It Takes Two to Tango

There are many ways to push for social justice, but perhaps one of the subtler and more unexpected ways to do so are through children’s literature, especially since many children’s books aim to inculcate some form of moral value at the end of the story. In this post, I will be discussing the popular children’s book And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (Richardson & Parnell, 2005), and how books like these, that spread positive messages about LGBT families, can be a starting point for challenging the notion of heteronormativity from home.

Tango and her two fathers!

The book is about two penguins, Roy and Silo, who wish to have baby just like all the other heterosexual penguins in their enclosure. However, they are biologically unable to lay an egg, so their zookeeper has an idea and gives them an egg that needs to be cared for to hatch. After much dedicated time and care for the egg, it finally hatches into a baby penguin, whom Roy and Silo decide to name Tango, as it takes two to tango.

Roy and Silo do everything together.

The interesting thing about the book is that the label ‘gay’ is never introduced, even though it is made clear that Roy and Silo are romantically attracted to each other. We previously learnt in class and from the readings that there are there are powerful effects to the discourse of labelling. Given that the word ‘gay’ is now often viewed as the unmarked term and has become a widely accepted ‘in-group’ term (Cameron & Kulick, 2010), I thought that it might be mentioned at least once in the book, perhaps as a form of solidarity. However, there were no LGBT labels in this book at all, and from a child’s perspective it merely seems like two penguins who are a little different but have the same want for family love as all the others.

Perhaps that is what makes this book so powerful. By choosing not to use any labels, the authors reinforce their stance against heteronormativity by showing that there does not need to be a label as labels often indicate a sense of markedness, no matter how subtle.

The usage of penguins to bring to light the discussion of a LGBT family rather than human beings is likely to be the author’s way of softening the social message of the book, as putting the protagonists in an ‘animal world’ distances the them from the reality of the human world. Using penguins instead of human beings also prevents any possible homonormative messages from being sent out in the book, which some children’s literature has been accused of (Taylor, 2012).

Above all, And Tango Makes Three has been often named as one of the most impactful books about an LGBT family in recent years, despite the fact that it has been banned in libraries all around the globe and has been named as one of the most challenged books from 2006 to 2010 (And Tango Makes Three, n.d.). By portraying an LGBT family without ever labelling it as one, the authors are able to instil the moral value of inclusiveness and show that love is not exclusive to a male and female. The focus on family love, first between the penguins as partners and then between the parents and child, sends the subversive message that above all, the gender or sexuality of parents does not matter – only that their love, both for each other and their child, is genuine.

*note: images were taken from a free preview of the book online*


And Tango Makes Three. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2010). Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And Tango Makes Three. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Taylor, N. (2012). U.S. Childrens Picture Books and the Homonormative Subject. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(2), 136-152. doi:10.1080/19361653.2011.649646