Children’s books featuring gay families to be destroyed

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Update 19 July 2014 – Some good news. Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has stopped the National Library from destroying two of the children’s titles, specifically ‘And Tango Makes Three’ and ‘The White Swan Express’, issuing the order that they be moved to the adult section instead, where parents can borrow them for their children. However, a third title, ‘Who’s In My Family?’ has sadly already been ‘pulped’.

To read more on this development, click on this link to go to the AFP News article I got the information from, via Yahoo! News Singapore.

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I’m deeply disappointed by the news I came across on Yahoo! Singapore that our National Library are going to destroy some children’s books that depict families with gay parents.

What happened:

Two children’s books ‘And Tango Makes Three‘ and ‘The White Swan Express‘ were removed after a member of the public, a Teo Kai Loon, had e-mailed the National Library Board (NLB) voicing his concerns about them.

A Yahoo! News Singapore article reported that:

… In supposedly two days, NLB responded to Teo’s e-mail complaint, stating that the books have been withdrawn following his feedback. NLB emphasised that it “takes a strong pro-family stand in selecting books for children” and “when library visitors like yourself [Teo] highlight to us any conflicting content within books, we review such books thoroughly and withdraw them from circulation”.

The response was signed by Tay Ai Cheng, the assistant chief executive and chief librarian of the NLB.

A member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore”, Teo then posted NLB’s response to him on July 8. He did not include the contents of his original e-mail complaint in the post. In the post, Teo called other members of the group to “continue to scrutinise the catalogue and not allow such children books to go under the radar screen”. He also encouraged people to email NLB if they had any concerns, saying that the NLB takes swift action, “all within 2 days”. However, Teo’s Facebook post in the group has since been removed.

What disturbs me:

That the books are to destroyed, instead of simply being given away to people who want them, which would serve the same objective of not having them on the library’s shelves anymore.

I simply don’t understand why the books must be destroyed. To me this reeks of a book-burning exercise, which is shocking and extreme. As a gay person, heck as any thinking and feeling human being, to me it’s like making a damning statement, in this case against gay parenting and therefore gay people.

I don’t care to ever be a parent myself. And so when I read or hear of condemnation to the idea of gays being parents, I admit it’s something that just whizzes by me as just one of the many injustices that is part of life. But not before it slashes me up inside in tiny painful cuts in ways you will never know or understand, unless like me you are a gay person who grew up with straight parents, in a ‘straight environment’, not to mention religious even, but who still suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of people who considered themselves straight, who led straight lives. It happened over a number of years in my childhood.

I’m not traumatised anymore, I function alright. But to be a grown adult already in my 40s and still be weighed down with malaise and sorrow by vivid memories of those episodes that still hit me out of the blue every so often, there is always a bitter smile or laugh in me when I read or hear ignorant and prejudiced people thinking that the safe wellbeing of children depends on whether the parents are gay or straight.

Anyway, whatever, these are just my own scars, from my own experience of my own childhood, which of course also contains happy memories as well. The opinion I want to express here is just that: if we don’t agree with something, that’s fine, but why to the harsh extent of ‘pulping’ such books that are sympathetic to what we don’t agree with?

And what a sad waste of books and money too. I wish they would just give them away to the adults who want them.

Why my grief

My sadness and disappointment stems mostly from that I was very fond of our National Library. I have always loved it and never took this noble public service for granted, even before I started travelling especially to some of our neighbouring countries, where even the most basic public infrastructure like proper pedestrian pavements can be messed up, let alone luxuries like public libraries which are practically non-existent. (After travelling, I consider our libraries a luxury.) I think I have mentioned in this blog a few times how I love and appreciate our National Library, for example in this post here.

Hence the deep disappointment. Now It’s like the love is suddenly tainted or something. It’s like now I feel I might have to reluctantly let go a friend I’m actually fond of. Because how do you remain friends with someone you can’t respect.

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The books in question:

The three titles to be pulped are:

1. And Tango Makes Three, (2005) written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole.

SONY DSC

A photograph of parent and blogger Joyce reading ‘And Tango Makes Three‘ to her daughter. Added here 14 July 2014, with her kind permission. From the excellent review of the book from her family blog TOT: HOT OR NOT. Click image to go there.

From Wikipedia:

The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book follows the six years of their life when they formed a couple and were given an egg to raise.

The book has won many awards but also been at the center of numerous censorship and culture war debates on same-sex marriage, adoption, and homosexuality in animals. The American Library Association reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006 to 2010, except for 2009 when it was the second most challenged.

The following video is a wonderful narration of the moving story, from YouTube user John Mark Johnson.

 

2. The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption (2002), written by Jean Davies Okimoto and Elaine M. Aoki, illustrated by Meilo So.

the-white-swan-express

Image as seen on The Online Citizen. Click image to go there.

The story is about children adopted by straight, gay, mixed-race and single parents. A description as seen on Amazon.com:

In China, the moon shines on four baby girls, fast asleep in an orphanage. Far away in North America, the sun rises over four homes as the people who live there get ready to start a long, exciting journey. This lovely story of people who travel to China to be united with their daughters describes the adoption process step by step and the anxiety, suspense, and delight of becoming a family. Told with tenderness and humor, and enlivened by joyous illustrations, The White Swan Express will go straight to readers’ hearts.

Click here for a sweet and delightful review of the book.

3. Who’s In My Family?: All About Our Families (2012), written by Robie H. Harris, and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott.

Who_Family_HB_p10_UK

An image from the book ‘Who’s In My Family?’, as seen on walker.co.uk, via Google Image Search. Click to go there.

A description of the book from Goodreads.com:

Trusted New York Times best-selling author Robie H. Harris continues her series for preschoolers with a look at the many kinds of families that make up our world.

Join Nellie and Gus and their family — plus all manner of other families — for a day at the zoo, where they see animal families galore! To top off their day, Nellie and Gus invite friends and relatives for a fun dinner at home. Accessible, humorous, and full of charming illustrations depicting families of many configurations, this engaging story interweaves conversations between the siblings and a matter-of-fact text, making it clear to every child that whoever makes up your family, it is perfectly normal — and totally wonderful

Click here for a review of the book. And here to go to the website of the author Robie H. Harris.

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Some of the voices defending the books:

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Other related articles:

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Children’s books featuring gay families to be destroyed

      • Yeah, I know that I’ve been kind of AWOL for a while…

        By the way, in case you’re interested in picking up a copy, the book is now available to download on Amazon, Apple, etc.

        Hope you’re well, man.

        • Oh hey, that’s great! Congrats on this further development of your book! I’ll definitely be checking it out and picking up a copy, looking forward to it.

          I’m doing alright, thanks. Hope you are too. Cheers!

  1. So sad that a ‘national’ organisation such as that is falling over themselves to please a baseless complaint from ONE PERSON. It doesn’t seem from the Yahoo article that they’ve been pressurised from some anti-gay group, but just from this one letter. As a national organisation they should be more concerned about ensuring ALL people get a voice and can find resources related to their lives or interests, not a bigoted, closed-minded view of the world.

    Thanks for writing about this and hopefully bringing some attention to a situation that many people wouldn’t be aware of.

    • Thanks Martin for your thoughts and support. Yes, that’s another shocking thing: how quickly and easily the books were withdrawn from the shelves after that one single complaint. According to the Yahoo article, the person who complained is a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore” which would be an anti-gay group as Pink Dot is a movement (comprising both gay and straight individuals) which supports an inclusive society for everyone. But you are right, it’s just that one person who made the complaint. There was no pressure from any anti-gay group.

      Well said, about how a national organisation should be looking out for everyone. I’d like to include here an excerpt from an excellent piece by Kirsten Han, a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker:

      By removing books that might allow a child with a single parent or gay parents to feel included and loved, the NLB has bowed down to pressure and punished children for things completely out of their control, essentially telling them that their families aren’t real or worthy of representation in a national library.

      As a place of knowledge and learning, a library should have no business defining the concept of ‘family’ for the public. It should be open to people of all beliefs, and allow them the space to make up their own minds.

  2. Reblogged this on culturevultureexpress and commented:
    It’s really sad to see prejudice like this still existing. Children need to know that there is many kinds of families in this world and that they are all amazing and perfectly normal. Diversity and family are two of the most wonderful things in our universe. We need to celebrate that. Not destroy it.

    • Thanks for reblogging and for your thoughtful comments. I really like what you said including “diversity and family are two of the most wonderful things in our universe. We need to celebrate that. Not destroy it.” Important and all too true words we need to remember.

    • It is indeed, Cindy. Frightening is a good word to describe it. I think more of us here will be using it soon. I’ve been thinking that there is a storm coming so to speak.

      I notice there have been one thing after another in recent months against gays here. The anti-gay movement seems to get more daring/vocal and picking up momentum. They seem to call themselves not ‘anti-gay’ but ‘pro-family’ which is so insulting. But then again, terrorists who blow up other people call themselves holy people doing God’s work. Delusion among the bigoted seeking to spread their hatred and intolerance is nothing new.

      I hope the government will stamp them out hard, the way it has always admirably done against things like racism on social media, for instance. I hope I won’t be disappointed. I guess it depends on if there are people in the govt, and how many, turning out to be members of these so-called ‘pro-family’ groups. A frightening prospect indeed. I really hope there are none.

  3. Their actions remind me of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It is disturbing that they simply wouldn’t give the books to someone else or to another institution that would want them.

    • I haven’t read that book, but I’ve now checked out some reviews and it sounds a very compelling and important must-read. Thanks for the introduction, Greg!

      You know, I *almost* automatically went to the Library website to check if they stock it, but I held myself back. I just can’t deal with them right now.

      Looks like I’ll be going back to buying books. And e-books from Amazon. I have never bought a book online before, or for that matter CDs and films too. When I buy it’s always been physical versions from stores. Well I’ve bought some short stories online before but that was via Paypal I think. I’m just not savvy at all when it comes to online shopping. I guess I’ll have to start. I’ve been meaning to buy a book from a fellow blogger anyway, from Amazon, so I guess I’ll start from there. It has to be e-books because my flat is really small and there’s just no more space to accumulate more stuff haha.

  4. Halim, this is a thoughtful and passionate response to an act of cowardice and ignorance on the part of Singapore’s National Library Board. I went to their website and found this mission statement:

    “We make knowledge come alive, spark imagination and create possibilities.”

    Really? How, exactly, does destroying books accomplish any part of this mission? Of course, removing or destroying (!) a book – for any reason – is the antithesis of any library’s purpose. It is not surprising to find anti-gay bias in Singapore, as it still exists in every society. What is shocking and dismaying is that modern and sophisticated Singapore in 2014 would sanction such an extreme response to one person’s complaint.

    A quick Google search of this episode shows that this decision has damaged Singapore’s reputation within and beyond the country’s borders. Local writers are boycotting the Library’s events. Yet CEO Elaine Ng refuses to reconsider. It’s a sad chapter for Singapore and its National Library.

    One thing is certain, however: the overwhelming reaction against this book banning – including your blog post – has made more Singaporeans aware of these children’s books than they were before. I’ll bet sales of ‘And Tango Makes Three’ and ‘The White Swan Express’ have spiked, and not only in Singapore.

    Look on the bright side: the haters have already lost. They may succeed in getting a book banned here and there. But their voices are so shrill because they are a fast-vanishing minority. Good riddance!

    • Your comment is so eloquent, dear Steve, with excellent points raised and so much concern for my country. And not to mention the effort you have put in to read on the subject. I’m not only touched and thankful, but I wish I’m one of those well-read and better-written blogs, so that more people can read your thoughtful words. I haven’t put in effort to try gain more readership because of lack of time, and interest, to be honest. I’m thankful enough to have the time to jot a few words here sometimes. Nor have I the time or energy for now to try polish up my writing, learn to take better photographs, etc. Your letter really deserves a wider readership! So thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts here.

      It’s sad and shocking indeed that this is allowed to happen in my country, in 2014. I can’t believe it, but it’s happening. As far as I know, the books are not pulped yet, and I’m clinging, perhaps foolishly, that at the very least they will change their minds about that. (Update 19 July 2014 – Wonderfully the decision to pulp was reversed! However, for only two of the three books. But it still feels like a miracle! Update detailed at the beginning of the post.)

      And the National Library was so highly regarded and loved by many of us. I’m not surprised our reputation as a country has been hit. If I’m a foreigner who knew and held Singapore in high regard, I imagine I too would be flabbergasted that such a thing could happen in this country.

      I read about the boycott by our local writers yesterday and am very glad and proud of them for taking a strong stand on the issue and making it known. It also reminds me that I own only a few, maybe only ten, books by local writers. I will make it a point to read and support them more from now on.

      I’m cheered by your mentioning that yes, the publicity from this madness are increasing sales for these children’s books. So more parents will be buying them and passing on the messages of love and acceptance in those books to their kids! Not just in Singapore but other countries. I’m sure that’s another thing the haters didn’t count on happening. :-)

      • And there you go: the local writers who are protesting the NLB’s cowardice are already finding a larger audience for their works with their own country. There will be many such unintended positive outcomes rippling out from the toxic pebble tossed in the public pond by that petty little hate monger.

        Halim, don’t doubt the quality of your writing – which is excellent! And as for the reach of our blogs… we don’t have to reach thousands or millions of people. It’s enough to open one mind and touch one heart. That’s how the world changes. Cheers mate!

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