In the wake of the National Library Board removing and destroying the children’s book “The White Swan Express” from its shelves, TOC got in touch with one of the authors, Jeanie Davies Okimoto and asked her for her views about the incident. We thank Ms Okimoto for taking the time to reply to us.
I was very sad to learn that the NLB in Singapore had censored the book that I wrote with my co-author Elaine Aoki. I have been following the comments on the internet and there have been some wonderful thoughtful articles supporting the book. On a blog, sgpolitics.net, Ng-E-Jay wrote a splendid description of what role literature should play in society. I also should mention that all the major respected reviewers in the US (School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus) gave the book glowing reviews and the book is in libraries all over the US and Canada as well as Australia, and New Zealand.
It is my understanding that in Singapore the book was censored from the library because of the complaint of one person Teo Kai Loon who belongs to a group that is trying to destroy rights of gay people. And based on his ideas of what books are suitable for children, the chief librarian Tay Ai Cheng complied and said that the NLB “took a strong pro-family stand in selecting books for children.”
As the author, I also took a strong pro-family stand in that we showed four loving families who all adopted babies from an orphanage in China. I wonder if Teo Kai Loon and the librarian Tay Ai Cheng think there is enough love in the world, so we don’t need to honor it in families that don’t meet their idea of what a family should be?
Our book is about adopting children and providing loving homes. And the diversity of the families reflected my values of inclusiveness and respect for differences. I always wonder in these situations why people who don’t think a book is suitable for children could just not have their children read it? Why should their ideas dictate what is right for everybody else?
Beyond the question of what constitutes a family, there is the issue of process when it comes to censorship. Is there a process within the Singapore library system to handle the situation when a book is challenged by one person? Many countries have a process because challenging books is a common occurrence usually by a small group of people who want their ideas of morality to dictate what should be read by everyone.
The title of the book comes from the White Swan Hotel, the actual hotel in Guangzhou where the adopted families stay when they first arrive in China to meet their daughters for the first time. I had to laugh at one of the articles by a Singapore writer who said the book “depicts the challenges of families who adopt swans.” I enjoyed this writer who obviously hadn’t read the book–censorship is very sad, but learning that she thought the book was about adopting swans lightened things a bit for me.