Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Children's book under fire

Publishers: Groundwood Books

Pages: 144 pages(Hardcover)/Black and white photographs.

Genre: Non-Fiction for children

Price: $18.95 CDN

Last year, my daughter S. who is in grade 4, was asked by her school to read the book 'Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak" by Deborah Ellis in order to vote for or against it for the Silver Birch award.

"Three Wishes" is a book about the lives of Palestinian and Israeli children and I remember S. being totally captivated and immensely moved by it. Best of all, she gained such an understanding of this complex international issue . So imagine my surprise when I find out today that the Toronto District School Board has withdrawn the book from library shelves and restricted access to students in Grade 7 or higher.

School boards in York Region, Niagra, Ottawa and Essex County have also either refused to stock the book, restricted access or discouraged its use because some of the Palestinians the author interviewed support terrorism. While it is true that some of the Palestinian children express support for suicide bombings, for instance, 12-year-old Wafa writes: "Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad ... I understand the suicide bombers." But as the National Post points out, if this all-too-prevalent Arab view weren't reflected, "Three Wishes" would be fiction.

S. also liked how Ellis described the creation of the State of Israel. I think it's vital that children understand how Israel came to be- it's imperative that kids understand fully the history and background of the conflict in order for it to make sense to them.

Again, from the National Post, "...Perhaps the most striking thing about the book is that children on both sides provide Ellis with the same basic observation: that the conflict has made them strangers to one another. Danielle, for instance, tells the author "I don't know any Palestinians. If I could meet a Palestinian girl my age, we could play together. That way ... she wouldn't want to blow me up." Michael, the would-be taxi driver, echoes the same thought. Though he lives in Jerulsalem's Old City, he describes Jews as alien creatures: "When I see Jewish boys my age, they look at me, and I look at them, but we don't say anything. I don't know anything about them, and they don't know anything about me...."

The way I see it, by restricting who gets to read this book we are alienating our children from children in Israel and Palestine.

No doubt this book is dark, infact, it can be disturbing in those parts where the kids describe war and when they comment on the stark contrast between their experience and that of sheltered North American children, but, I still think that all kids over 9 years should be allowed to read it. The sooner kids are made aware of children less fortunate then themselves, the sooner the spirit of activism will kick in fueled by empathy for the less fortunate. Having said that however, apparently not everyone agrees with me (big surprise!!!). Here's what Connie Sinclair, parent educator and coach, had to say about the controversy:

"...I think there is a difference between some of the harsh realities in our immediate world that our children HAVE to face and those of the greater world that we chose to expose them to. In parenting our job is to gradually give our children greater responsibility as they grow and to give them greater exposure to the wider world. Yes, kids in Israel and Palestine are exposed to suicide bombers, guns and soldiers and unfortunately they must face that reality. That is not the case with our 8 to 11 year olds, although we have our own set of troubles here. before exposing them to some of the grim realities of the greater world."


Other fantastic books by author Deborah Ellis:


hellomelissa said...

it makes me feel so sheltered to read this review! there is such a fine line between letting your kids be little and naive or exposing them to the tough realities of the world. at 7 and 4, i think karate class and magic tree house books are enough! but i'll be facing these issues SO soon (sooner than i think, i know) and it helps to have a friend who has "been there, done that" to rely on! thanks again, lotusflower.

Grumpy said...

You go girl. I feel your absolutle right, but what do I know? Heellomellissa is faceing this problem. The only advice I have is that the parent haas to moniter and allow depending on matureity. Been ther
, done trhat.

Janelle Martin said...

I have been closely following this issue and have to say that the school boards should leave this one alone. Let each parent (with their child if appropriate) decide when said child is ready to read this.

These issues will not stay on the other side of the world forever (unfortunately) and providing a realistic perspective is important since we are part of a global community.

Just my two cents...

Louise said...

Thank you lotusreads for reviewing this book and bringing it to our attention. I totally agree with your view. Kids in our part of the world need to understand how these children live and what they are taught to believe. It deeply saddened me to read the quote from 12-year-old Wafa who says: "Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad..." What a heartwrenching comment from such a young man!

I do however, agree that this book should not be read by children whose emotional maturity has not reached the point where they can decipher and understand the real issue here. Only each parent knows their child well enough to decide if this is a book they should or should not be reading. I think the child's emotional/intellectual maturity rather than mere age, has more to do with the decision to allow one's child to peruse this book.

I myself, have read Deborah Ellis' "Breadwinner"; "Parvana's Journey" and "Mud City". I will definitely be adding "Three Wishes" to my reading list and to that of my 13 and 15 year olds.

Thanks again for bringing this to our attention!


Lotus Reads said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! I was talking to a friend last night and he made a comment that makes a lot of sense to me. He is of the opinion that we withold things from children because it is the adults that cannot handle it rather than the children (who are much more resilient, open, and strong than we give
them credit for).

Duru said...

I am not surprised that once again North Americans would sweep under the rug that which they might fear may shake their so called perfect world. But the truth is that so much is happening around us and we do need to look outside the box or tear at the blinkers glued to our inner minds and the same applies to our children. I have not read "Three Wishes" but now it has definitely perked my curiosity. Whether it was the ‘World War’ or the ‘Holocaust’ which is still taught to our children as part of a history class, so then why the discrimination against what is happening currently in Palestine and Israel. Will all these facts be hidden until its time for someone "powerful" somewhere to release them? Or maybe until it’s over and forgotten and the chance to save the suffering is long gone. Sad but true this has been happening for decades and even if now parents can open the minds of their kids to the realities of what is happening around them, a bright and peaceful future may await them. Lotusflower I do hope that we can discern and present to our children the positive aspects of this read and not burden them with any unnecessary pain and terror which may destroy their hopes and dreams of building a wonderful world for themselves.

J said...

Wow....amazing stuff. Thanks for the review. I agree with the people who said it is up to each parent to know what their child is ready for, and also that sometimes it is we, the parents, who are not as ready as our children.

contentmentindia said...

Dear Lotus,

Gee, this is a tough one. I look at it in two ways. Our kids need to know how blessed they are in teh life they enjoy by learnign about the horrors that other kids endure-- be it war, abuse or struggling to survive.

On the flip side, I as an over-protective mother, would worry about my son reading something like,"Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad..." And then again, we have enough violence on cartoon network!

I would suggest reading the book with your child and discussing issues. That way, you can help your child understand the real motive behind the book.