But the penguins are pretty cute, or, GLBT picture books and me

When we train staff to work on the reference desk, the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and That Form About Book Banning We Hope You Will Never Have To Use (aka the Request for Reconsideration of an Item form) are part of the standard spiel. I usually also talk a little bit about how Harry Potter was at the top of the ALA’s Most challenged Books List for a long time, but has been replaced by And Tango Makes Three in the past few years.

Last time, one of the trainees asked if we had Tango (we do) and if anyone had ever complained (they hadn’t). That was Thursday. The following Monday I found in in my mailbox with a note.

No, no-one was irate enough to demand it be removed from the library and fill out the form to go through the whole process. The parent was just… a little concerned that maybe it was in the wrong section. Maybe it should be in the nonfiction so that it can stay safely sequestered with any other books about… well, you. know. Gay families.

My knee-jerk reaction was HELL NO. But then I figured, well, I should reread the book.

I did. It’s still adorable. It’s fiction. It’s a picture book, and it tells an engaging and age-appropriate story while dealing with concepts of family and love at a level totally accessible to the intended audience.

From the sounds of things, the parent in question acted quite reasonably. She asked if we had any other similiar books–not that she wanted us to get rid of them, but because she didn’t want to explain homosexuality to her child quite yet, and would avoid them.

From a professional perspective, it’s all I could hope for. My standpoint is, yes, we are going to have books that don’t fit in with every family’s values and beliefs. (If my library doesn’t have something to offend everyone, we’re doing it wrong!) It’s up to the parents to choose books that fit in with what’s acceptable at their house, and to communicate what is and isn’t acceptable to their children–and seriously, your child is not going to make it through life without encountering a point of view, idea, ideal or situation that you disagree with vehemently. If you don’t like the book, don’t read it, but you can’t tell other people what they can and can’t read. So from that perspective, saying okay, give me help finding books I like, and avoiding books on a particular topic I don’t want to deal with is the best case scenario.

From a personal perspective, I find it disheartening, depressing, and a little bit ridiculous. How hard is it to explain to a small child that some families have a mommy and a daddy, and some families have two mommies or two daddies? I would think I would be far less likely to cause trauma than explaining the concept of divorce, for one.

Part of the aforementioned staff training is what I call “ages and stage,” a breakdown of all the different user groups who come to the Children’s Department (kids, teens, parents, teachers and caregivers, etc.), and what sorts of books are generally developmentally appropriate. One of the key points with toddlers and preschoolers is that they’re ready for books about everyday life that reflect their own experiences and their world. Regardless of age, it’s incredibly alienating to never see yourself or your own family represented back to you in any form of media. And even if your family is the stereotypical mom and dad and two kids with the white picket fence, who is to say that the family across the street or in your child’s preschool class or in your own extended family might not have two moms or two dads? Or that your child will then grow up and have an easier time accepting themselves or anyone else in their lives because of it?

But back to the book–with no form, there is no official reconsideration. Tango is back on the shelf. I’ve ordered a second copy, actually. Penguins are trendy right now.

And in the process, I checked which books we did have. We have Families by Susan Kuklin, a book of real kids talking about their families, with photos, a diverse group including same-sex parents. And the exuberent Family Book by Todd Parr, and Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle by Pija Lindenbaum, a Swedish book about how Mia gets jealous of her favourite uncle’s new boyfriend, The White Swan Express by Elaine M. Aoki, Jean Davies Okimoto, and Meilo So, about a group of parents adopting babies from Chinam including a lesbian couple, and Mom and Mum are Getting Married by Ken Setterington. And we have the well-intentioned but poorly executed standards, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roomate (and Daddy’s Wedding).

However, in the process, I realized that we don’t have King and King by Linda de Haan, a fairy tale about a prince who doesn’t want to marry a princess, Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden, a gentle story about a kindergarten student with two mommies, or Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen. So I ordered them, too. As well as:

And check out the rather adorable Spanish-English Manu board books, about a toddler with two moms. (You don’t need to order them from Spain, either! Two Lives Publishing has copies–though I haven’t come across anywhere in Canada that has them available for order. (For more books and info, pop on over to the picture books tag over at Worth The Trip!)

We are reordering large amounts of non-fiction right now, after all. Getting an extra half-dozen books on a particular topic as I’m doing some catch-up collection maintenance is not uncommon.  (I recently spent an entire afternoon replacing children’s books on death, divorce, child abuse, cancer, diabetes, allergies, AIDS… of course, I had fun with animal books, dinosaurs, community helpers, and careers, so it’s not all grief and woe.)

It probably would have taken me months more to realize that I hadn’t yet ordered Uncle Bobby’s Wedding if not for this particular comment on Tango. (I would be lying if I said that this doesn’t fill me with a particular sense of ironic glee.) So yes, this incident has had a result… just perhaps not quite what the parent who brought the book to my attention had intended.

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6 responses to “But the penguins are pretty cute, or, GLBT picture books and me

  1. So I ordered them, too.

    Can I adore you from afar? Because, while the parent seems to have acted responsibly, this is the best response I’ve ever heard.

    I love Mini Mia and Uncle Bobby, because neither is about queerness. And I’d never heard of Manu!

  2. I can’t wait for Leslea Newman’s new books!

    “Daddy, Papa and Me” and “Mommy, Mama, and Me” look awfully cute.

  3. Jadelennox: I am just so glad that the parent didn’t get horribly upset and demand that we pull poor Tango. The paperwork required to keep it on the shelf take up an awful lot of time. *g*

    I like Mini Mia quite a bit. Her uncle’s poor hapless Scottish boyfriend! The Manu books look pretty cute, too.

    Anna: Ooh, I hadn’t seen Leslea Newman’s new board books! Excellent!

  4. Thanks so much for including our books in your “have ordered” list. Love to read of open-mindedness in libraries!!

  5. Thanks, Heather! I was quite thrilled to find them. Although I’m not exactly unbiased, since if I do have children they will have two moms, I’d like to think I’d be open-minded regardless.

  6. Pingback: On race and representation in kidslit… « what Elisabeth is reading

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