Title: The Shepherd’s Granddaughter
Author: Anne Laurel Carter
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Bought from Chapters.ca
You know how sometimes people intend one thing to happen, and end up causing the entire opposite effect?
Jewish advocacy groups tried to ban this book a few months ago from Toronto District School Board schools. They argued that the book was anti-Israel and would incite hatred and violence against Jewish and Israeli students, and saying that the Ontario Library Association was biased in selecting this book as part of the Forest of Reading program. This was still going on a few weeks later, when one of the TDSB’s trustees was quoted in the Jewish Tribune was quoted saying:
“This is the second book in three years […] that has made a winning list [on the OLA] and that in my view is biased against the Israeli people,” [Ward] continued. “One can be a genuine mistake; two is a pattern. I’d like an investigation. Until I have some really hard answers, I’d like to suspend our involvement with the OLA.”
The first book mentioned was Three Wishes, which I read last month, and which is partially banned in the TDSB. Ultimately, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter was allowed to remain in TDSB schools. The following sums it up pretty well, from the Toronto Star article:
“We certainly acknowledge that the main story line in this novel is presented from a Palestinian-sympathetic point of view,” Lloyd McKell, executive officer of student and community equity for the school board, said in a letter to trustees on Wednesday.
“However, our professional staff assessment from our critical review of this novel is that Grade 7 and 8 readers are capable of deriving positive educational and social value from this book without developing destructive attitudes towards people … in the current Middle East conflict.”
Teachers are being encouraged to use the book to spark discussion on bias and to encourage critical thinking.
The controversy speaks to the difficulties boards run into as they try to serve a diverse population, many who come to Canada from opposing sides of international conflicts.
McKell said the books that often produce the best opportunities “are the ones that challenge readers into thinking about a particular point of view being expressed. It’s up to us as educators, as teachers, to ensure that different points of view are reflected in classroom discussion.
“I don’t think it serves us any useful purpose by shielding any of our students from controversy,” he added. “The world is full of controversial issues … and it does help to have students in our schools who reflect diversity, who bring different perspectives to issues based on their life experiences.”
How could I not read this book after such a controversy in my own workplace?
The Shepherd’s Granddaughter tells the story of 15 year old Amani, who has grown up in a valley just outside a village near Hebron, with her mother, father, and older brother Omar. Also in the valley are two other houses, one with her paternal uncle, aunt, and cousin, and the other with her paternal grandmother and grandfather. Amani’s grandfather is a shepherd at the beginning of the story, and Amani wants to follow in his footsteps as the next family shepherd, despite the rest of her family wanting her to go to school instead. Her grandfather’s wishes prevail, and Amani ends up being homeschooled through most of her childhood, staying on the pastures with her flock every day instead. As she gets older, though, everything changes; among other things, the Israeli settlers build a highway through the valley and a settlement on Seedo’s Peak (where her grandfather used to graze the sheep), moving closer and closer to Amani’s home.
I actually really liked this book. It was easy to follow and to sympathize with Amani, and yet it was clear right from the beginning that this was only her opinion, and not a definite account of how everything happens in the Occupied Territories. Her father and uncle disagreed on how they should fight back against the Israelis, one wanting to use violent resistance while the other advocated peaceful protest. There are some “good” Jewish characters as well, despite what some of the people wanting this book banned claim. Amani was a great character – she tried to understand what was happening, and tried to do what was best for her family and her flock, even when things didn’t seem to be going her way.
I’m really glad that the TDSB decided to keep this book on the shelves. Along with some guidance and background information, students would likely really enjoy this book and come out of it with a better understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Definitely something we should strive for – educating the next generation about controversial issues and what’s going on in the world around them.