Author defends The Shepherd’s Granddaughter
Children’s novel under review by Toronto’s school board after a parent and Jewish groups complain.
Anne Laurel Carter’s book The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, about a Palestinian farm girl named Amani, is under review by Toronto’s public school board after complaints it is “anti-Israel.” Carter spoke to the Star’s education reporter Kristin Rushowy about the controversy. What follows is an edited transcript.
Can you tell me about your experiences in Israel?
The first time I went there I was 17 — it was right after high school, and I lived on a kibbutz for the summer and loved it. I had a number of Jewish friends and had read Holocaust literature. My parents were Anglican, and it was my holy land.
I went back in 1973 and lived there for a year and a half; I studied Hebrew and was there through the Yom Kippur War. I went back in 2005 — I’d been invited to teach creative writing in Ramallah.
What was your inspiration for the novel?
In 2005, I had arranged to visit a family outside Hebron, a farmer named Atta Jaber. When I met them, I just felt I had
witnessed something. It’s their family story, definitely fictionalized, but inspired by what they went through. I’ve been four times since 2005.
Before, I didn’t know anything of other side. All of my sympathy was for Israel. Then I saw the other side, and I have sympathy for both sides. What also prompted me, nudged my curiosity when I was a teacher-librarian at a school here in Toronto, (was that) I had students who said, “Have you got any books about us?” And I didn’t.
How do you write on such a sensitive topic?
I do feel very sensitive to (the Jewish) audience and I wrote with that audience in mind, knowing how hard it is to hear these stories. But having seen the occupation and how very hard it is for Palestinians, and being so shocked by what I saw there, I tried to tell it in a way that maybe they could hear it.
What did you expect the reaction to be?
I expected and hoped, probably naively, that people could enter the life of a girl, Amani, and understand what it’s like to live under the occupation. She does not choose violence. She listens to other voices, which I included in the family discussion (about suicide bombing), which was a very hard scene to write. There is no justification for terrorism for me, period. I’m just saying that perhaps in a family scene, somebody might say, “Let’s fight back.” I am not advocating that at all — as a matter of fact, Amani and her father very clearly choose non-violent resistance.
One of the main criticisms has been that it’s vehemently anti-Israel and one-sided. What is your response?
I don’t feel it’s biased; it’s written through Amani’s viewpoint. It’s about a Palestinian girl and it’s very strongly in her voice. All I can say is I welcome reading stories about Israeli kids and young adults and what it’s like for them, and I encourage readers to read those stories — to understand a conflict, you have to hear everybody’s point of view.
It’s been accused of being a brutal portrayal of Israelis; others have said that not all of those things have happened to one family.
Almost all of those things happened, either to him or in the area. His wells have not been poisoned, and his animals were not poisoned. But it has happened in the area and has been documented. But in fact, he’s had worse things happen; I did not include those things.
Is there a real Amani?
Actually Amani is a little bit of Atta. His way of resisting is that he will never leave; he does not choose violence. He is 10 years younger than me but he looks much older.
What do you say to your critics?
Of all the many reviews and letters I’ve had from people, and how the book is talked about in school library journals, and it received an award for peace — nobody saw those things in this book. Nobody ever said that they became anti-Israel or it raised anti-Semitism. Source
A Bit of History on the subject.
April 7 2010
A parent Brian Henry sent a letter to the board, as well as the provincial education ministry, which prompted the informal review of the book by McKell and a team of experts.
B’Nai Brith Canada had complained The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is “vehemently anti-Israel” and had asked that the book — currently part of a province-wide reading program for Grades 7 and 8 students — be removed and was disappointed with the Toronto District School Board’s decision to keep it in the schools. Source
Knowing Canada, they would never have put it in the schools, if it were hate literature. Canada is very careful about such things.
It was named book of the year by the Canadian Library Association.
From April 11, 2009
Every student who has read The Shepherd’s Granddaughter has come back to tell me that they are suddenly viewing the Israeli-Palestinian situation differently. As one student said, “It made me stop and see there might be more sides than just one.” Maybe there are three sides – one for each side and then one for the truth that no one can see. For the rest of the article go HERE
That was the real problem. It made people think.
Seems the obvious reason for a attempting to have it banned is to assure no one gets information on what is happening to Palestinians. That is the real reason for wanting the book removed from the schools.
The complaint was based on false foundations.
Heaven forbid anyone ever finds out the truth.
The Shepherd’s Granddaughter to remain on library shelves in TDSB
Anne Laurel Carter’s The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, published by Groundwood Books, has generated some controversy in recent weeks. Nominated for the 2010 Red Maple Award, one of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading programs, the book focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. After a complaint from a parent, pro-Israeli groups and a school board trustee with the Toronto District School Board called for the book to be banned in Toronto schools. After a review by TDSB staff, it has been decided that the book will remain on library shelves. For more information, visit Quill & Quire .
Review of The Shepherd’s Granddaughter in Canadian Children’s Book News, Fall 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 4).
Amani comes from a long line of shepherds and has always dreamt of becoming a shepherd like her grandfather. For generations, the family has grazed sheep above the olive groves of their homestead near Hebron, but now the land is being threatened by Jewish settlements and the construction of a new highway.
Then Amani meets Jonathan, an American boy visiting his father who is one of the settlers, and away from the biases and pressures of their families, they discover that despite their differences, they have one important thing in common – a desire for peace.
This new novel from author Anne Laurel Carter offers a different perspective on the land disputes in Palestine, told through the eyes of 15-year-old Amani. Strong-willed, intelligent, and completely devoted to her sheep, Amani is a wonderful character that readers will empathize with and enjoy.
The story is well-developed, realistic and believable, without ever becoming heavy handed or showing bias. The characters are completely human and not exaggerated, and by allowing Amani and Jonathan to meet alone in the yet-undisturbed secret meadow, Carter lets readers see two teenagers who could be friends, and not enemies from opposite sides sworn to hate each other.
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. Source
A win for Canadians Freedom of Speech.
If you get the chance do read The Shepherd’s Granddaughter.
But it isn’t over yet. There is more.
Canadians need to pay attention.
In Israel however it is OK to publish a book like this to be used in schools.
November 9 2009
Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel. This includes children even babies.