The National Library Board (NLB) yanked two children’s book titles off its shelves on Tuesday (July 8), after complaints from a member of the public that the books did not promote family values.
The first book, And Tango Makes Three, features two male penguins which exhibit behaviours like a couple and successfully hatch and raise a young penguin, based on a true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book has stirred similar controversy in the United States, with repeated calls for it to be banned from libraries.
The second, The White Swan Express, revolves around adoption of children and features a single mother and a lesbian couple among its characters.
In a post in the Facebook group We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore, member Teo Kai Loon wrote that the NLB had replied to the complaints.
The letter, signed by Ms Tay Ai Cheng, the NLB’s assistant chief executive and chief librarian, said the library had withdrawn the two books. She also said the NLB takes a strong pro-family stance in selecting books for children.
She added that with a collection of more than five million books, it was an arduous task to ensure complete adherence. “However, when library visitors like yourself highlight to us any conflicting content within books, we review such books thoroughly and withdraw them from circulation,” she said.
Mr Teo said the response was swift, coming within two days. Such books, he said, should not be allowed to go under the radar. He also urged members to continue to scrutinise the library’s catalogues. “Remember, the onus is on us,” he added.
The Facebook post has since been removed.
The NLB’s move sparked concern among civil society activists here.
Ms Jolene Teo, programmes and communications senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research, said it was a shame that the NLB had taken such action.
“I think it is good for children to know that many different types of families exist, not just the one idealised family type of one man and one woman,” she said. “Being pro-family also means understanding that many family types do exist – from single-parent families to same-sex couples,” she added.
When contacted, the NLB said: “Young children are among our libraries’ most frequent visitors. Many of them browse books in our children’s sections on their own. As such, NLB takes a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors.” It did not respond to queries as to how many complaints were received about the titles and why the titles were offered in the first place.
Members of the arts community also expressed disappointment at the NLB’s actions.
Author Adeline Lee said: “Some parents may not be ready to answer questions that their children may have on the stories. Other parents or educators may welcome it as a chance to teach the children about something they find difficult to address. Writing to the NLB to request the books’ removal denies the latter group a coachable moment, so it is a pity.”
Author and storyteller Verena Tay said what the NLB was doing “was affecting the state of what children are reading”. She added: “I don’t think those in the ‘conservative camp’ would like it if their books were banned one day as well.”