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Commenters Debate Pro-Palestinian YA Novel

‘Shepherd’s Granddaughter’ prompts back-and-forth

Marc Tracy
April 13, 2010


Besides teaching us that one does indeed call a person from Ontario an “Ontarian,” Marjorie Ingall’s reported, perceptive look at a controversial Canadian young-adult novel called The Shepherd’s Granddaughter explored how to educate children about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to what extent censorship is acceptable. The novel is about a young girl living in the West Bank whose family land is under occupation; her family and other Palestinians are frequently victims at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Several groups, including Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have called for the book not to be placed on a special reading list formulated each year by the Ontario Library Association. Ingall disagrees:

Might young people have better critical faculties than we give them credit for? … being disingenuous and hyperbolically alarmist about the threats posed by novels—as opposed to the threats caused by shutting down all discussion—means we don’t get the chance to elucidate and debate. If The Shepherd’s Granddaughter can teach us anything, it’s that even educated people with a glorious literary tradition sometimes feel justified in banning books. And we’re all poorer for it.

(Very vaguely relatedly, today Tablet Magazine published a report on anti-Zionism at Canadian universities.)

Ingall’s article prompted a robust discussion in the comments section. Many agreed with Ingall. “I oppose censorship—and with books, it is too much like book burning,” argued fred lapides. As an alternative, he suggested, “Swamp the papers with letters suggesting the book is very biased and does not tell readers how youngsters are taught to hate and kill Israelis and how grandfather probably wants Israel destroyed.”

But some argued that, while perhaps the book should not be banned outright, the problem is that it is currently being actively promoted. Foremost among the commenters who made this argument was Brian Henry, a Jewish Tribune writer (and Toronto parent) who wrote an impassioned open letter asking that the book not appear on the reading list. In his comment, Henry says, “Our schools shouldn’t promote anyone’s political agenda, but with this book that’s precisely what they’re doing. The article also understates the book’s offensiveness: it portrays Israelis as child-murderers, commanded by the Jewish God to steal and kill.”

Henry advocates that, in the future, the reading list include “alternate material about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for kids of this age.” Ingall herself, weighing in in the comments, has vowed to take up that particular challenge:

Next week’s column will offer suggestions of different young adult novels about the “matzav,” as the Israel-Palestinian conflict is called in Israel — it means The Situation (which sounds to me like a great name for a band). It will offer more ideas, short of calling for a book ban, about what to do when you’re horrified by a children’s or young adult book. Right now, I’m frantically reading.

In other words: stay tuned!

Banned in Canada [Tablet Magazine]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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