Controversial Book to Stay in Toronto Schools

Published: August 31st 2010
in News » Local

The Shepherd's Granddaughter
Pic: book cover

The Toronto District School Board’s director of education, Chris Spence, has upheld the recommendations of a review committee that examined complaints against a highly praised children’s book criticized for being one-sided and anti-Israel.


In March of this year, parent Brian Henry sent a letter to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) stating that he was worried that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Canadian author Anne Laurel Carter was biased and could potentially lead to anti-Semitism while giving students a negative impression of Israel.


The book, described on the author’s website as a “moving narrative [that] describes the life of a Palestinian girl,” won the Canadian Library Association’s book of the year for children and was nominated for Ontario Library Association’s Red Maple Award 2010 for grades 7 and 8.


The review committee did not feel that the book warranted being taken out of schools, but after “reflecting upon the sensitive and controversial nature of the novel” came up with a list of recommendations.


In explaining his decision, Spence wrote in a letter to Henry, included in a memo sent to TDSB trustees, that “after evaluating this report and taking some time to personally read the novel, my decision is to accept the review committee’s nine recommendations.”


He added, “The Shepherd’s Granddaughter has the potential to engage our Grade 7 and 8 students (a critical age for the development of social consciousness about human society) in understanding the complex issues of their world.”


Several TDSB trustees, including Sheila Ward (Ward 14), Nadia Bello (Ward 22) and James Pasternak (Ward 5), have stated the book should be pulled from elementary school shelves for its unbalanced portrayal of the Middle East conflict.


Pasternak said The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is “an anti-Israel book that demonises Israelis and those who support the country.” He said that instead of presenting a balanced approach to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the book is a “diatribe against Israel.”


“This book is totally inappropriate for our system because is sets out as an option settling disagreement through violence,” said Pasternak. “Therefore I haven’t changed my view. This book isn’t appropriate for our system and it has to go, or at the very least by very restricted.”


Pasternak told Shalom Life that he is also uncomfortable with the photo on the book’s cover, which in his mind could easily lead a reader to believe that it is based on an actual story and not a novel.


“There’s also a quote on the front cover that uses the word ‘truth.’ There’s enormous deception. It’s [a novel] that is presented to readers as more of a historical textbook,” he said.


Pasternak added that the book suggests that if you have disagreements with people, “various levels of violence can be fine.”


“At the extreme, there’s one set of dialogue in which one family member suggests that suicide bombing is a legitimate option. There’s other passages throughout in which there’s ranging discussions about using violence in a justifiable way.”


Len Rudner, Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Regional Director, told Shalom Life that CJC had been aware of the concerns regarding The Shepherd’s Granddaughter before the TDSB review committee was convened.


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