Monday, May 03, 2010

A Response to Brian re: The Shepherd's Granddaughter

Brian from Toronto, in the interest of full disclosure, are you the same Brian who wrote the original article in for the Jewish Tribune entitled, "Could This Book Turn Your Child Against Israel" and "An Open Letter to Ontario's Education Minister?"

Brian Henry, a parent and the writer of the article believes that although 'one book by itself is never going to make any child any sort of bigot. Along with other things though, yes, it could.' He add that schools should be 'a politics-free zone.'

What is your source for concluding, "Every school board in the province that has independently examined The Shepherd's Granddaughter has concluded that the book is problematic?" Are you the parent who is asking that this book be removed from the OLA Forest of Reading list and are filing a formal complaint?

May I ask if you have read the book? I will admit that I have not. I am awaiting an Inter-library loan and will read it. However, I am opposed to banning books on principle. Many of the same criticisms of The Shepherd's Granddaughter were leveled at Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak prior to having it removed from Toronto schools. I have read this book and found it to be balanced and fair.

Schools cannot be "a politics-free zone," in my opinion, if we are to raise healthy, well-rounded, critical thinkers. There is a huge difference between addressing controversial issues and promoting political agendas. The Toronto District School Board policy, which you cited states that controversy is part of life. You imply that some parties have a political agenda which they are promoting through "slipping" The Shepherd's Granddaughter into the Red Maple Award Program. I do not see what the author, the Ontario Library Association, or the Ontario schools would have to gain by promoting a political agenda through a novel for children.

As for making sure a book is "good" before encouraging children to read it, I searched a number of reviews. You are welcome to read them in their entirety. The links are included.

Quill and Quire is negative about the complexity of the subplots.
...this novel has enough material for a whole series of books, and it gets overwhelmed by a series of underdeveloped subplots...that fragment the narrative’s focus and undermine its realism.
However, this respected magazine also lauds the author for her attempt to foster peace.
The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is a well-intentioned, very earnest narrative that aims to foster international harmony by educating young readers.

The Jane Addams Peace Association chose The Shepherd's Granddaughter as an honor book for older children for the 56th Jane Addams Children's Book.

In 2009, the Canadian Library Association chose The Shepherd's Granddaughter as a Book of the Year for children, according to the School Library Journal.
This is an award winning book (USBBY Outstanding International Books selection, selected for the Cooperative Chidlren's Book Center - Choices, and a Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award for Children finalist) with excellent reviews from SLJ and Kirkus....
Manitoba Library Association rates the book as "Highly Recommended," while also acknowledging that there are some complex issues covered in the book.
Anne Laurel Carter's new novel, The Shepherd's Granddaughter, is a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, troublesome book. The Shepherd's Granddaughter centres upon the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the on-going conflict over land. As such, this is not a book to be treated lightly. It demands of its audience maturity and a willingness to give the book due consideration. At the same time, however, Carter's book is also simply a story well told.
The Canadian Children's Book News says this: "The story is well-developed, realistic and believable, without ever becoming heavy handed or showing bias" and "Overall, this novel is a swift and thought-provoking read, and one which will hopefully transform the readers’ view of this very difficult topic and open up discussion with middle grade students."

Kirkus included the book as one of the best Young Adult Fiction books for 2008.

It was chosen as a 2009 Notable Books for a Global Society.

The Forest of Reading nomination was made in 2010.

Reach And Teach, an organization which is a "peace and social justice learning company dedicated to transforming the world through teachable moments," lists many other awards the book has received.

Craig Wiesner of Reach And Teach says:
This is a powerful book which deserves all the awards it has already won and more. Just as the holocaust stories of my childhood told me that people can do terrible things to each other, it also shows that people can do wonderful and heroic things for one another. Read it. Think about it. Discuss it. Argue about it. Devour it.
There is not one united Jewish voice calling for a ban on this book and although there are people calling only for its removal from the Forest of Reading list, there are also people with politic clout who vow to remove the book from school shelves. Sheila Ward, a trustee of the Toronto District School Board, has vowed to "move heaven and earth to have The Shepherd’s Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves.” She thinks she will be accused of censorship. Well, Ms. Ward, that would be censorship.

Tablet Magazine is a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture. Author Marjorie Ingall writes an article entitled: "Banned in Canada: Jewish groups protesting a pro-Palestinian book are missing the point." She concludes,
...being disingenuous and hyperbolically alarmist about the threats posed by novels—as opposed to the threats caused by shutting down all discussion—means we don’t get the chance to elucidate and debate. If The Shepherd’s Granddaughter can teach us anything, it’s that even educated people with a glorious literary tradition sometimes feel justified in banning books. And we’re all poorer for it.

In a follow-up entry, Ingall once more stresses the importance of keeping the opportunities for education open.
When we get shrill and hyperbolic and demonize any book—just as when we go all Reefer Madness about drug education or insist that every act of premarital sex leads to AIDS, pregnancy, warts, and demon babies with gills—we’re missing an opportunity for education. If the kid reads a book like The Shepherd’s Granddaughter and doesn’t become a suicide bomber, we’ve proven ourselves to be clueless and untrustworthy as authority figures. We’ve closed the door to open, honest discussion.
Ingall offers something of great value -- a list of books which represent a good perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I will fight for your right to keep this book from your own children but I cannot support keeping this book from all children. It is the right of every parent to decide what they will allow their children to read. Its numerous awards tell me that a wide cross-section of people have seen value in this book. Trust readers (even children).

The "Banned Book Challenge" runs for just a few more weeks. How many challenged or banned books can you read before June 1?

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