrick's decision.
He intends to propose a new set of policies at a committee meeting on March 4.
Although the book strives to highlight a somewhat success story of a non-traditional family, the two penguins at the center of the controversy have already split.