Friday, March 03, 2006

Censorship Canada Style

Here's another one!

For me this falls under the "overprotective" banner. We tend to want to have children exist in a perfect "Disney" world, well the hard truths of life for the majority of humans is quite different. I also trust that the librarians know which book is the right book for an audience. It's their jobs.

Art Slade

Library group defends controversial children's book
Last Updated Tue, 28 Feb 2006 16:38:59 EST
CBC Arts

The Ontario Library Association is standing by its choice of Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, for a prestigious children's reading program.

The Canadian Jewish Congress has put pressure on the OLA and Ontario school boards to remove the book, by Canadian author Deborah Ellis, from its Silver Birch reading program, an independent reading program for children in Grades 4 to 6.

The book, which features Palestinian and Israeli children telling their stories in their own words, is not suitable for readers in that age group, the CJC says. Publisher Groundwood Books suggests Three Wishes for children in Grade 6 or above.

Younger children who read the stories won't understand why some Palestinian children seem to admire suicide bombers and say they want to grow up to kill Israelis, the CJC says.

"They speak about suicide bombing and killing Israelis as suitable choices to make and as acts worthy of emulating," says Len Rudner, national director of community relations for the CJC.

"This is not about censorship," he says. "It's about providing children with material appropriate to their age group."

One Ontario school board, the York District School Board, which serves the region north of Toronto, has agreed to pull the book from the reading program.

The Silver Birch reading program encourages children in Grades 4 to 6 to read independently. A list of fiction and non-fiction books is drafted by the OLA and school libraries are encouraged to show the selections to children.

Children read with a group in their classroom or independently in a group created by a librarian. At the end of the program, children across the province who have read the books choose a favourite, which becomes the Silver Birch Award winner.

This year's list of Silver Birch nominees has 10 non-fiction books by Canadian writers, with titles such as Sports Hall of Weird, Sir John A. MacDonald, Lowdown on Earth Worms and Bloom of Friendship. There are also 10 fiction books by Canadian writers.

Ellis visited Israel and Palestine in 2002 to interview children and retells their stories in their own words in Three Wishes. Among the children she interviewed are a young girl whose older sister was a suicide bomber and an 11-year-old boy who described his home being destroyed by soldiers.

Ellis is also author of The Breadwinner series, about a young Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy to make enough money to feed her family during the rule of the Taliban.

In choosing the book for the Silver Birch program, the OLA described Three Wishes as allowing "young readers everywhere to see that the children caught in this conflict are just like them, but living far more difficult and dangerous lives. Without taking sides, it presents an unblinking portrait of children victimized by the endless struggle around them."

The CJC argues children aged 9 to 12 do not understand the complexities of the conflict in the Middle East and cannot understand what they are reading.

"There are adults who can't get their heads around this still," Rudner says.

He cites passages like this one from a Palestinian boy, whose home was destroyed by soldiers: "Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad. It will make me feel strong. … I am tired of them making me feel small and weak. I want to feel strong and proud."

In one passage a girl speaks of her sister, who blew herself and others up in a suicide bombing, as being in heaven. A teacher working with this text could encourage children to think about why people feel like that and provide some context, but a young child reading on his or her own might not understand, Rudner says.

The CJC has sent a five-page letter to OLA executive director Larry Moore urging the book be withdrawn from the Silver Birch program.

The same letter went to every director of education in the province. The York board rejected the book as not age appropriate after being alerted to the book by a teacher.

After the complaint, the Silver Birch selection committee reviewed its reasons for selecting the book and said it would stand behind its choice, Moore said.

"In our eyes, the book is perfectly good and we stand by our Selection Committee and the rights of children to read this book," Moore told CBC Radio.

The children in the book are saying honest and interesting things about their lives and other children will understand their emotions, he says.

"Children need to read about life around them. We protect them from some of these things in North America, but they still see it on TV."


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