NLB "And Tango Makes Three" censorship (2014)

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On 8 July 2014, Facebook user Teo Kai Loon published a post advocating the removal two publicly accessible children books - 'And Tango Makes Three' and 'The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption' - which contained homosexual content from the shelves of libraries. He rallied support on the Facebook group ‘We Are Against Pinkdot In Singapore’, a group well known for challenging homosexuality in Singapore. The National Library Board's subsequent decision to remove these books sparked debate in Singapore.[1]

Details of incident[edit | edit source]

And Tango Makes Three, published in 2005.

Prior to his Facebook post on 8 July 2014, Teo Kai Loon had sent a complaint to the National Library Board (NLB) about two children books that were on the shelves of Singapore public libraries. He argued that these books were promoting values which were not "pro-family". Teo Kai Loon’s Facebook post included an email response he had received from Tay Ai Cheng, NLB's Assistant Chief Executive regarding the complaints he had submitted previously. She stated that "the two books have been removed following his feedback", and reiterates that the NLB staff will try their best to sieve out any children books that are not considered "pro-family".[2] Teo Kai Loon’s original Facebook post has been taken down and cannot be accessed.


The two books highlighted were 'And Tango makes Three' and 'The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption'. ‘And Tango Makes Three’ tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who adopt and raise a baby penguin, named Tango. The book was inspired by the true story of two male penguins in Central Park Zoo, New York City. In 1988, the pair was observed to have performed mating rituals with each other.[3] ‘The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption’ talks about the formation of four adoptive families from North America who are each adopting an infant from China. One of the couples featured in the book is a lesbian couple.[4]

Initial responses[edit | edit source]

National Library Board[edit | edit source]

At a press conference on 10 July 2014, Assistant Director of Public Library Services Jasna Dhansukhlal announced that certain books will be withdrawn from public library shelves. This press conference was held in the children section of Toa Payoh Public Library. The books being pulped were - 'And Tango Makes Three', 'The White Swan Express' and 'Who's In My Family?'. Who’s In My Family is a book that showcases various family structures, traditional and non-traditional. The book was first withdrawn from shelves on 26 March 2014.[5] When questioned on what exactly NLB’s "pro-family stance" entailed, she replied the organisation's stance was "in line with that of the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)".[6]


On 12 July 2014, NLB’s Chief Executive Elaine Ng further confirmed that all three books have been removed from public libraries islandwide.[7]

Singapore public[edit | edit source]

Singaporeans had differing reactions towards the incident. Some locals supported NLB’s decision to remove the books from libraries. Facebook Group ‘Singaporeans United for Family’ published a few posts commending NLB’s decision.[8] The group argued that children are unable to evaluate homosexual content and stimulus at such a young age. The group also started a petition for more positive media coverage on the issue, that had garnered 25,000 signatures on 13 July 2014.[9]


On the other hand, there were groups that opposed NLB's decision. Students Lim Jialiang, Liyan Chen, and local writer Ng Yi-Sheng penned an open letter to relevant authorities, calling for the reinstatement of the three books that were removed.[10] The rationale behind the open letter was that "the books help to broach a highly sensitive subject to children, allowing them to understand that there are different versions of what it means to be a family". The open letter received 4,600 signatories by 10 July 2014.[11] Another online petition titled 'For the NLB to reinstate the books and take views of the wider population into consideration' on Change.org was initiated by Singaporean Bernadette Chow. The petition has since been closed and had garnered 2,950 signatures.[12]


On 13 July 2014, a reading event was held at the National Library Building Atrium in response to the incident. ‘Let’s Read Together’ was organised by two Singaporean mothers, Jolene Tan and Germaine Ong.[13] The organisers brought their personal copies of the books which were set to be pulped by NLB so that participants could view the books if they wished to. Participants were also encouraged to bring along penguin stuffed toys to the event. One of the organisers of the event, Germaine Ong, also set up the Facebook page ‘Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship’ (Facebook page) in response to the incident. The Facebook page is dedicated to tackling censorship in Singapore public libraries.[14]

Singaporean writers[edit | edit source]

On 11 July 2014, Ovidia Yu, a playwright and novelist made the decision to resign from the steering committee of the 'Singapore Writers Festival' in response to the three books being pulped. NLB was a partner of the event. On 12 July 2014, Gwee Li Sui, who is a poet and literary critic, declined to speak at the National Schools Literature Festival.  Writers Gwee Li Sui, Adrian Tan, Prem Anand and Felix Cheong also backed out of a panel discussion, which was supposed to be held on 13 July 2014 at the Central Public Library. Their panel was organised in conjunction with the 'Read! Singapore' initiative, a nation-wide initiative launched by NLB.[15] Writers Felix Cheong and Adrian Tan explained their actions, asking for NLB to "recognise that pulping books is irrational and unacceptable" and to implement a more transparent review process which would "assure the public that NLB will resist external pressure to ban books".

Final verdict[edit | edit source]

The White Swan Express, published in 2002.

On 18 July 2014, former Minister for Information,Communication and the Arts, Yaacob Ibrahim gave his statement on the matter to The Straits Times, which he posted on his personal Facebook page (original Facebook post) as well. He stated that besides ‘Who’s in My Family’, which had already been pulped, he had "instructed NLB not to pulp the other two titles, but instead to place them in the adult section of the public libraries". He added that "The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so".[16]


Additionally, the NLB had set up an independent library consultative panel since 1 April 2015. The members of the panel would be the representatives of the local community, tasked to provide opinions on literary material. In order to ensure a diverse range of perspectives, the 19 members selected come different occupations and walks of life. Each member will serve a two-year term in the panel.[17]

Further developments[edit | edit source]

On 3 March 2015, a panel discussion regarding censorship issues and the banning of children's books, inspired by the events which transpired in July 2014 was organised by Yale-NUS College professor Robin Hemley.[18] Titled 'What Children Shouldn't Read: A Global Controversy', the event was open to the public and held at the Yale-NUS campus. The author of 'The White Swan Express', Jean Davies Okimoto, was invited to speak at the event. Her book was almost pulped by NLB following the incident in July 2014. She explained that her reason for including a lesbian couple in the book was to promote inclusivity and to validate the experiences of children who have grown or are growing up in non-traditional families. She also added that the book "reflected her values of being pro-family because she believes that families are defined by love".[19]


References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. Lee, Pearl. “NLB removes two children's titles after complaint that they are not "pro-family"”. The Straits Times. July 8, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-removes-two-childrens-titles-after-complaint-that-they-are-not-pro-family
  2. Ibid.
  3. Smith, Dinitia. “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name”. The New York Times. February 7, 2004. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/07/arts/love-that-dare-not-squeak-its-name.html
  4. Goodreads.com. Accessed on 30 January 2019.To purchase the book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/325639.The_White_Swan_Express
  5. Lee, Pearl. “NLB had pulled more children's books off library's shelves”. The Straits Times. July 15, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-had-pulled-more-childrens-books-off-librarys-shelves
  6. Chua, Alfred. “NLB will not reinstate pulled books”. TodayOnline. July 11, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/nlb-will-not-reinstate-pulled-books?fbclid=IwAR0oQrvb_3Kg1OMNieghBgex1WmLUnYJ9OSB07nTaPa1-UU98HW8EnmHdFo
  7. Nanda, Akshita. “NLB 'saddened by' reaction over its removal of three books with homosexuality themes, says chief executive”. The Straits Times. July 13, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-saddened-by-reaction-over-its-removal-of-three-books-with-homosexuality-themes-says
  8. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from Singaporeans United for Family’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/SGUnitedforFamily/posts/1447022238890709?__tn__=-R
  9. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from Singaporeans United for Family’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/SGUnitedforFamily/photos/a.1435884733337793/1448186208774312/?type=3&theater
  10. Lee, Pearl. “Removal of children's titles from libraries not first time”. The Straits Times. July 10, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/removal-of-childrens-titles-from-libraries-not-first-time
  11. Accessed on 30 January 2019. For more details on the open letter: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScLkSwU_2FGKaT6XTUG8Jpp6zdGySej9yxYBXaTsm5KEl5WTg/viewform
  12. "For the NLB to reinstate the books and take views of the wider population into consideration". Change.org. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.change.org/p/national-library-board-nlb-singapore-for-the-nlb-to-reinstate-the-books-and-take-views-of-the-wider-population-into-consideration
  13. “400 gather outside National Library for reading event in response to NLB's removal of three books”. The Straits Times. July 13, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/400-gather-outside-national-library-for-reading-event-in-response-to-nlbs-removal-of-three
  14. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/librarycensorshipisbad/
  15. Nanda, Akshita. “NLB 'saddened by' reaction over its removal of three books with homosexuality themes, says chief executive”. The Straits Times. July 13, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-saddened-by-reaction-over-its-removal-of-three-books-with-homosexuality-themes-says
  16. Tan, Dawn Wei. “NLB saga: Two removed children's books will go into adult section at library”. The Straits Times. July 18, 2014. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-saga-two-removed-childrens-books-will-go-into-adult-section-at-library
  17. Lee, Pearl. “National Library Board forms 19-member advisory panel to review library titles”. The Straits Times. April 15, 2015. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/national-library-board-forms-19-member-advisory-panel-to-review-library-titles
  18. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from Robert Hemley’s Facebook profile. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152619239541471&set=a.49817356470&type=3&theater
  19. Lee, Pearl. “NLB saga: Author defends controversial book”. The Straits Times. March 4, 2015. Accessed on 30 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nlb-saga-author-defends-controversial-book