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Pro-Israeli groups slam award-winning novel as being “vehemently anti-Israel”

Four years after the Toronto District School Board limited access to Deborah Ellis’s book Three Wishes, which was published by Groundwood Books and featured interviews with Israeli and Palestinian children about the ongoing conflict in the region, another Groundwood title has run afoul of Jewish advocacy groups claiming that it promotes hatred toward Israel. The target this time is The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, a novel by Toronto librarian and teacher Anne Laurel Carter. Told in the first person from the perspective of a young Palestinian girl, the book “has clear potential to incite hatred and violence against Jewish and Israeli students,” according to the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, as quoted in the Toronto Star. The Star also quotes Anita Bromberg of B’nai B’rith as saying that the book is “akin to propaganda in the war against Israel and demanding that it be removed from classrooms in Ontario.

According to the Star, the York Region District School Board received a public complaint about the book a month ago, and on Friday a parent complained to TDSB director of education Chris Spence, saying that “the book is designed to convince children to hate Israelis.”

In 2009, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter won the Society of School Librarians International Best Book Award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award for Children, was selected as one of the USBBY Outstanding International Books, and was a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection. This year, the book was nominated for the Red Maple Award as part of the Forest of Reading program. When the York Region complaint surfaced, the board sent a letter to teachers asking them to provide historical context for the conflict in the Middle East, but acknowledging that “the calibre of the writing of this book is not under review. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is a well-recognized and celebrated children’s book.

The complaints about the book prompted a fiery response from Groundwood publisher Patsy Aldana, who said in a press release sent out today that the statements quoted in the Star were “untrue,” “defamatory,” and “outrageous.”

Aldana writes:

In fact there are a number of very sympathetic Jewish and Israeli characters in the book, but they represent a point of view more commonly found in Israel than at B’nai B’rith ” concern for Palestinians whose houses and villages are torn down to make way for the settlements that are considered illegal by most countries in the world. No less a figure than James Loney, who was held hostage in Iraq by extremists and who works for Christian Peacemaker Teams, has praised the book for its balance. The librarians of Ontario who selected this book for the Forest of Reading program and the librarians of the Canadian Library Association (not the same people) who gave it the award for the best children’s book of the year can hardly be characterized as people who are enemies of Israel.

Groundwood’s press release also includes a letter from Craig Wiesner, co-founder of Read and Teach, a California social justice company, addressed to Melissa Mikel of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal. The letter bemoans the fact that the group has responded to the perceived one-sidedness of the story by implying that the book should not be read, rather than suggesting complementary books told from an Israeli perspective. Wiesner goes on:

What was most disturbing to me in your warning was your use of one comment that had been posted to a public blog site (GoodReads.com). While I agree that the post you chose to include in your warning was very disturbing, in an effort to provide a balanced view of the reviews on that Web site why not include the post that said “Extremely heartbreaking. A horrible situation with no end in sight. Makes you think about things from all sides of the issue.” Despite claiming that you do not support censorship, including that one inflammatory blog post and sending this warning without offering any specific titles teachers might consider for providing the historical context and balance you seek, can be interpreted as a warning to simply not allow children to read this particular book. [Emphasis in original.]

As with the Three Wishes case, the current attempts to suppress The Shepherd’s Granddaughter are heavy-handed in the extreme. If parents and educators are concerned about giving children historical context and background, it’s difficult to see how censoring one side of the story can achieve that goal.


March 29th, 2010

5:03 pm

Category: Book news