24 August 2019
A standard-bearer or subverter of traditional family values? Photo: Reuters
A standard-bearer or subverter of traditional family values? Photo: Reuters

By the book: Family values in black and white

Two penguins have got some Singapore book borrowers all hot and bothered — so much so that the city-state’s National Library Board has pulled several banned volumes from its shelves.

The board confirmed late last week that three children’s books – “And Tango Makes Three”, “The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption”, and “Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families” — had been taken out of circulation. 

All three books describe families that veer from the mother-father-child set-up. “And Tango Makes Three” is inspired by the true story of two male chinstrap penguins that hatched a chick at New York Zoo; the swan book refers to a lesbian couple trying to adopt a child; and the third book discusses families of all kinds of configurations.

Who knows what trouble a child could get into armed with this kind of information. The consequences were too much to contemplate so, after it received e-mail complaints that the books are not “pro-family”, the board removed them from the reach of borrowers.

“NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education,” the board said.

The move prompted a backlash and petitions to have them reinstated.

It’s not the first time penguins have been at the center of a family values debate. Emperor penguins became the pin-ups of Christian conservatives a decade or so ago when “March of the Penguins” celebrated monogamous couples enduring the harsh Antarctic climate and predators to rear a chick.

Then the animated musical “Happy Feet” came along to balance the scales further in the heteronormative favour with Mumble pairing up with Gloria. Nevertheless, Mumble did still love to dance while the others sang …

We still haven’t heard how penguins feel about all this. As any self-aware penguin soon realizes, when you start looking under the familial surface — Antarctic or otherwise — things very quickly stop looking black and white. 

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