Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Mad Bitches Against Gay People"

Here's an interesting story about censorship and the upcoming publication of And Tango Makes Three in the U.K. I'm refreshed by Mel Burgess's suggestion that censorship furor is often more a fact of media exploitation than it is a reflection of the actual fortunes of a book. For the record, here's what the Horn Book Guide said about the book:

Two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo court, build a nest, and raise their (adopted) daughter Tango. Highly anthropomorphized to maximize the sentimental but noteworthy lesson on family diversity, the story gains depth from the biological reality of same-sex penguin partnering. Gentle illustrations of the smiling penguin family add appeal, if not scientific accuracy, to this book based on a true story.

Tango is, for me, an example of a book that is didactic but On My Side, that is, a book that says something I think all children should hear. While you might think reviewers would go easy on a so-so book that speaks to their own values, I wonder if the opposite is true--that in order to combat even the suggestion of boosterism, we give them a harder time. But, as I recall, I couldn't take the smiles.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

hooray Mel Burgess!

`h

web said...

Now to me, Tango was one of the few books that really got it right. I never felt it was more message than book.

Roger Sutton said...

It was the cuteness factor that got to me, Wendy. And as for the Mad Bitches, I want to join just cause their name is so much fun!

Todd-Michael St. Pierre said...

Perfectly illustrates the scenario of the real penguins and me & my partner's life with our adopted daughter Twilah. Overdue, for sure! Great book... period! (or exclaimation, rather)

Andy Laties said...

Well the Post-Modern approach, which emphasizes how Modernism is all about Discipline, would say that "And Tango Makes Three" is all about the act of taming savages, (or, assimilating difference). It takes place in a ZOO which is a form of prison. Thus: by analogy, closed 'secure' domestic arrangements (marriages or domestic partnerships, no matter how they're gendered) are a sort of voluntary imprisonment of personal relations (in this case being lived out inside a REAL prison, one for animals, OK, but the bars are awfully telling).

Yeah, yeah, kids love to go to the zoo, sure, and I know all the arguments in favor of the operation of zoos in terms of animal preservation!! But these particular Picture Book Characters are FAR from free in their decisions. I think there's a subtext, therefore. "Let's allow this unconventional male/male adoptive arrangement as long as we can keep a really close eye on these guys and they're always available to invasive scrutiny by the general public at any time."

Not to say that I don't sell this book actively.
I do. There's almost NOTHING in the marketplace unfortunately that facilitates the needed conversation with children on this subject. But I'm not terribly fond of any books in which animals in zoos are depicted as happy. (I'll take Good Night Gorilla any time, thanks. In the sequal to And Tango Makes Three maybe the penguins will take a hint and steal the keeper's keys.)

Anonymous said...

I have known a few members of "The Mad Bitches Against Gay People" in my time. They are usually not so well read and would probably oppose Tacky the Penguin, Too!! Ha!!

I shared Tango with a group of children and they were making connections to their DVD's of Happy Feet. I paired Tango with DK's Penguins. The children were very interested in penguins and the family issue never came up!!!

I really do believe there is such a strong need for books and stories about all sorts of families. My wife passed away when my son was only 19 months old. There are so few really good books about a single father raising a child alone. (I have always wondered where the mom is in the book William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. After reading this classic with my son, he looked at me and said, "Papa is William's Mom in heaven like my Mommy.") I don't know where William's mom is , but my little boy sure made a connection. You see we really need good books for all children to see themselves and make connections.

My son's favorite book, when he was five was Aliki's My Visit to the Zoo. He wore that book out!!! Read the first page- Wow!! He also loves Good Night Gorilla- Thanks Andy for making me think about Peggy Rathman. (When will she ever have a new book?) My son is seven now and his favorite book is Skippyjon Jones and rightfully so!!! He's such a cute little crumbcake!!! I am wondering where is Skippyjon's dad. I hope he's at work!!!!

A special thanks to authors who write books about all kinds of families and children.

Thank you Roger for this blog!!

Good Night Gorilla and You Too Roger!!!

AMY said...

Thanks Roger. This post coupled with yesterday's discussion and a real life experience with my daughter led me to a radical rethinking regarding my fondness for the Magic Tree House series. I'm starting to wonder if that notorious fourth grade slump is partially caused by the didactic nature of many series and books targeted at this age group.

Roger Sutton said...

Damned Mac just ate my comment. And, speaking of anthropomorphism, I think I dislike Tango for precisely the same reason Todd-Michael likes it. The real penguin family has no clue its become a standard bearer for gay rights OR "traditional values." We're using them, putting them in (as Andy is I think saying) another kind of cage.

Anonymous Dad, Charlotte Zolotow has several magnificent portraits of fathers in her picture books--I wrote a term paper about it back in grad school. There's a great one about a girl and her father enjoying a midnight walk together, no mention of a mother. When first published, it was called The Night Mother Was Away, but was subsequently retitled The Summer Night. Nice, yes?

Amy, I'm just finishing up a chapter on chapter books for our forthcoming book for parents, and one thing I'm hypothesizing is that the best chapter books have characters who rely more on their friends than parents or teachers, and that reading at that stage is all about peer-sociability. Well, it's a theory!

AMY said...

Hmmm, I agree that peer relationships are quite important for 7-9 year old kids, but where my thinking has been pushed, these days, is toward a stance that strongly encourages these kids and their parents to keep picture books as one pillar of their reading lives, far up into their elementary school years. I've managed to do a little of this nudging through a "reading buddy" experience with my students mentoring their younger peers, but I'm not sure how to convince the kids and their folks that many picture books are worth reading, rereading, and treasuring well past third grade. And I don't just mean Calvin and Hobbes.

sdl said...

I suspect that even younger children would probably like to spend a lot more time reading about kids and their friends than kids and their parents, but pre-readers are mostly at the mercy of their parents and grandparents. Parents and grandparents much prefer the view of the world where they are central in the lives of children and friends only incidental, hence an endless market for I Love You So So Much books.

At an essential level, of course, parents ARE of central importance, but I very much doubt that it's what kids really want to be reading about even when they're younger. They must really love hitting those early chapter books when the focus finally shifts outward.

Anonymous said...

Why should kids be pushed to keep reading picture books when they've moved on? I think this goes along with the current read-aloud obsession. I learned to read at 3 and can't remember ever being read to. In my family we all read to ourselves. And we liked it, dammit.

rindawriter said...

I have just finished reading for the first time, The Picts and the Celts by Arthur Ransome, and while it is slow and old-fashinoned probably by today's standards, I can't help enjoying it precisely because it is ALL about children playing and wanting to play with other children AWAY from preachy, boring, confining adults...the children's interactions, often very subversive, with the different adults in the book are hilarious but also so_SO what I think of when I think about middle-grade and chapter books...the children are IN CHARGE in that book, the children are IN CHARGE! the adults either join in and aid the fun as confirmed and controlled allies at a COMFORTABLE distance or else they are the ENEMY! It differs from Richard Pecks Newberry winning book in that it's all about the children solving their own difficulties. I love Pecks boo, too, but it's not as purely middle-grade as I like a middle grade book to be with Grandma always coming up and/or being the big behind the scenes manipulator. Still, that book and his Newberry honor book are great to read for the relationships of the children with Grandma. Very enjoyable reads.

I cannot find this book about a father/son type relationship in recent print anywhere, but I think Astrid Lindgren's, Rasmus, the Vagabond, is PERFECT read for a father and son without a mother to share together at an older age. It's SO much about finding a father and what real fathering is like and what it's like for a child to not have a good father and a good home but yet to long for one and then, eventually, to find a real life one. I LOVE that book. I think it's one of the most perfectly written middle-grade novels ever.

Anonymous said...

It's Anonymous Dad Again-
Thanks Roger for the tip on The Night Mother Was Away/ Summer Night. I did not know this book. I found a good used copy on Amazon. I just love Charlotte Zolotow's wonderful quiet books.

My son (who just completed first grade) expects me to read to him each night before bedtime. It's more than a ritual. He also reads to me. Tonight he read Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers and then I read aloud two chapters of James and the Giant Peach. Sometimes it's a novel and sometimes it's a picture book!!!
It's not just the read aloud that is important, but it's the time spent together.
It's the best part of my day and his!!!

Anonymous said...

Did you say picts and CELTS?!!

not martyrs?

`h

Roger Sutton said...

"Picture books for all!" is a cry heard cyclically since the 1980s, when lots of picture books were being published, many with an eye for a broader market than the traditional preschool-first grade audience. I think, well, sure, why not picture books for older kids, even while I secretly believe there's some infantilization going on behind all the talk about "visual literacy." Given enough coffee, I'll go on a tear about the use of the picture books with older kids is just another way of lowering the goalposts, rewarding kids for what they can already do (decode pictures) rather than pushing them to do more (read more complicated prose).

Andy Laties said...

Gee that's a surprising emotion, Roger. In Europe of course many of the picture books have much longer texts than you find in the American market, and this is the specific problem many European rights managers have placing some of the finest of the Euro picture books with American houses. I think it's really a shame that Americans resist buying picture books with lengthy texts because the picture book per se is tarred with being principally appropriate for the younger child.

In other words -- long, rather sophisticated texts, used in picture books (full sized picture book formats) are great for older elementary readers.

My friend Dagmar Herrmann translated and published "Max And Sally And The Phenomenal Phone" about 20 years ago -- she was bucking this trend in U.S. publishing, since this incredibly popular (in Czechoslovakia) series of books (by Macourek and Born) has lots of big pictures, lots of long and funny text, and thus cannot be published in America.

I think that she and her husband unfortunately had to close down their company (Wellington Publishing) some years ago. But the intensity of her crusade against limiting picture books to young children was quite inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you see this as a question of "lowered goalpoasts," Roger. Just because a kid is capable of reading a giant fat doorstopper of a fantasy doesn't mean they don't like to relax and enjoy a good picture book now and again. And why shouldn't they, with the plethora of finely written and beautifully illustrated choices out there?
Marian

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Dad,

You might enjoy reading Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl with your son. It has a beautiful father/son relationship. Not a picture book, but a very enjoyable read.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Dad One More Time-

Thanks Anonymous for the Danny the Champion of the World recommendation!!! I'll put it on our must read together summer list. We have read a good number of the Roald Dahl books. Our summer reading list just keeps getting longer- That's a good thing!!!

Roger Sutton said...

Andy,my crankiness comes from the fact that so many "picture books for older readers" are forced by the nature of the form to take an either cursory or superficial approach to problems "possibly not resolvable in a thirty-two page format," as former HB editor Anita Silvey put it. I'm not objecting to older kids reading picture books so much as I am to the books' use in the curriculum. I think that frequently such books are used not because their format offers a superior approach but because they are easier.

Max and Sally failed here because the format seemed babyish to the intended audience, and the idea of persuading older children that they SHOULD like picture books seems a case of trying to make a reader suit the market, rather than the other way around. The natural impulse of a child is to grow up; the natural impulse of the children's book market is to keep them young for as long as possible. Guess which side I'm on.

Andy Laties said...

Point taken.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Roger, but please don't forget that many children are being forced to grow up too soon. Let them stay children while they can.

Sometimes a teacher will use a picture book in an older classroom (middle school-ish) to introduce an extended study of a particular subject. If it is a good story, well told, it can be a very effective way to begin--even if the bigger subject it touches upon poses problems not resolvable in 32 pages.

Of course, the best books for this purpose are not created "to suit the market," as I take your meaning,and do not engage in overt didacticism...

Marian

Anonymous said...

What, no comments about the subsequent penguin split and Silo's new hetero lifestyle? Doubtless leaving his mother squawking all over the colony "I told you it was just a phase."

I think the book is workable in itself as a book about cute penguins; the implications come largely from the quotes on the back from Harvey Fierstein et al. talking about its important lesson. I actually would oppose the notion of taking morality from animal behavior myself, though it's probably good news for the Eat-Your-Young crowd.

rindawriter said...

I apologize for once again messing up my words on this blog in the presence of those who know much mroe than I: Sorry, sorry, the wordfinding difficulty creeps in late at night after long days already on the computer...wrestling with Microsoft---AAAH!

The book I MEANT was "The Picts and the Martyrs" by Arthur Ransome

rindawriter said...

Haven't seen the Penguin book yet so don't comment on books I have not read, but IF Roger says it's cutsy...I may focus my reading time elsewhere