Last week, this article landed in my inbox: “Jewish Group Boycotts Canadian Kids’ Book.” The comments are also well worth reading. Then a friend sent me another related article which announced, “Controversial Mideast book stays in Toronto schools.” The running quote box on the left side is not to be missed …
Book banning/boycotting always frightens and fascinates me. So of course I had to read the book in question, especially a title that has been honored in eight award programs, including the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children. No small recognition there! Not to mention a portion of the book’s royalties gets donated to the Children in Crisis Fund of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People.
The story is haunting and inspiring both; it’s also just a really good book. At age 6, Amani, the youngest daughter in her extended Palestinian family, already knows exactly what she wants … to be a shepherd just like her grandfather, and continue the thousand-years-plus family shepherding tradition. In a world of cell phones and email, Amani is almost an anachronism, but she’s also a tenacious child who learns quickly and establishes a touching relationship with the well-tended flock.
In spite of her family’s protestations, her grandfather – elderly, but still the head of the family – agrees to take her on as his apprentice. Under his loving guidance, Amani becomes an expert shepherd, and carries on even after the beloved patriarch passes away. Initially homeschooled by siblings and cousins, Amani – who also proves to be one smart student – does get to high school, determined to learn English, which she realizes she must speak in her quickly-changing world. Most disturbing and dangerous of all, a Jewish settlement is quickly encroaching upon the family lands. Violent conflict proves inevitable and Amani’s family can never be the same again.
Author Carter opens her book with “This novel is a fictional rendering of a complex situation,” an understatement at best. The destructive history of the Middle East seems both timeless and neverending. Politicians, soldiers, theorists, religious leaders, students, mothers, artists, peacemakers, every day people everywhere have tried to find a solution … one has to believe that peace is inevitable in the future …
Should this book be banned? No. Is this book controversial? Yes. Can it be used to start dialogue? Absolutely. Toronto School Board Executive Director of Equity, Lloyd McKell is quoted in the parentcentral.ca article mentioned above, “… this book can certainly be used to explore issues of bias and prejudice, and that students can learn from such exploration…”
By book’s close, much to her family’s initial dismay, Amani’s calls for outside help are to her father’s friend, a Jewish rabbi, who brings along a determined Jewish lawyer. Meanwhile, Amani and the teenage son of one of the Jewish settlers’ leaders become promising friends. The message – at least here – is clear: The children will be the ones to find and make that peace.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult