|Image from BarnesandNoble.com|
Central Park Zoo sits in the middle of busy New York City. Every day human families of all kinds visit the zoo to see families of animals. In addition to furry red pandas and cotton-top tamarins, the zoo is home to a number of chinstrap penguins. At a certain time every year the girl and boy penguins begin pairing up. All except for two boy penguins named Roy and Silo, who do everything together. Like the other penguin couples they walked together, swam together, and even sang to each other. When all the other penguins make nests of stones, Roy and Silo watch and make one too. They even find an egg-shaped rock and wait for it to hatch, but nothing happens. This gives Mr. Gramzay, the penguin keeper, an idea. He puts an egg that needs to be cared for in the nest. Roy and Silo know just what to do, they take care of the egg for weeks until the egg hatches and a fuzzy baby penguin is born. Mr. Gramzay decides, “We’ll call her Tango, because it takes two to make a Tango.”
The text of this touching story of friendship and love is written in a conversational style. Richardson and Parnell steer away from scientific jargon. Instead they use a kid-friendly, but not patronizing, vocabulary to explain the behaviors and mating rituals of the penguins. The watercolor illustrations realistically depict the inhabitants of the Central Park Zoo. The soft edges of the watercolor washes create a visually appealing background for the detailed, anatomically correct animals. The penguins are not anthropomorphic, yet Cole has captured looks of curiosity, concern, and contentment on the birds’ faces. Several pages feature smaller illustrations that show the passage of time, such as the page that features Tango hatching out of her egg.
Based on a true story, this has been one of the most frequently challenged books since it’s publication in 2005 according to the American Library Association. The author’s note at the back of the book gives readers more details about these penguins that really do live at Central Park Zoo. Although it has been reported that Silo and Roy have since “broken up," other same-sex penguin couple have raised eggs at zoos. If you wonder if this book is suitable for your child, I urge you to read it first so that you can make an informed decision.
Read this American Library Association Notable Children’s Book as part of Banned Books Week and pair it with other picture books that have been banned or challenged, such as In the Night Kitchen, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, or Green Eggs and Ham.
There seem to be hundreds of picture books about penguins, so pick a few of your favorites for a penguin-themed storytime. My current recommendations are Tacky the Penguin, Turtle’s Penguin Day or Sergio Makes a Splash. Bring in non-fction books about penguins. Look at pictures and talk about the many different kinds of penguins.
Use this book for a storytime about families and pair it with other books that feature different types of families. Read Fred Stays with Me and talk about children who have parents who are separated/divorced/remarried. Or read All the World and look at all the different kinds of families of all sizes and skin colors depicted in the illustrations. Discuss the similarities between the families. Point out that love for one another is a big part of all the families in these books.