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Linette Heng
Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014

Singapore

'Censorship is at odds with a library's purpose'

The New Paper | Linette Heng | Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014

A picture of the characters in And Tango Makes Three.

Two authors of several children’s books that have been pulled from the National Library Board’s (NLB) shelves here have come out to defend their works against claims that they are not pro-family.

Dr Justin Richardson, who co-wrote And Tango Makes Three, told The New Paper in an e-mail interview that the book was a “gentle story” about two penguins trying against the odds to hatch a chick.

Co-author of The White Swan Express, Ms Jean Davies Okimoto, also said in an e-mail that her book on adoptions “took a strong pro-family stand”.

Both books, which target children aged between four and eight, were recently removed from the NLB’s children section because they were deemed to be not pro-family.

The highly-controversial move has come in for heavy criticism and several writers pulled out of NLB events as a mark of protest. Published in 2005, And Tango Makes Three is a picture book based on two male penguins in a New York zoo who hatched an egg together in 2004.

The White Swan Express, published in 2002, is a story of four baby girls in an orphanage in China who are about to be adopted by four families — two married couples, a lesbian couple and a single mother.

Dr Richardson, who is gay, is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who lectures on early childhood development. He co-wrote Tango with his partner, playwright Peter Parnell.

Dr Richardson said that adults such as teachers and parents have a key part to play in helping children interpret books.

“Our young readers need the adults in their lives to draw connections for them to humans and to explain how Tango’s family fits or doesn’t fit with their own family’s values,” he said.

Even before the recent storm in Singapore, Tango was the single most challenged book in the United States for five out of the nine years since it was first published.

However, as the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the book is not banned or censored in the US, said Dr Richardson. Pointing out that the book is widely available throughout the world and has been published in Japanese, Korean, Polish, Hebrew, Italian and Spanish, he added that this was the first time the book has been banned by a government agency.

His other book is another children’s book about a lion who was friends with a human.

He said he found it “deeply troubling” that the library thinks its proper role is to “suppress ideas which the government finds objectionable”.

“The thousands of protestors of the ban are not alone in believing that this kind of censorship is at odds with both the true purpose of a library and the essential human right to freely exchange ideas,” Dr Richardson said.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had said last week that the NLB was guided in its decision by community norms.

“NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them,” he said in a Facebook post.

A library spokesman also added: “As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a sensing of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library.”

WON’T TURN KIDS GAY

Dr Richardson also took issue with the belief that his book will cause children to become homosexuals.

“While the determinants of sexual orientation are not yet fully understood, there is no scientist who would argue that discovering the fact of homosexuality predisposes children to being gay,” he added.

Ms Okimoto, 72, said she was “very sad” to learn of the ban in Singapore’s libraries.

“I also took a pro-family stand in that we showed four loving families who all adopted babies from an orphanage in China,” said the author of 18 books.

“I wonder if those who opposed it think there is enough love so we don’t need to honour it in families that don’t meet their idea of what a family should be?

“Our book is about adopting children and providing loving homes. And the diversity of families reflecting our values of inclusiveness and respect for differences,” she said.

I wonder if those who opposed it think there is enough love so we don’t need to honour it in families that don’t meet their idea of what a family should be. — Ms Jean Davies Okimoto, who co-wrote The White Swan Express, a children’s book recently pulled off the shelves by the National Library Board


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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