TORONTO – The Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) widely reported decision to keep The Shepherd's Granddaughter – an award-winning, anti-Israel novel geared to middle school students – on its library shelves was not final, according to Lloyd McKell, executive officer, student and community equity, TDSB.
"As we speak, we are now going to entertain the complaint by [parent] Mr. [Brian] Henry in a formal sense," McKell told the Jewish Tribune last Friday.
The previous day, the Toronto Star reported that the novel would remain on school library shelves notwithstanding complaints from Henry and B'nai Brith Canada (see Jewish Tribune, April 1, 2010). In a statement to the Star, McKell had opined, on behalf of a small number of board members who read the book, that it "does not cross the line into literature promoting hate of animosity towards others." As for comments by young readers to the contrary – e.g., "Reading this book made me want to go to Palestine and kill Israelis" – McKell said it was just one among diverse reactions and recommended taking a look at Red Maple online, a site for middle school readers.
The first comment on the site was: "This book was an amazing book! it brought tears into my eyes to see how human biengs like us are bieng treated like this in palestin! (sic)."
Except for one reader who said the book was horrible and she disagreed with the author, every other response among the many indicated that the book was an eye-opener and it was sad to learn that Palestinians are treated so terribly by the Israeli regime.
"My opinions [of the book] were my best professional opinions as an educator," McKell said. "That's all that [statement to the Star] was. It was my particular lens. I understand people will have different opinions.
"We have a very specific procedure to take [on making the final decision] which is on our web site…regarding concerns about learning resources and controversial material. I have no idea [what the outcome will be]."
McKell added that he personally would not be involved in the process and declined to comment on whether he believes that the fictional Palestinian child suffering under a cruel Israeli regime reflects reality.
"I don't want to influence the process," he said.
Patsy Aldana, publisher, Groundwood Books (publisher of The Shepherd's Granddaughter), told the Star that the characters in the book "represent a point of view more commonly found in Israel than at B'nai Brith – concern for Palestinians whose houses and villages are torn down to make way for the settlements….
"Why should books about the realities of the lives of Palestinian children arouse such animosity and calls for censorship? How is it that just books about Palestinian children's plight must always be attacked? Is the reality of their lives so dismaying that it must be kept from Canadians?"
The Jewish Tribune asked Aldana several days ago, via emails and phone messages, whether she believes it is a reality, for example, that Israelis poison sheep and commit similar atrocities upon innocent Palestinians. Is it possible that the "reality" presented in the book might have been distorted?
There has been no response from Aldana.
According to the Star report, she also claimed that an Israeli publisher is interested in buying Israeli rights to the book, "so incensed has he been by the attacks he has read." When contacted by the Jewish Tribune, Groundwood would not divulge which Israeli publisher Aldana had been referring to or whether he is pro- or anti-Israel.
"The problems with this book are exactly what its publisher alludes to in her defence of The Shepherd's Granddaughter," declared Frank Dimant, CEO, B'nai Brith Canada, "It is her belief that the fictionalized accounts of intentional murder and destruction at the hands of Israelis are facts that children should be exposed to – but nothing is further from the truth.
"The fictionalized examples of cruelty in the book are not based on any realistic account of the situation on the ground in the Middle East and serve only to demonize Israel and her supporters in the eyes of the many children who are urged to read the novel in their classrooms.
"Balance in any issue presented to children is crucial, but this book and the publisher's belief in the veracity of the ridiculous fictionalized accounts made in it do no such thing. In fact, this book's demonization and de-legitimization of the Jewish state are much more reminiscent of the anti-Israel propaganda seen at hatefests such as Israel Apartheid Week."
Meanwhile, Henry has been contacting other public school boards in Ontario, suggesting the book is inappropriate. To date, the Durham, Waterloo, Niagara and Ottawa-Carleton boards are currently investigating the issue, he said.