'Authors, librarians defend kids' book
Pulled from some school library shelves after complaints from Jewish Congress
Mar. 21, 2006. 05:03 AM
Ontario's literary community, led by PEN Canada, has mounted an impassioned defence of a controversial children's book about the Middle East.
At an emotional news conference in a Toronto library yesterday, PEN representatives — joined by the Writer's Guild, publishers, authors, librarians, parents and one young reader — pleaded with school boards to reverse their objections to Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis.
The Toronto, York, Greater Essex and Ottawa public boards have bowed to political pressure by deciding to limit younger elementary students' access to Three Wishes, the writers and their representatives said.
"This decision demonstrates a shocking lack of respect for children," said Groundwood Books founder and Ellis's publisher Patsy Aldana about the Toronto District School Board's recent move to take the book off elementary library shelves and lend it only by special request to students in Grade 7 and 8.
In Three Wishes, Ellis interviews children on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The children describe their isolation from one another, the realities of suicide bombings and military checkpoints.
The Canadian Jewish Congress touched off the controversy when it wrote the library association and school boards asking them to reconsider Three Wishes as a selection of the Ontario Library Association's Silver Birch reading program. The awards encourage children in Grade 4 to 6 to read Canadian books and then vote for their favourites.
The CJC argued that the book lacked historical context and was too sophisticated for children in Grades 4 to 6. It also claimed Three Wishes demonized people on both sides of the conflict.
"I'm a bit shocked to be here. I didn't think this could happen here any more," journalist and social activist June Callwood said at yesterday's press conference.
PEN Canada is a writers' association dedicated to defending freedom of expression.