Kid’s book can stay

Toronto officials rule contested kid’s book can stay, for now

By Laura Stone, Canwest News Service
April 8, 2010Comments (6)
The Vancouver Sun
Photos ( 1 )

Anne Lauren Carter‘s book “The Shepherd’s Granddaughter.
Photograph by: Amazon, Handout

Toronto school officials have ruled that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, a children’s novel that has angered the Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada for its portrayal of the conflict in Palestine and Israel, will stay in schools — although a formal complaint from a parent is still underway.

In response to concerns raised publicly by B’nai Brith and parent Brian Henry that the award-winning book “demonizes” Jews and is biased and one-sided, five senior officials read the novel over the weekend and ruled on Wednesday that the book should stay because of its “educational benefits.”

“In that book, you can identify character values such as courage, empathy, sacrifice, compassion, all of those things teachers can draw students into discussions about,” said Lloyd McKell, executive officer of student and community equity at Toronto District School Board, who added the board also provides guidelines for teachers and librarians about how to teach controversial material.

“Of course, we can look at issues of bias and prejudice. Whose point of view is being represented in the book? Whose point of view is not represented? These kinds of controversial materials are really excellent materials for promoting discussion.”

Henry, however, has disclosed his decision to pursue a formal complaint with the board, which usually takes 60 days, said McKell.

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter tells the story of Palestinian teenage girl living in the West Bank, and portrays her family’s losses and varying attitudes toward Israeli settlers. The novel, which has sold 10,000 copies in total in Canada and the United States, won the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award last year.

The novel is also one of 10 books nominated for the Red Maple Award, a prize for Grade 7 and 8 students designed by the Ontario Library Association to foster reading skills. Students are not required to participate in the program but if they do, they choose five books to read and vote on their favourite. The winner is to be announced at a ceremony in Toronto in May.

Anita Bromberg, the legal director for B’nai Brith, called the decision to keep the “one-sided” book “unacceptable.”

“To assume (the) teacher will be able to overcome the bias is problematic if (the) teacher (is) coming with (his or her) own biases, or does not have the time to search out the required info to present and we all know how stressed teachers are,” she said in an e-mail.

The publisher of Groundwood Books, Patricia Aldana, praised the move to keep The Shepherd’s Granddaughter in some 130 school libraries in Toronto.

“I think it’s wonderful that the board is standing by children’s right to read, debate, think and learn. I hope that teachers will take the opportunity to discuss the situation in the Middle East and bring the different points of view to the table,” she said.

“This is what schools are for.”
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

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