A children's tale about a pair of chinstrap penguins peacefully raising a chick together at a New York zoo might not strike you as particularly controversial. Unless of course both of the penguins happen to be male, in which case a heart-warming picture book for kids becomes a fixture on a list of the most complained-about books in the US.

"And Tango Makes Three", by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, has been ruffling feathers since it was first published in 2005, and calls for its removal from libraries and schools are apparently still flooding in a decade later, securing it the third spot on the 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books recently released by the American Library Association. It's been a regular feature on the top of that list in previous years.

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The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins who meet at New York's Central Park Zoo, pair up, build a nest and try to hatch an egg-shaped rock in it. Taking pity on the would-be avian parents, a zookeeper substitutes the rock with a fertilised egg, and the duo go on to hatch and raise a chick (aptly called Tango, because, you know, it takes two to make one). 

For some, that's a great story about two capable penguin dads, a great way to teach children about non-traditional families and an accurate portrayal of what happens in the animal kingdom. But to others, it seems, it's a story that's unsuitable for children because it "promotes the homosexual agenda" and "anti-family" values, objections that the book's authors responded to years ago by saying, "We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It's no more an argument in favour of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks."

And aside from swallowing fish whole and sleeping on rocks, penguins in the wild do frequently form same-sex unions. One study of homosexuality among penguins found that more than a quarter of birds in one colony formed same-sex pairs (although the researchers found that many of those unions didn't last as long as heterosexual ones or lead to Roy and Silo-style egg-raising).

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Biologist Carin Bondar has done her fair share to correct misconceptions about sexual behaviour among animals.

Even among zoo penguins, Roy and Silo's bromance is by no means unusual. There's Inca and Rayas, two gentoo penguins who also took up daddy duty thanks to a donated egg. Or take Pedro and Buddy, two male African penguins at Toronto Zoo who put off their species-saving breeding responsibilities (albeit briefly) so they could hang out together instead (and there are many other similar penguin duos out there). 

More evidence of same-sex unions awaits if you broaden your scope to the rest of the animal kingdom. "You don't have to look far in the animal kingdom to find examples of homosexuality, and it's about time humans woke up to that," says biologist Carin Bondar, who's done her fair share to correct misconceptions about sexual behaviour among animals.

From the long-term unions of female albatrosses to the sexy necking sessions of male giraffes, homosexual behaviours have been observed in more than 1,500 different species. "If we're going to call natural all the stuff that actually happens in nature, then [homosexuality] is completely natural," Bondar adds. 

And it seems that despite ongoing efforts by adults to banish Roy and Silo's story from the shelves of school libraries, children at least are getting the book's intended message. On her blog – which she describes as a space for "kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals" – fifth grader Zoe writes: "What everyone can take away from this book is that families come in all sorts of ways, which is a lesson a bunch of the kids at my school don’t seem to know ... It would be better if more books like this were around, because I have noticed that the books you read when you are really young greatly impact your later years, because books can be some of the first influences we have in life."

Wise words, Zoe.

Top header image: ravas51, Flickr