And Tango Makes Three

And Tango Makes Three is a children's book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole which was published in 2005. The book tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who create a family together. With the help of the zookeeper, Mr. Gramsay, Roy and Silo are given an egg which they help hatch. The female chick, that completes their family, 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 formed a pair bond in New York's Central Park Zoo.

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 has been mentioned in numerous censorship and culture war debates on same-sex marriage, adoption, and homosexuality in animals.[2] The American Library Association (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] Ultimately, it became the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009,[5] as well as the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.[6]

And Tango Makes Three 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.[7]

Scholars of children's literature and education believe And Tango Makes Three is a good way to introduce the idea of diverse families to children. The book does not take a stance on same-sex marriage, but rather the validity of same-sex families.[8]


The story was inspired by two male penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo. During mating season, each penguin began pairing with another, and Roy and Silo paired with each other. While reading an article in The New York Times about Roy and Silo's relationship, "Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name," the couple of Peter Parnell, a playwright and children's book author, and Justin Richardson, a psychiatrist focused on the sexual development of children, decided they wanted to tell the story in the form of a children's picture book.[9] Prior to co-authoring And Tango Makes Three, Richardson co-authored Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (but Were Afraid They'd Ask) in 2003 with Mark Schuster. After publishing this resource for parents to discuss sexuality with their children, readers requested a resource on "gay stuff" from Richardson.[9]

Finding that many parents had trouble introducing the concept of homosexuality to their children, the couple thought a book such as And Tango Makes Three would make the conversation easier, and create a more inclusive environment for future generations. When actually working on the book itself, Richardson commented on how the subject material would be inviting to kids as stories about animals are seen as fun and inviting.[citation needed] Through writing the book, they wanted to be able to introduce the idea of same-sex relationships to children in a way that would be easy for children to understand.[9]


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. 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. People cheer when they come to visit the zoo and see Tango with her two fathers. The story ends by reiterating that Roy, Silo, and Tango are a happy family and that families can look different.[10]


And Tango Makes Three is a non-fiction children's picture book intended for children aged three to eight.[11][12] And Tango Makes Three is similar in style to the other book published by Parnell and Richardson in 2010, Christian, the Hugging Lion. Both books are non-fiction children's picture books about real animals, with Christian, the Hugging Lion telling the story of Christian the lion.[13]

In one challenge relating to the genre of the book, And Tango Makes Three was moved from the children's section to the adult non-fiction section in public libraries in Savannah and St. Joseph, Missouri. This change was made after parents made complaints about the book's placement in the children's picture book section. The change was made to not "blindside" readers.[14]


The primary argument for the inclusion of And Tango Makes Three and books like it, ones that strive to introduce children to the subject of homosexuality in an appropriate and accessible way, is to 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 at Kearney, wrote that the book's diverse makeup and its subsequent lessons adds to its overall value. 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."[15] 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."[15] 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."[16] She contends that families are becoming more diverse and that books like And Tango Makes Three help introduce the subject to children while also fostering a more accepting generation.[16]

Professionals have included And Tango Makes Three as an example of a book that can make introducing the topic of homosexuality easy for children to understand. Bre Evans Santiago, who holds a PhD in LGBTQ issues, argued for the importance of LGBTQ friendly books. Arguing the idea that when such books are read, a sense of pride will emerge from children with non-traditional families, making them feel more accepted. And Tango Makes Three was frequently cited by Evans-Santiago. She goes on to describe how young students in a classroom she studied enjoyed the book. The penguins had become beloved characters in the classroom, and the children always grew excited when Roy and Silo received their egg. She claimed that prejudice does not run in children, and if we teach children that something such as same-sex parenting exists, they are less likely to hold bias about the subject.[17]

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 to explore how much children understand about homosexuality. They found that the majority of the children questioned understood the word "gay" as an insult. They concluded that the introduction to a topic like homosexuality is critical in developing an inclusive environment and recommended including books like And Tango Makes Three in the younger students’ curricula.[18]

Brianna Burke and Kristina Greenfield, professors at Iowa State University, found that And Tango Makes Three can hold a place of value in higher education as well. In their experiment, students read the book and were pushed to engage with what the message of the book was. They were asked questions such as what their idea was of family, and if that idea may be changed or enhanced from the book. When the students discovered the positive message of the book they then were taught about how and why the book has been so contested. This introduction to the children's book, and backlash it received, gives older students a sense of the issues of heteronormativity in the classroom, and how this discussion can help dismantle harmful ideas of heteronormativity. They also went on to say that students would be able to access an "other'd" perspective more easily through the nonthreatening tone of the picture book.[19]

According to Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel, professors and scholars of children's literature, the focus of the book is on the story of Roy and Silo and not on the underlying message of acceptance of same-sex relationships. By being a fun book for children, it is "threatening to wouldbe censors."[20]


And Tango Makes Three was published in 2005 by Simon and Schuster. Originally published in hardcover, the book was published in a tenth anniversary edition as a board book, ebook, and paperback with CD audiobook in 2015.[21] The audiobook was narrated by actor Neil Patrick Harris.[22]


Reviewers say that the positive takeaway from And Tango Makes Three comes from the idea that it helps spark the conversation "about same-sex partnerships in human society."[23] 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.[24] She suggested And Tango Makes Three as a book to be used to better introduce homosexual acceptance into the classroom.[24] And Tango Makes Three was published in the UK as a result of a study done in the country titled No Outsiders by Dr. Elizabeth Atkinson and Dr. Renee DePalma.[25] Moreover, 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 would be effective for students who have parents of the same gender. One of the age-appropriate books recommended for preschoolers was And Tango Makes Three.[26]


Some parents have objected to their kids reading this book because it contains the topic of homosexuality.[27] 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. While many challenges were based on the claim that the topic of homosexuality in animals made the book inappropriate, a random focus group found many adults saying that there was nothing explicitly inappropriate with Roy and Silo's relationship as it is portrayed in the book.[28] Parnell and Richardson noted the positive aspect of increased publicity leading to a larger audience of readers of And Tango Makes Three after it began to be challenged in schools and libraries.[9]

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, 2007, and 2008.[29][30] The book dropped to the second position in 2009 but returned to the top slot in 2010.[31][30] The book has reappeared in the top ten on the list in 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019.[30][32] Ultimately, it became the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009,[5] as well as the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.[6]

Cases resulting in retainmentEdit

Shiloh, IllinoisEdit

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."[33] 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."[33]

Loudoun County, VirginiaEdit

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 And Tango Makes Three "promoted a gay agenda" and was an "attack on families headed by heterosexuals."[34] 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.[35] Superintendent Hatrick decided to override the decision of the committees and the principal and made the book available only to teachers and parents.[34][36]

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."[37]

Ankeny, IowaEdit

In November 2008, parents at a local elementary school asked 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.[38] 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.[39][40][41]

Lodi, CaliforniaEdit

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 the library.[42]

Cases resulting in censorshipEdit

Savannah, MissouriEdit

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.[43] According to an 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."[43] The permanent move of the book was made on March 4, 2006.[43]

Southwick, MassachusettsEdit

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.[44]

Davis, UtahEdit

In 2012, parents raised concerns over the book because it included a nontraditional family and argued that the book was "advocating homosexuality," which is against Utah state law.[45] After this challenge, And Tango Makes Three was "marked for removal."[46]


In July 2014, Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) announced it would destroy three children's books, including And Tango Makes Three, which support LGBT families as they saw the titles as being "against its 'pro-family' stance following complaints by a parent and its own internal review."[47] 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.[48][49]

Hong KongEdit

In June 2018, the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, an "anti-gay rights group," pressed the government against And Tango Makes Three.[50] Access to the book was revoked from the public, along with other books which included similar themes.[50] The silence from the government on why the book was removed has led to the belief that the book was removed because of pressure from activist groups.[50]

Awards and nominationsEdit




  1. ^ 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". Archived from the original on March 8, 2012. 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. ^ a b American Library Association (2013-03-26). "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009". Banned & Challenged Books. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  6. ^ a b American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (2020-09-09). "Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019". Banned & Challenged Books. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  7. ^ And Tango Makes Three. Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781481446952. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  8. ^ Harvey, Jennifer (Winter 2013). "And Tango Makes Three: Introducing Family Diversity to Children". Children & Libraries. 11: 27–33.
  9. ^ a b c d Young, Craig A. (Fall 2011). "Creating a Controversial Picturebook: Discussions with the Creators of And Tango Makes Three". Journal of Children's Literature. 37: 30–38.
  10. ^ Richardson, Justin; Parnell, Peter (2005). And Tango Makes Three. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780689878459.
  11. ^ Shenitz, Bruce (June 2005). "Penguin Papas". Out. 13: 72–76.
  12. ^ "Success Stories". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 58: 21–22. Jan 2009.
  13. ^ Fornasier, Kylie (Feb 2011). "Christian, the Hugging Lion". The Journal of the Children's Book Council of Australia. 55: 21.
  14. ^ "Penguin book moved from children's section". 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  15. ^ a b 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.
  16. ^ a b Harvey, Jennifer. "And Tango Makes Three: Introducing Family Diversity to Children." Children & Libraries 11.3 (2013): 27-33. Education Database. Web.
  17. ^ Evans-Santiago, Bre; Lin, Miranda (2016). "Preschool Through Grade 3". Yc Young Children. 71 (2): 56–63. JSTOR ycyoungchildren.71.2.56.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Evans-Santiago, Bre; Lin, Miranda (2016). "Preschool Through Grade 3". Yc Young Children. 71 (2): 56–63. JSTOR ycyoungchildren.71.2.56.
  20. ^ Mickenberg, Julia; Nel, Philip (Winter 2011). "Radical Children's Literature Now!". Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 36: 445–473.
  21. ^ "Digital Catalog - And Tango Makes Three". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  22. ^ "Digital Catalog - And Tango Makes Three". Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  23. ^ "And Tango Makes Three". Publishers Weekly. May 16, 2005.
  24. ^ a b Van Horn, Selena (2015). ""How Do You Have Two Moms?" Challenging Heteronormativity While Sharing LGBTQ-Inclusive Children's Literature". Talking Points. National Council of Teachers of English. 27 (1): 2–12.
  25. ^ Atkinson, Elizabeth; DePalma, Renée (January 1, 2009). "Un‐believing the matrix: queering consensual heteronormativity". Gender and Education. Routledge. 21 (1): 17–29. doi:10.1080/09540250802213149.
  26. ^ da Silva, Paula Peixoto (2014). "Supporting gay and lesbian families in the early childhood classroom". YC Young Children. 69: 40–44.
  27. ^ Harris, Paul (2006-11-18). "Flap over a tale of gay penguins". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  28. ^ "an exploratory study of childrens views of censorship | Focus Group | Censorship". Scribd. Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ a b c American Library Association. "Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists". Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  31. ^ "Top library complaint: Story about same-sex penguin couple". Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  32. ^ "Banned Spotlight: And Tango Makes Three | Banned Books Week". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  33. ^ a b Suhr, Jim (2006-11-16). "Parents Want Gay Penguins Book Blocked". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  34. ^ a b NCAC Staff (21 February 2008). "And Tango Makes Three Restricted In Loudoun County". National Coalition Against Censorship. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
  35. ^ Chandler, Michael Alison (2008-02-17). "2 Guys and a Chick Set Off Loudoun Library Dispute". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  36. ^ Erica Garman (2008-02-11). "Where's Tango?". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 17 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  37. ^ ""And Tango Makes Three" Decision Voided". 2008-03-03. Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
  38. ^ "Letter Opposing Challenges to 'And Tango Makes Three'". National Coalition Against Censorship. 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  39. ^ "Ankeny couple wants penguin book restricted". Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  40. ^ "Censorship Dateline". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 58 (1). 2009.
  41. ^ "Success Stories: Libraries". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 58 (2). 2009.
  42. ^ 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 978-0816082322. OCLC 709408096.
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ ""And Tango Makes Three" Prompts Serious Challenge in Massachusetts School - School Library Journal".
  45. ^ "Censorship Dateline". Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. 61 (4): 153–184. July 2012.
  46. ^ Gregory, Jenny. "LibGuides: Topic: Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Freedom to Read: LGBT". Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  47. ^ "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, "Singapore national library to destroy LGBT-themed children's books". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
  48. ^ 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.
  49. ^ 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.
  50. ^ a b c Zhang, Karen (June 20, 2018). "And Tango Makes Three among 10 children's books with same-sex themes taken off the shelves in public libraries by Hong Kong government". South China Morning Post. South China Morning Post Publishers Limited.
  51. ^ a b c d e f g Sheilah Egan. "The Natural World of Henry Cole". Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Archived from the original on April 6, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  52. ^ CJONES (1999-11-30). "Children's Notable Lists". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  53. ^ [1] Archived November 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  54. ^ "de beste bron van informatie over myerscenter. Deze website is te koop!". Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  55. ^ a b Schuster, Simon &. "Award-Winning Actor Neil Patrick Harris To Narrate AND TANGO MAKES THREE". Retrieved 2019-10-31.