400 attend reading event in response to removal if titles

Parents and children checking out the books at the makeshift “library corner” set up at the National Library Building’s atrium yesterday. Available for borrowing were two of the titles NLB pulled from its shelves.

About 400 people turned up yesterday for a reading event held in response to the National Library Board's (NLB) decision to remove some children's titles for their homosexual content.

The Let's Read Together event held at the National Library Building's atrium was organised by mothers Jolene Tan, 31, and Germaine Ong, 30, who said they wanted to "make a peaceful statement about how much we - and our kids - love to read".

A small "library corner" was set up at the event for parents to borrow books - including two of the removed titles, And Tango Makes Three and Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families - to read to their children.

Many attended the event with their children. Some also had with them stuffed toy penguins, attracting curious onlookers. No protesters were spotted though.

Ms Tan, a writer, said the event's aim was to "highlight what we find important and valuable about children's literature".

She added that the removed titles were useful in letting children understand diversity among people. "Since (the removed books) are no longer available here, we thought it would be nice to have an event where we make them available."

Ms Ong, a freelance marketer, said the event was "in the name of educational exposure". She said: "I want my daughter to know that every family is valid."

But others disagreed. A Facebook group called Singaporeans United For Family penned an open letter to support NLB's actions.

Children are "unable to evaluate homosexual content and stimulus at their age", but yet are the libraries' "core clientele", said the group in the letter.

The group told The Straits Times that NLB did the right thing by removing the books.

The letter has received more than 25,000 signatures, according to the group, which added that it would send it to the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education at midnight.

Meanwhile, more international media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, have reported on the move by NLB which led writers here to boycott events supported by the library.

Britain's The Guardian ran a report on Saturday that said the library board will "destroy copies of gay penguin book", while South China Morning Post reported that the authorities here are "facing an online backlash" after the library board said it will pulp the withdrawn titles.

Yesterday, parents at the reading event expressed disappointment with the library's move.

Mother of three Tricia Seow, 42, said: "If something can be removed in an arbitrary manner, what's going to prevent this from happening again?"

Mr Tan Boon Gim, 41, who read And Tango Makes Three to his son, Gregory, six, said he was disappointed when NLB said it would destroy the books. "The library is the last place you would expect to destroy a book, and a fairly new copy."

Student care centre teacher Pia Rozario, 40, said as a mother of two young children, she understands how some may feel books containing homosexual themes are not suitable for children.

"If you don't want your kids to read them, you should do the censorship yourself. These issues do exist, and the diversity is there. How much more do you want to pretend that it isn't there?" she said.

NLB chief executive Elaine Ng had said on Saturday that it would stand by its decision and urged the public to "look to all the good things NLB has done over the years".

This article was first published on July 14, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.