Canada’s largest school board has expressed approval of a novel that “portrays Israelis soldiers and Jewish settlers negatively”. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, written by Anne Laurel Carter*, was first published in 2008, and now, two years later, Toronto’s school board wants to keep the book in its schools’ libraries. But this decision is faced with resistance from the Thought Police, particularly from James Pasternak, a trustee for the Toronto District School Board. Following typical anti-Palestinian dialogue, he states that the book “demonizes Israel” and ignores the positive relationships between Palestinians and Israelis. In his words, the book “has no place in our schools.”
But time has taken its toll on Pasternak who seems to have forgotten the type of material taught in public schools. I, on the other hand, just graduated from the public school system one year ago and I’m happy to announce that my memory is still intact.
Growing up, I attended a public elementary school and a public high school in Chicago. Just like in every public school system, the curriculum was meant to engage the students by introducing us to controversial matters from the past and present. I remember discussing Chernobyl, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, South African apartheid, Japanese war-crimes in China, Africa’s water shortage, Afghanistan post-9/11, and civil rights-era United States. Almost every topic was prefaced by a reading assignment. The purpose of each novel was to expose the other side of the story, the side frequently ignored or out-voiced. They may have been one-sided, but they never deviated from the truth. They only said what the textbooks didn’t.
When learning about civil rights abuses in the United States, we read a book called Black Boy, an autobiography of Richard Wright. The book details his childhood and adult life during one of the most turbulent eras of American history. Our textbooks simply mentioned that racism existed in the early 1900s and then skipped to Martin Luther King Jr. leading marches in the South. This book, however, gave detail to the racism and harassment experienced by Blacks on a daily basis, and without it, I might still be ignorant of African-American history in the United States.
When learning about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, I read The Kite Runner. Written by Khaled Hosseini, the novel shows that humane Afghanis really do exist. Through the eyes of a boy named Amir, the reader learns that most Afghanis actually condemn terrorism and brutality and do as much as they can to lead normal and peaceful lives amidst invasion after invasion. I made a presentation about the novel and I was glad to discover that the book had opened the eyes of many of my classmates who previously held ill-conceived notions of Afghanis as terrorists and pro-al-Qaeda operatives.
I can give at least ten more examples.
The Shepherd’s Granddaughter exposes reality in the same way. It gives you the other side of the story – the side that you wouldn’t find in a typical world history textbook but that you’d have to travel to Gaza or Ramallah or Jerusalem to see for yourself. The book documents the fictional life of Amani who is forced to watch her freedoms slip away. Settlers force her family from the lands they’ve lived in for hundreds of years. Her olive trees are destroyed. Her home is demolished. Her sheep are killed. Her family members are jailed arbitrarily. All of this comprises a reality that exists half a world away from us Americans or Canadians. If you search within United Nations archives or reports filed by various human rights organizations, everything that Amani faces is something that Palestinians are forced to endure almost every single day.
If anything, this book sheds light on one of the most underreported aspects of the crisis in Palestine. It doesn’t “demonize” Israel, as Pasternak criticizes, but instead forces the reader to determine whether the actions of Israeli settlers and soldiers are ethical or justifiable. Everyone hears about the latest rocket to hit near Sderot but nobody covers the human rights abuses that exist on the other side of the giant Apartheid Wall. Since it doesn’t make the nightly news, Carter decided to write about it. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter finally opens the door for discussion of both sides of the conflict.
As a dedicated member of his school board, Pasternak must already recognize the value of educating students about both sides of a controversial issue. Never will students be forced into upholding certain opinions but they must at least be exposed. Being concerned for Israel’s political reputation shouldn’t be his excuse for censoring this book and preventing students from learning about the injustices that their textbooks don’t acknowledge. If I could be in his position for just one day, I’d push for this book to hit libraries in every school system throughout all of North America. The truth must never be hidden.
*The author, Anne Laurel Carter, has an interesting background. She actually lived in Israel when the idea of settlement building really took off. She returned to Israel in 2005 and lived with Palestinian families during her stay. The series of events that occur in the novel come from her research of Palestinian life under the Israeli occupation. Her novel tells the story of millions of Palestinians.
NOTE: Carter has been awarded numerous times for her work. Here is a list of the awards credited to this novel:
Amelia Bloomer Project – Selected
OLA Red Maple Award – Nominated
Society of School Librarians International Best Book Award – Winner
Canadian Children’s Book Centre – Best Books for Kids and Teens – Selected
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award – Chosen as Honor Book
CLA Book of the Year Award for Children – Winner
Cooperative Children’s Book Center – Choices – Selected
USBBY Outstanding International Books – Selected
Source: Reach and Teach