"We tried to incubate a rock and that didn't work," jokes Justin Richardson, one of the authors of And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male penguins who hatch a real egg after fruitlessly trying with a rock. The truth is, however, that he and his co-author and partner, Peter Parnell, became dads themselves back in February, as the New York Times reported last week. Gemma Parnell-Richardson doesn't have feathers like Tango, but if the photo in the NYT is any indication, she's just as cute.
In honor of Banned Books Week, which ran last week, I therefore wanted to post some quotes from Richardson and other authors of banned and challenged books. Richardson was kind enough to share with me some of his thoughts on Tango being the most challenged book in the country for three years in a row:
We can think of lists we'd prefer to top.
I will say that, as gay men of a certain age, we are no strangers to fear and anger being directed towards us and families like ours. But unlike in the debate of gays in the military, gays at the altar, gays in the boy scouts, and so on, this time the government is squarely behind us, and that makes all the difference. And not only is the US Constitution indisputably on our side (the U.S. Supreme Court wrote about a similar case of book suppression in 1982 "Our Constitution does not permit the suppression of ideas"), but throughout these years of challenges we have had the great support of the American Library Association, the ACLU, and PEN America as well as countless teachers, librarians, parents, and most meaningful to us, children. When a group of New York City 5th graders get together to give you an award for writing a book that furthers the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., it becomes much easier to shake the image of the angry mother waving your book around on Fox News.
Best of luck to both Richardson and Parnell with their future books (More! We want more!) and, most importantly, with their new daughter. I'm sure they'll be great dads.
Moving to another work on the American Library Association's list of the Top Ten Most Challenged books, I also spoke recently with Sarah Brannen, whose Uncle Bobby's Wedding is about two fictional male guinea pigs and their niece. She told me:
It's never a great feeling to know that someone is so unhappy with my book that they actually want it taken off the shelves. That's certainly not what I was thinking about when I wrote and illustrated Uncle Bobby's Wedding! However, it's an honor to be on the "Top Ten" list with ten other terrific authors (Tango has two daddies). I was fortunate enough to participate in the ALA "Read-Out" on Saturday in Chicago with five of them, and many people shared letters they had gotten from people who were angry about their books. Lauren Myracle said she always answers and tries to get into a dialogue with parents, to try and get to a place where they can understand each others' thoughts, and I think that's a wonderful idea.
The more I hear from people who hate gay people so much they don't even want children - any children - to know they exist, the more I hope my book will help open young minds. After all, there are over a million children in this country in households with same-sex parents, and they go to school with a whole lot of other kids. I just hope they can learn that people are all human beings. Even when they're guinea pigs.
I'll note, too, that guinea pigs were not the first furry creatures to face criticism over their nuptials. In 1959, Garth Williams' The Rabbits' Wedding was removed from libraries in the South or transferred to reserve shelves because it depicted the marriage of a black rabbit and a white one. Many felt it promoted interracial marriage and was thus inappropriate for children. Plus ça change. . . .
The LGBT-themed works of acclaimed young adult author Julie Anne Peters are not on the ALA's list of most-challenged books, but that in itself bespeaks another problem. She explained to the School Library Journal:
You can't ban a book that never makes it into a library. When I hear about authors who are up in arms about their book being banned, or removed from reading lists, I confess to a sliver of jealousy. I'd actually love for my books to be banned so at least I'd know they were once accessible to readers who needed them.
[See my interview with Peters at Mombian.]
Peters makes an excellent point. Bilerico contributor Patricia Nell Warren (whose novel The Front Runner has itself faced challenges) last week offered a few suggestions on how to fight book banning. I think they would work just as well to help books like Peters' make it into libraries in the first place. Warren recommends that we buy challenged books, give them to family and friends, and donate them to libraries, many of whom are facing budget crunches.
I'll add another suggestion I've heard from authors I've interviewed: Go write reviews of and rate these books at Amazon, B&N, Powells, or whatever online bookstore you use. (The reviews don't have to be NYT Book Review length. A few sentences is enough.) You also don't have to like them all from a literary perspective--just make it clear your dislike isn't because of controversial content.
While we're on the subject of children's and young adult books, I have to mention the great new young adult novel Ash by Malinda Lo, the former managing editor of lesbian entertainment site After Ellen. Ash is Cinderella with a lesbian twist, although that description doesn't fully do it justice. Lo has rethought the story entirely, rather than simply plunking in a princess where the prince used to be. It's a fun read for anyone who likes fantasy or romance. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lo a few weeks ago, and can think of no higher praise than to say I hope Ash makes the ALA list next year. That would mean it is at least getting out to the schools and libraries whose students (some of whom are coming out in middle school) most need books that reflect their lives.