Why Is Singapore Pulping Three Children's Books?

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A library destroying books? That seems pretty counterintuitive. Yet, Singapore’s National Public Library is pulping three children’s books that feature stories about nontraditional families, a disappointing decision that delivers yet another hit to the conservative city-state’s gay community and the international gay community as a whole.

Singapore’s NPL confirmed at a press conference on Thursday that the three kids' titles, labeled not "pro-family" by members of the public and consequently removed from the library’s collection, will not be returning to the library shelves despite vocal opposition and multiple online petitions requesting the books be reinstated. Hmmm. Instead all three works — And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who's In My Family: All About Our Families — will be pulped in accordance with the library’s policy regarding withdrawn content, BBC reports.

The books were quickly yanked from the shelves this week after an unidentified number of library users complained that the titles where inappropriate for their youngsters. Here's what all the fuss is about: Justin Richardson and Peter Parneff’s And Tango Makes Three, which has previously sparked controversy in the U.S. too, features a pair of male penguins who hatch and raise a young penguin together — it's a heart-warming story based on two real-life penguins at the New York’s Central Park Zoo. Elaine Aoki and Jean Okimoto’s adoption-themed The White Swan Express features a single mother and a lesbian couple among its central characters. Similarly, Robbie H. Harris’s Who’s In My Family explores the notion of family and its many permutations through the eyes of two siblings and a day at the zoo.

These nontraditional families allegedly go against the library’s “strong pro-family stance” and fail to promote positive family values. Hmm, let's consider the term “pro-family,” shall we? As community member Jolene Tan, senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research, points out in an interview with Today:

I think it is good for children to know that many different types of families exist, not just the one idealized family type of one man and one woman ... Being pro-family also means understanding that many family types do exist — from single-parent families to same-sex couples.

Commenter Melanie Halliday agreed:

The term ‘pro-family’ is being misused by groups who wish to spread fear … of anyone who does not meet their particular narrow standard. Ironically, both these books are pro-family in that they portray and celebrate loving families with much wanted and loved children. Around the world real children, whose families are ‘non traditional,’ have found these books affirming and comforting. To suggest that we need to protect other children from their stories is insulting and heartbreaking.


The gay community and its supporters are not taking the decision lightly. The fiery backlash has surged online, inciting further heated debates among advocates and opponents of the NPL’s decision, as seen in the ongoing list of comments attached to various web articles. “NLB is a public library in a secular country, not a Church pre-school library. It should adopt a Don't Like, Don't Read policy,” says commenter Peter Yang.

In the online discussions, many parents and LGBT activists blast the NPL for “endorsing discrimination” and point out the hypocrisy and civil rights violations embedded in the decision. “Removing these books demonstrates and therefore teaches exclusion and discrimination,” says commenter Martin Piper, who has a young Singaporean daughter. Still, some parents and commentators, like Jeffrey Loke and Zheng Yi Ang, applaud the NPL in their comments for “courageously” aligning with “the family values shared by the majority of Singaporeans” and “protecting the values” of young “impressionable children.”

“You're right children are of an impressionable age, but it is precisely because these books teach about love that these books are very suitable even for young children,” Piper counters in his comment.

If you're so inspired, go order the books here, here, and here, by the way.

Image: Wikimedia Commons