Friday, February 18, 2011

Follow up with the Toronto Board re The Shepherd's Granddaughter

Dear Mr. Spence,

Four brief points following up on The Shepherd’s Granddaughter’s controversy and the steps the Toronto District School Board pledged or proposed to take in response:

1. Lloyd McKell, Executive Officer, Student and Community Equity, wrote that the TDSB would:
“implement a co-ordinated preview process for the Forest of Reading program, at the earliest possible point in the promotion process, in order to identify any concerns about individual books recommended by the OLA as part of the Forest of Reading program.”

The Committee struck to consider The Shepherd’s Granddaughter also recommended that in future the TDSB examine books in the Forest of Reading program before the schools start recommending them to children. Has the Board carried through? Schools across Toronto are promoting the new Forest of Reading books for 2011. Should our schools be endorsing these books? Has the Board checked them?

2. The Committee struck to consider The Shepherd’s Granddaughter recommended that when books are identified as controversial, students should be encouraged to apply their critical skills. On the evidence, this is an inadequate response. I first became deeply concerned about The Shepherd’s Granddaughter after reading a young person’s comment on Good Reads that: “Reading this book made me want to go to Palestine and kill Israelis.”

To assess how our students have reacted to The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, we can go to RedMaple OnLine, a site maintained by the Ontario Library Association where Ontario students reading books in the Red Maple program make comments.

Of the 18 comments on The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, only one student, book_freak1011, noticed the possibility of bias. I think we can assume this student was already aware of the Israeli-Palestinian issue beforehand and, from the vehemence of his/her response, perhaps felt the book as an assault.

The other students all accepted the book as a factual depiction of the supposed cruelty suffered by Palestinians, expressing no awareness of the possibility of bias or misrepresentation. See the student remarks below:

Dec 20, 2010
BORING! But I guess they want us to kno how bad the Jwsh are.

Apr 22, 2010
looked at it didnt read but want too

Apr 20, 2010
This book was ok, but I found it too sad. I liked how it was about real life, though, because it can help people understand what's happening in the real world.

Apr 06, 2010
This book was an amazing book! it brought tears into my eyes to see how human biengs like us are bieng treated like this in palestin! This book got me thinking, that we take soooo many things for granted. But in this book, it opened a new point of view for me.

Mar 26, 2010
I think that the sheperds granddaughter is a great book for beginner readers. This book is really interesting when the girl that wants to be a sheperd but her uncle and her father thinks that it is to risky and she might get shoot by the settlers and the armys trying to build the highway on top of the property.

Mar 25, 2010
A very gripping story.
I'm glad the piano got saved :)
On April 22, it's either this one, or submarine outlaw!

Mar 25, 2010
The Shepherd's Grand-daghter is a pretty good story. I thought it was sad. And i cannot believe that events like that happen today aswell. I really recommend this to people , and i think everyone would really enjoy this book.

Mar 24, 2010

Mar 23, 2010
This book was pretty good and eye-opening for me, but I found it kind of boring.

Mar 23, 2010
The Shepherd's Granddaughter is a story of faith and fearlessness in times of trial. It's about a young girl who follows her dreams and brings with them the true meaning of friendship and family. Her story is very sad, but her strength is admirable.

Mar 11, 2010
I think it was so sad but very realistic for those living in Palestine.The relationship between Amani and Johnathon was very lifelike and is amazing for the language barrier between the two.

Mar 10, 2010
A very lifelike and realistic book. You could believe it was true, and the read wasn't bad.

Mar 05, 2010
didn't really like this book much, it had a slow writing style and took me a week to read (I can read the Harry Potter series in one day, so that means I was morer then a bit bored by it. This was the #10 book in all the Red Maple books, i honestly think they should've switched this book with Vanishing Girl, by Shane Peacock, he's an awesome Canadian author. One of the few parts I found entertaining in this book was when the house collapsed, but the piano was unharmed. Overall I wasn't a big fan of this book, but I did read it all the same.

Mar 04, 2010
This is a saddening book, but really opens the eyes of the reader.

Mar 04, 2010
this book was really sad. i cant beleive this is still happening today. it really opened my eyes i definitely recommend it

Mar 03, 2010
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not a great book it was just boring

Mar 03, 2010
This book was very horendous, it was boring and i don't agree with the author!

Mar 02, 2010
this book was good, really good and although it was sad it had a ----- ------


3. Mr. McKell argued that: “The Shepherd's Granddaughter contains several themes for creative discussions in our classrooms.” However, he also directed “that guidance from the teachers and teacher librarians is important in producing the desired outcomes.”

Has the Board followed up to ensure that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is off library shelves throughout the TDSB and accessible to students only to read with guidance?

4. Board policy on dealing with controversial material requires that:
“information, as well as opinions, gathered from a variety of different sources, must be brought to bear on the topics in question.”

Do Toronto schools typically have materials on Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict to provide student with information and opinions from a variety of sources, as required by Board policy? Especially do the libraries contain material favourable to Israel that might act as a corrective to the biased account provided in The Shepherd’s Granddaughter?

When will the Board follow up to ensure that, if students are exposed to The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, they will also have access to material that counters its partisan and bigoted stance?

Thank you very much for your continuing attention and professionalism in regard to this important issue.

Yours truly...

Update: Chris Spence has replied and assured me that the Board did vet the 2011 Forest of Reading books before schools began encouraging children to read them and that this will be the policy henceforth. Of course no real movement on getting better books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into schools.


  1. Brian, This is a very important issue and I'm thankful that you are
    pursuing it and trying to bring it to the attention of those making decisions for young people. The book is totally one-sided biased and blatant propaganda. Not one character in the book in any substantial way promotes or illustrates the Israeli perspective. One young boy has a one-liner stating that the land belongs to the Jews.
    All other Jewish characters either support or sympathize with the Palestinians without stating why Israel, for instance has chosen to "Build rather than kill". Rather than giving children this book, teachers should hand them a map and have them colour in Israel and then in another colour, mark all the Arab, oil-rich countries. A map would speak more truth and understanding.

  2. i like the book but in the beginning it was a bit weird