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400 gather outside National Library for reading event in response to NLB's removal of three books

Published on Jul 13, 2014 4:20 PM

SINGAPORE - About 400 people, including children, turned up at the National Library Building atrium on Sunday for Let's Read Together, an event organised in response to the National Library Board's (NLB) removal of at least three children's books.

Organised by two mothers, the event, held from 3pm to 5pm, aimed to make a "peaceful statement" about how adults and children both enjoy reading.

The organisers, writer Jolene Tan, 31, and Ms Germaine Ong, 30, had brought some books, including the removed titles And Tango Makes Three and Who's In Your Family, to the event.

The NLB had said earlier that it had removed three titles, including The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, as they were not "pro-family". The books contain references to same-sex couples.

The two organisers roped in friends to help set up a small library corner for two hours, where people could borrow the books they, and other parents, have brought. Some people also brought along their stuffed penguin toys, which they displayed prominently next to themselves.

At 3pm, about 200 people had gathered at the atrium to participate in the mass reading event. But the crowd swelled to about 400 people in the next hour.

Ms Ong, a freelance marketer who was there with her daughter and husband, said: "I learnt about different people through books. I want my daughter to learn empathy through reading too."

Ms Ong set up a Facebook page, Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship, to express her disapproval of NLB's decision to remove the children's titles.

"I want my daughter to know that every family is valid, and not to feel sorry for people whose families are different from her own," said Ms Ong.

Most adults brought along their children and sat around the open space to read aloud to them.

Curious onlookers and passers-by also took turns to pose for photos with the stuffed toy penguins and the children's books, which were laid out on the ground. 

But NLB is not without its backers. An open letter by Facebook group Singaporeans United For Family supporting NLB's move claimed it has collected 24,000 signatures.

The NLB has been criticised for pulling at least three children's titles off its shelves after some members of the public wrote in to complain that they were not "pro-family".

Four writers, Dr Gwee Li Sui, Mr Adrian Tan, Mr Felix Cheong, and Mr Prem Anand, were supposed to discuss humour in fiction in the Central Public Library in the National Library Building on Sunday afternoon. But they had dropped out of the event following NLB's decision to remove and pulp the children's titles.