And Tango Makes Three

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And Tango Makes Three
First edition cover of And Tango Makes Three
IllustratorHenry Cole
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's literature
PublisherSimon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication date
April 26, 2005
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
[E] 22
LC ClassPZ10.3.R414 Tan 2005

And Tango Makes Three is a 2005 children's book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole that tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who create a family together. With the help of the zookeeper, Mr. Gramsay, who gives them an extra egg from another penguin couple at the zoo, they are able to welcome their own baby penguin to the world. Roy and Silo each take turns sitting on the egg until it eventually hatches. The female chick is consequently named "Tango" by the zookeepers.[1] The book was based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who fell in love in New York's Central Park Zoo.

And Tango Makes Three has been at the center of numerous censorship and culture war debates on same-sex marriage, adoption, and homosexuality in animals.[2] The ALA reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most frequently challenged book from 2006 to 2010, and the second most frequently challenged in 2009.[2][3][4] However, while it is controversial, the book has been advocated for by scholars for its ability to introduce the idea of homosexuality easily in classroom and home settings. It has also won multiple awards, including the ALA Notable Children's Book Nominee in 2006, the ASPCA Henry Bergh Book Award in 2005, and was named one of the Bank Street Best Books of the Year in 2006.[5]



The story opens in the Central Park Zoo, a place that houses families of all different kinds. Soon, it is the time of year when all the chinstrap penguins couple up. All of the couples have one female penguin and one male penguin except for Roy and Silo, two male penguins who have fallen in love. They do everything together: they sing, swim, and even build a nest so that they can start a family. The two penguins take turns sitting on a rock, thinking that it is an egg. They wait patiently, but nothing happens. The zookeeper, Mr. Gramsay, notices this and he brings them an extra egg from another penguin couple who would not be able to care for it. Roy and Silo sit on their egg and take care of it until it hatches! The zookeepers name the female chick Tango. When people come to visit the zoo and see Tango and her two fathers, and they cheer. The story ends by reiterating that Roy, Silo, and Tango are a happy family and that families can look different.


Family: The idea that every family looks different is a strong message in the book. It opens by showing all of the families in the zoo, all of which are different species. The authors show that families, while different, are all similar in one way: they are happy together. Roy and Silo work very hard to have a family because they know it will make them happy. No matter how a family looks or comes to be, it is a special thing. As long as the family is happy and healthy, it is natural, the book contends.

Love: Roy and Silo fall in love and are happy together. They know that they would love their baby forever and they want to bring one into the world, which is why they sit on the rock, hoping that their love with produce a baby. The love they have for each other and for Tango is prominent in the book.

Acceptance: The end of the book shows the people who visit the zoo cheering for Roy, Silo, and Tango. The zoo accepts this family and celebrates their love, promoting the idea that the world ought to accept and celebrate families that look different.

Adoption: The book subtly advocates for adoption as it shows that it does not matter how a family is created or whether a child is biologically related to its parents. Roy and Silo are given an egg from another penguin couple and love it just the same. The egg, if it had not been given to them, would have died because Chinstrap Penguins are only able to care for one egg at a time. Tango was saved by her new family. It also explores the idea of surrogacy and how families come together in many different ways.

The authors[edit]

Justin Richardson is an author and psychiatrist who focuses on the sexual development of children and parenting. His first work, a piece that brought him into the spotlight, was an article entitled “Elite Schools Face the Gay Issue” that focused on how to approach the development of sexual orientation in teenagers. After publishing the book, his fame grew and he appeared on shows like Good Morning America, CNN, and the Today Show. Subsequently in 2005, he and his partner Peter Parnell, published their first children’s book And Tango Makes Three which explored a similar topic.[6][7]

Peter Parnell is a television writer, playwright, and children’s book author. His plays have been presented at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles as well as the Playwrights Horizon in New York City, both presented by the Seattle Repertory Company. His best known work was on Broadway, “QED”. His most notable work in television were his contributions to the series Little Bear, the Guardian, and the West Wing.[8]

Now, both authors live together in Manhattan with their daughter.[9]


The true story of Roy and Silo[edit]

At the Central Park Zoo, in 1998, the zookeeper noticed two chinstrap penguins who seemed to be especially fond of each other. The penguins would call for each other as well as complete the same mating rituals the other penguin couples did, like entwining their necks and vocalizing to one another.[1] The other couples at the zoo were heterosexual, but Roy and Silo were both males. The homosexual pair was then seen by the zookeeper, Robert Gramsay, building a nest and placing a rock in the nest. This was seen as an effort to hatch an egg.

After observing Roy and Silo's attempt at hatching a rock as an egg, the staff at the Central Park Zoo provided an extra egg from another heterosexual couple to Roy and Silo so they could have a baby of their own.[10] After thirty-four days of Roy and Silo taking care of the egg, the baby penguin finally broke out of its shell. Roy and Silo then began taking care of a female baby penguin that the staff of the Central Park Zoo named Tango. After six years of their relationship, Silo left Roy for a female penguin named Scrappy. Roy continued raising Tango by himself as Silo continued to mate with his new female partner. Tango eventually grew up and began to mate with her homosexual female partner Tazuni.[1]

Authors' intention[edit]

According to the authors, the motive behind this book was their desire to foster inclusivity in book format and in the mindset of young children. A quote from one of the authors, Justin Richardson, prefaced that he and Peter Parnell, the additional author, "wanted to write a book in which kids who have same sex parents would see their family represented".[11] An additional motivation for writing Tango was because they believe that the subject of homosexuality is something that many parents find difficult to approach with their children. They intended their book to be a device that could ease this difficulty.[10] However, they do note that the relationship between Roy and Silo is never classified in the book as a homosexual one rather than a close one and how they are like 'family'.

The science of homosexuality in animals[edit]

According to scientific research, homosexual behavior in animals has been observed in around 1500 species. Scientists also claim that, typically, animals in the animal kingdom tend to exhibit bisexual activity. As sociologist Eric Anderson of the University of Bath in England says, "Animals don't do sexual identity. They just do sex".[12]

The term "homosexual behavior" is not only to be defined through sexual actions among organisms. It can also be seen as mating interactions, parenting, courtship, etc. Sex can also be used as a social function to strengthen bonds and alliances between two animals.

From a physiological standpoint, the amount of sex hormones and the size of the animal's gonads seem to have an indirect relation towards homosexual behavior in animals. Nathan Bailey, the author and biologist, states that it is possible that animals that exhibit homosexual behavior lack the gene that allows them to distinct the difference between the sexes.[13]


Benefits in the classroom[edit]

A variety of scholars, parents, and teachers have written on behalf of the value of And Tango Makes Three.

Deborah Stevenson from Johns Hopkins University Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books says that the book is valuable because it prompts discussion about the different types of families possible. Selena E. Van Horn, a doctoral candidate in literacy education at the University of Missouri published a piece titled "How Do You Have Two Moms?" Challenging Heteronormativity While Sharing LGBTQ-Inclusive Children's Literature" in the National Council of Teachers of English where she suggested And Tango Makes Three as a book to be used to challenge heteronormativity in classrooms. And Tango Makes Three was published in the UK as a result of a study done in the country titled No Outsiders. The study was conducted in the United Kingdom from 2006-2008 by Dr. Elizabeth Atkinson and Dr. Renee DePalma. After the study was done, Dr. Elizabeth Atkinson was presented with a scholar-activist award by the American Educational Research Association. "And Tango Makes Three" was also integrated into the Turkish curriculum as a means to include books about diversity. Along the same lines of fostering inclusivity, an article written by Anna Paula Peixoto da Silva, recognized that the inclusion of diverse literature and toys that are reflective of both the male and the female gender as well as "various ages and ethnicities" in an elementary school curriculum, for students who have parents of the same gender would be effective. One of the age-appropriate books recommended for preschoolers was, indeed, And Tango Makes Three. The publishing site Scholastic recommends the book to be used in curriculums for children starting in preschool through second grade.

The primary argument for the inclusion of Tango and books like it, ones that strive to introduce children to the subject of homosexuality in an appropriate and accessible way, is to ensure that foster inclusivity for children in same sex families. Literary critics have explored the values of And Tango Makes Three mainly because of its use in classrooms. Jennifer Harvey, a Curriculum Librarian and Assistant Professor at Calvin T. Ryan Library, University of Nebraska, Kearney, wrote a literary criticism where she positioned that the book’s diverse makeup and its subsequent lessons adds to its overall value. In the criticism, Harvey states that “since families vary, literature that explores types of families can improve the chances of the reader having a healthy response to non-normative family units, whether their own, or the family of an acquaintance”[14] The inclusion of two male parents is reflective of a typical upbringing in American culture, and Harvey believes that addressing this is beneficial for a classroom setting. Indeed, she argues in favor of the book because it “can increase the likelihood of compassion for difference"[14] Harvey notes that “Institute of UCLA’s School of Law has estimated that a quarter of all same-sex households include children under eighteen. This distribution suggests that children are likely to be aware of families where the parents are same sex. In the event that they do not encounter a family with same-sex parents, they will likely know children raised in families not made up of the child’s biological parents".[15] She contends that families are becoming more diverse and that books like Tango help introduce the subject to children while also fostering a more accepting generation.

Janine Schall, an instructor of teacher education, and Gloria Kauffman, a fourth and fifth grade teacher, collaborated and conducted an experiment with thirty fourth and fifth graders and explored how much children understand homosexuality. They found that the majority of the children questioned understood the word “gay” as an insult mostly. They concluded that the introduction to a topic like homosexuality is critical in developing an inclusive environment and recommended including books like Tango in the younger students’ curricula.[16] Karla J Möller, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign encapsulated the issue well when she said, “As librarians and educators, we have a responsibility to fulfill the promise of inclusion for all of our children and their families… To do so, teachers at all levels need the support of literature and literacy professionals in locating, accessing, and using books that feature gay and lesbian individuals and families.[14]


Some parents have objected to their kids reading this book because it contains the topic of homosexuality.[17] Homosexuality in animals is seen as controversial by some social conservatives who believe that illustrating animal homosexuality as normal suggests that homosexuality in humans is normal. Others believe that it has no implications and that it is nonsensical to equate animal behavior to that of humans.

The American Library Association (ALA) tracks challenges and censorship cases made against literature in public schools and libraries. It reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006, of 2007, and of 2008.[18] The book dropped to the second position in 2009 but returned to the top slot in 2010.[19]

Cases resulting in retainment[edit]

Shiloh, Illinois[edit]

Some parents of students at Shiloh Elementary School requested in November 2006 for the school to require parental permission prior to checking the book out. One of the parents said: "Please let us decide when our kids are ready. Please let us parent our kids."[20] However, Superintendent Filyaw who originally agreed with the parents, decided instead to keep the book available as it “means you represent different families in a society.”"[20]

Loudoun County, Virginia[edit]

In 2008, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick removed the book from general circulation at public elementary school libraries on the basis of a parent's complaint. A parent complained that Tango "promoted a gay agenda" and was an "attack on families headed by heterosexuals."[21] After the parent formally challenged the book, the principal of Sugarland Elementary School put in place an advisory committee of principals, librarians, teachers and parents to review the book. The group deemed it acceptable, and the principal concurred. Following this decision, the anonymous parent made an appeal. Another committee of administrators, librarians and parents reviewed the book, and that committee also recommended that it remain in the collection.[22] Superintendent Hatrick decided to override the decision of the committees and the principal and made the book available only to teachers and parents.[21][23]

Not long after his announcement, Hatrick received a copy of an inquiry from a School Board member about any legal implications involved in the decision regarding this book. This led Hatrick to review School Board Policy 5-7, which includes the “Procedure for Review of Challenged Materials,” and he found that the procedure was not adhered to. Subsequently, he returned the book into circulation, citing "significant procedural errors that he believes void the process followed in this matter."[24]

Ankeny, Iowa[edit]

In November 2008, parents at a local elementary school asked that for the school to require parental permission prior to checking out the book. Next, they wrote a letter to the newspaper of the city of Ankeny to "warn" other parents about the book. However, in December 2008, the School Board of Ankeny voted 6-1 to keep the book in the libraries as well as to add on an additional process of book review for the school system.[25] During the hearing, the school board’s lawyer argued that a decision to remove the book from the shelves, if challenged, would likely not hold up in court.[26][27][28]

Lodi, California[edit]

In April 2007, Stephanie Bramasco, the parent of a 17-month-old child in Lodi, California, requested that the book be removed from Lodi Public Libraries because she felt that the cover of the book, which shows two adult penguins cuddling with a baby penguin, is "deceptive because it does not indicate the adult penguins are a same-sex couple." The library board of directors voted (4-1) to retain the book on the shelves of their library.[29]

Cases resulting in censorship[edit]

Savannah, Missouri[edit]

On February 13, 2006, parents objected to the book's placement at Rolling Hills Consolidated Library and requested a change of assignment within the library stacks.[30] According to Aaron Bailey's article in the St. Joseph News-Press, parents objected to the book's placement in the fiction section, thus insisting that the book be placed in the non-fiction section instead. The book was transferred because "fewer people browse the children's nonfiction section" and "because it was based on the true story of two male penguins that hatched an egg in the New York City Zoo".[30] The permanent move of the book was made on March 4, 2006.[30]


On March 23, 2007, Johanna Habeisen, a library media teacher at Woodland Elementary school received a threatening letter from her principal, Kimberley Saso, because she had the book in her library: "Hopefully you take this matter seriously and refrain from disseminating information that supports alternative styles of living..." Other than the principal and Superintendent Thomas Withal, who had been interrogated from the start, there had been no parental challenge.[31]


In July 2014, Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) announced it would destroy three children's books with pro-LGBT families themes as they saw the titles as being "against its 'pro-family' stance following complaints by a parent and its own internal review."[32] And Tango Makes Three was one of the problematic books. And Tango Makes Three was eventually placed in the adult section instead of being removed, and the NLB announced that their book selection and review processes would be refined.[33][34]

Awards and nominations[edit]

National book awards[edit]

  • American Library Association Notable Children's Book - 2006: "Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children's books, recordings, and videos." [35]
  • ASPCA's Henry Bergh Award - 2005[36]
  • Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award- 2006:[37] The Myers Center reviews and identifies outstanding books written about “Discrimination and Bigotry” each year, in order to find ways to develop equitable future communities and societies. The winners of the Gustavus Myers Award announced on Human Rights Day, December 10, each year.[38]
  • Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year - 2006
  • Bank Street Best Book of the Year - 2006
  • Cooperative Children's Book Council Choice, and CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book - 2006
  • Lambda Literary Award finalist - 2006

Awards from children's groups[edit]

  • Sheffield Children's Book Award - shortlisted - 2008[39]


  • And Tango Makes Three, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, April 26, 2005 ISBN 0-689-87845-1
  • And Tango Makes Three, Little Simon, June 2, 2015 ISBN 1-481-44695-9
  • And Tango Makes Three, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, Kindle edition, June 2, 2015
  • And Tango Makes Three, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, Audiobook, June 2, 2015

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Miller, Jonathan (2005-09-24). "New Love Breaks Up a 6-Year Relationship at the Zoo". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  2. ^ a b Taylor, Jeremy (October 2, 2009). "Book About Gay Penguins Is Most Banned of the Year". Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  3. ^ "Attempts to remove children's book on male penguin couple parenting chick continue". American Library Association. 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  4. ^ ""And Tango Makes Three" waddles its way back to the number one slot as America's most frequently challenged book". American Library Association. April 11, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-04-14. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  5. ^ "And Tango Makes Three". Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  6. ^ Justin Richardson
  7. ^ "Justin Richardson". Simon & Schuster.
  8. ^ "Peter Parnell". Simon & Schuster.
  9. ^ Peter Parnell
  10. ^ a b Lea, Richard. "March of the Penguin Protesters." The Guardian.May 23 (2007)Print.
  11. ^ Young, Craig A. "Creating A Controversial Picturebook: Discussions With The Creators Of And Tango Makes Three." Journal of Children's Literature 37.2 (2011): 30-38. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
  12. ^ Driscoll, Emily V (2009). "Bisexual Species". Scientific American Mind. 20.3.
  13. ^ Braun, David Maxwell. "Same-Sex Behavior Common Across Animal Species, Review Finds". National Geographic. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Möller, Karla,J. "Heather is 25! so, what Literature Featuring Gays and Lesbians is Available for Primary Grades Today?" Journal of Children's Literature 40.1 (2014): 62. Web.
  15. ^ Harvey, Jennifer. "And Tango Makes Three: Introducing Family Diversity to Children." Children & Libraries 11.3 (2013): 27-33. Education Database. Web.
  16. ^ Janine Schall and Gloria Kauffman, “Exploring Literature with Gay and Lesbian Characters in the Elementary School,” Journal of Children’s Literature 29, no.1 (Spring 2003): 36–45.
  17. ^ Harris, Paul (2006-11-18). "Flap over a tale of gay penguins". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  18. ^ "ALA | Attempts to remove children's book on male penguin couple parenting chick continue". 2009-04-20. Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  19. ^ "Top library complaint: Story about same-sex penguin couple". Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  20. ^ a b Suhr, Jim (2006-11-16). "Parents Want Gay Penguins Book Blocked". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  21. ^ a b NCAC Staff (21 February 2008). "And Tango Makes Three Restricted In Loudoun County". National Coalition Against Censorship. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
  22. ^ Chandler, Michael Alison (2008-02-17). "2 Guys and a Chick Set Off Loudoun Library Dispute". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  23. ^ Erica Garman (2008-02-11). "Where's Tango?". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 17 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  24. ^ ""And Tango Makes Three" Decision Voided". 2008-03-03. Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
  25. ^ "Letter Opposing Challenges to 'And Tango Makes Three'". National Coalition Against Censorship. 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  26. ^ "Ankeny couple wants penguin book restricted". Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  27. ^ "Censorship Dateline". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 58.1. 2009.
  28. ^ "Success Stories: Libraries". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 58.2. 2009.
  29. ^ J., Karolides, Nicholas (2011). 120 banned books : censorship histories of world literature. Bald, Margaret., Sova, Dawn B. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 0816082324. OCLC 709408096.
  30. ^ a b c Bailey, Aaron. "Tango Takes a Trip Around - the World - Children's Book Moved to Children's Nonfiction Section." St.Joseph News-Press (MO)Mar 16 2006. Web.
  31. ^ ""And Tango Makes Three" Prompts Serious Challenge in Massachusetts School - School Library Journal".
  32. ^ "Singapore national library to destroy LGBT-themed children’s books" Library says three books are contrary to its "pro-family" stance. The AFP, July 2014, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
  33. ^ Tan, Dawn Wei (18 July 2014). "NLB saga: Two removed children's books will go into adult section at library". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  34. ^ Grosse, Sara; Mohandas, Vimita (4 August 2014). "NLB to finetune book selection, review processes: Yaacob". Channel News Asia. Channel News Asia. Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  35. ^ CJONES (1999-11-30). "Children's Notable Lists". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  36. ^ [1] Archived November 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ "de beste bron van informatie over myerscenter. Deze website is te koop!". Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  38. ^ "Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award | Book awards | LibraryThing". Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  39. ^ Sheilah Egan. "The Natural World of Henry Cole". Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Retrieved March 26, 2016.