‘Tango' book challenged by another mom

Library Board likely to announce decision next week

Friday, Nov. 21, 2008

The second woman to challenge a picture book about a same-sex penguin couple spoke before the Calvert County Library Board of Trustees on Tuesday, Nov. 18, but the board's decision will not be available for about a week.

Mary Woodburn of Huntingtown asked the board to overturn an earlier decision by the library to keep the book, "And Tango Makes Three," the story of two male chinstrap penguins who hatch an orphan egg, shelved with other children's fiction. Woodburn asked that the book be shelved with adult books on sexuality because she feels the topic is inappropriate for children; a similar request, filed by Beth Bubser of Dunkirk, was rejected last month.

"It's not fair to me that I wind up in the middle of an adult topic with my 5-year-old child when I have done my job as a parent and reviewed the material," Woodburn said. The book is inappropriate, she says, because is depicts homosexuality and therefore deals with a sexual topic, she said.

M. Kiplinger Hine Jr., the chairman of the board, told Woodburn that no one disagreed with her right or duty to decide what her children read, but said a parent should be able to discern the topic without reading the book. He cited the words "a family unlike any other" on the back cover and pointed out that its Library of Congress designation, printed on one of the title pages, includes "Homosexuality—juvenile fiction."

Woodburn acknowledged that she had not read "the third title page" before starting to read the book to her daughter, but said the authors had an "agenda," and had intentionally concealed the subject of their book.

"That book is deceptive," she said. " … I went into it thinking, ‘Cool, let's see why Tango is different.'"

Woodburn also suggested that, if librarians would not remove it from the children's section, that juvenile fiction be reorganized by section so that parents could more easily avoid topics they do not want to discuss with their children. She also suggested that books be left where they are but a "red dot" be placed on the cover of any book that has been challenged by a patron, to alert parents that someone has found the book inappropriate.

Woodburn analogized such changes to Internet filters on library computers, but Hine disagreed.

"The Internet is filtered by federal law for graphic pornography," Hine said. "I do not think even you argue this book is graphic. … I think you are reading an adult's perception into this book. ‘Sleeping together' is an adult euphemism for what they suspect happens when two adults occupy the same bedding material. I don't think that would be a 5-year-old's impression. They would think of the dictionary definition of the word." Woodburn has said that the phrase "sleeping together," which occurs in the book in reference to the two penguins, Roy and Silo, sleeping in the same nest, makes the book inappropriate for young children.

Nick Garrett, another member of the board, was similarly skeptical.

"Let's say librarians were to take this step and relabel ‘Tango.' Where does it end?" he asked. "We'd have to analyze the moral content of every book in the children's section and that's dangerous."

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in an interview afterwards that Woodburn's suggestions would not work.

"It certainly does" infringe on readers' rights even if books are merely marked or rearranged, she said. "It's the same thing if you put the books in a section with sign on it: ‘These are controversial.' You're stigmatizing people who borrow those books. Same with a red dot. People will say, ‘Why are you reading a red dot book? That's all about sex. That's all about something someone doesn't approve of.'"

After the meeting, Woodburn joined almost a dozen supporters outside.

"It's very emotional," she said, teary-eyed, declining to comment further.

Ailsa Johnson of Huntingtown attended the hearing to support Woodburn and agreed with her stance on the book.

"I think some things could put ideas into [children's] heads before they're ready for it," Johnson said. "I could write a book about abortion and label it something else. Label it ‘Horses' or something and put it in" with children's books even though it's not healthy for kids to read.

"There are certain topics that I think all sane people agree are not appropriate for children and absolutely this is one of them," agreed Hilary Walker of Owings.

Another supporter was Larry Barnes, longtime pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in St. Leonard, who wants to defend the "traditional values," which he said includes "one-man-one-woman families."

"I think it's a hot topic and I think we assume the majority is in favor of ‘alternative lifestyles' marriage, and that's certainly not the case. … I don't think we ought to be discriminating against people who want to live in a different manner," Barnes said. "However, to explain it as normal, acceptable behavior, I don't think it's correct. Theologically I don't think it's correct."

Barnes said he understood the library's reluctance to judge books but that Christians need to step up and defend themselves.

"I can appreciate the predicament they are in. I think it would be very difficult to be trying to represent all areas of the public without stepping on one group of people," he said. "However, Christians also have a voice and the right to express themselves. People of the gay community have become very aggressive, even going into churches and shouting. If Christians did that, we'd be accused of hate crimes."