A controversial story, the narrative of the penguins is intended to show that far from homosexuality or lesbianism being a pathological situation, a homosexual couple can make caring, devoted parents. The story involves two male penguins, who, their zookeeper noticing that they are trying to warm a rock, gives them an egg to sit on.
Roy and Silo, the two penguins, sat on the egg, breed it, and when Tango, the third penguin, emerged took her under their care and solicitation. Finally, all live -- and sleep - together in a very happy manner
The book is written in an appealing manner catering to young children, and, through character, setting, theme, and tone, presenting its message.
I think it is the tone that sugarcoats a flammable theme and makes it so appealing and attractive. It is the tone, too, that stresses the significant parts by slowly lingering over them and setting them apart.
The tone gets into the story slowly talking deliberately although unctuously to the average kid reader:
"Every year at the very same time, the girl penguins start noticing the boy penguins. And the boy penguins start noticing the girls. When the right girl and the right boy find each other, they become a couple."
The tone is slow, seductive. It emphasized that the two penguins -- both males -- did different things together and, without telling the reader outright, indicates that they enjoyed each other's company. In fact, it states that "They didn't spend much time with the girl penguins, and the girl penguins didn't spend much time with them."
Significant points are truncated, even if grammatically incorrect as, for instance, with the sentences: "Roy and Silo watched how the other penguins made a home. So they build a nest of stones for themselves." (The comma after 'so' too is missing as is the comma in other sentences in places where it should, but is not apparent).
Just as description of their friendship is slow and emphatic, so, too, is their care of the rock, and so, too, later their care of the egg. The author dwells over that to show the intensity of their caring to the reader. This is the crux of the book: male parents though they may be and divergent, therefore, from the ordinary pattern of family relationships where it as a mother and a father who rear the children, nonetheless, the penguins are loving and devoted 'parents' to a degree that compares with and even exceeds that of the many other parents.
Setting enhances the message. The setting is in a park, deliberately or not in New York City. Somehow, an urban location, particularly New York, seems far more congruent to this theme of homosexuality that is far more recognizable to occur in a cosmopolitan area with a large diverse population. The theme fits in far more than it would were the story to occur, let's say, in a place such as hick town in Arkansas.
The story written for children stresses the park as the backdrop. It also reduces the threat and ominous ness of homosexuality by describing that:
'Children love to play there. It has a toy-boat pond where they can sail their boats. It has a carousel to ride on in the summer and ice rink o skate on in the winter. Best of all, it has its very own zoo. Every day families of all kinds go to visit the animals that live there."
Going from the large family that children are aware of, it then zones in to the generic families that constitute the zoo. The author's intent seems to be to transfer children from the familiarity of their own environment to identify with the experiences of 'families' that belong to a breed other than their own. In this case penguins. Through this, the authors hope to forge realization of a commonalty between all species on earth -- humans as well as animals -- and that children may be brought to ask themselves that if two male animals can live so well together, why cannot two male humans.
The character of the penguins is used perhaps to portray the innocent, playful intent of their actions and to give the whole an endearing connotation. Actually, this story is premised on a real-life incident that occurred in Central Zoo between two penguins, who later, it happened to be, were actually heterosexual. Nonetheless, penguins are creatures that all children like. Homosexuality, as acceptable act, would not have been so well articulated would it have been exemplified by foxes or by sharks (for instance) instead of penguins.Instead, what you have are two adorable penguins who raise a third even more adorable penguin, something every kid can associate with.
Kids also throb on love, and so the description elaborates on how Roy and Silo wished for a baby chick that they could "feed and cuddle and love" and, in language that is appealing to the children, it describes how "their nest was nice, but it was a little empty."
The characters of the penguins, and their hankering for, and affection towards the chick, is brought out by implication. We see how they tirelessly and arduously sat on the rock, and then on the egg to keep the egg warm. We see how they took it in turns to care for the egg whilst the other foraged for food. The author elaborates showing simultaneously their self-sacrifice:
"They sat in the morning and they sat at night. They sat through lunchtime and swimtime and supper. They sat at the beginning of the month, and they sat at the end of the month, and they sat all the days in between."
"Tango," stresses the author, "was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies." And the way the character of these penguins are painted shows that having two daddies can be equally as normal and nurturing as having two mothers or a mother and a daddy. And may not be such a bad thing after all.
The Paper Bag Princess
The Paper Bag Princess seeks to present its own message and controversial too in another manner: namely, that marriage is not the be-it and end-all of a woman's existence. That a woman can gain as much happiness and fulfillment, if not more, outside of marriage as within.
The story has enduring popularity because it is real. Tone, character, setting, and theme (as well as other technical tools) merge together to transmit the message that perfect though one may look on the outside, he or she may after all be a 'bum' whereas messy and slatternly though one's external appearance may be (and ugly too), that individual may be the real hero.
Actually, the book portrays at least two themes: the feminist one that marriage is not the end-all of a woman's existence, and other. Likewise, feminist one (that can be extended to a general population too) that looks -- in this case the beautiful woman -- or handsome prince does not indicate genuine worth, but that genuine worth lies far deeper in more enduring characteristics.
The theme evocatively corresponds to contemporary reality. Everything today (at least on the surface, and at least amongst privilege classes and at least amongst Hollywood-style movies) is beautiful and perfect. The woman is 'a beautiful princess." She lives in a "castle and [has] expensive clothes." The man, likewise, is a 'prince'. And, of course, they are going to marry. The accompanying illustrations show the man and women with blond hair, slim, trim, and youthful, and the man with tennis racquet slung over his shoulder. Very Californian.
The story, too, proceeds as life sometimes does, with a twist where adversity strikes and one person -- due to his or her character -- remains forever altered:
"Unfortunately, a dragon smashed her castle, burned all her clothes with his fiery breath, and carried off Prince Ronald."
In a modern day twist, the theme shows the female, not the male, chasing and intimidating the dragon. And the female does so, again in a modern-day twist, not with her prowess but with her mental stamina. Elisabeth uses her head and challenges the dragon to show his/her skills until he gets so tired that he canto move. Violence has not been employed. The author wants to show that masculine strength is not all. In the past, a dragon may have been vanquished by brute strength. Contemporary feminism dwells on the mental acuity as being as powerful, if not more, in dissolving and overcoming harsh situations.
Finally, the story ends off on a contemporary twist, which again contradicts the traditional ending:
"They didn't get married after all."
And, nonetheless: they still:
"lived happily ever after."
Character: Elizabeth is the most memorable character, described better indirectly by what she does than by direct description of her personality and actions. Memorable, for instance, - and so telling is the sentence "Elizabeth grabbed the knocker and banged on the door again" and…