| Mar 09, 2006


Feature Article - March 9, 2006

Feature Article

March 9, 2006

Book pulled from school reading program for review

by Jeff Green

A book featuring interviews with Israeli and Palestinian Children has been temporarily pulled out of the Silver Birch reading program at schools within the Limestone District School Board.

Three Wishes Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, written by Deborah Ellis is a collection of interviews with children from the embattled region. It is one of the non-fiction selections for the Silver Birch reading program.

Pat Warren-Chaplin, a superintendent at the Limestone Board, told the News that the Board has received a “request from an outside group, the Canadian Jewish Congress, because they felt this book was improperly categorised. Accordingly, the book has been pulled from the Silver Birch program in our schools, until a review is completed. The review is underway.” The book remains in school libraries.

Flood

Silver Birch is a program of the Ontario Library Association. Children in grades 4-6 are given the task of reading several books from a list. Children who read at least half of the books on the list are given the opportunity to vote for their favourite book, and the winning books are celebrated at a reception in Toronto .

The reading program, along with programs for younger and older readers, have been embraced by many schools in the Limestone Board, and schools have done fundraising in order to be able to buy complete sets of the books for their students.

The Silver Birch book list for the 2005-2006 school year was announced last fall, and the Canadian Jewish Congress approached the Ontario Library Association in December with a request that Three Wishes be pulled from the list. Chief among the concerns of the Congress were the age appropriateness of Three Wishes, although they have other concerns as well.

"Sometimes, in bringing an issue down to a level everybody can understand, you squeeze all the context and a lot of the substance out of the discussion, so what you're left with is not a discussion of the Middle East situation, what you have is a book about kids talking to other kids about how they feel. This is not a question of taking the book off the shelves, although some schools may draw that conclusion themselves. This is about considering the audience and acting in a responsible fashion," Len Rudner, Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Toronto Star.

After being rebuffed by the Ontario Library Association in December, the Canadian Jewish Congress approached school boards throughout the province, and it was pulled from the Silver Birch program by the York Region District School Board, the largest in the province. Other boards, including the Toronto District School Board, have acted in the same manner as the Limestone Board and undertaken reviews.

The book is being marketed at children 11 and older, or grade 6+ by its publisher, Groundwood Books. The Sillver Birch Program encompasses children aged between 9-12. The Ontario Library Association runs a similar program for older children, the Red Maple Program for grades 7 and 8, but it does not include non-fiction books on its list.

Anne Peace-Fast is the principal of both Hinchinbrooke and Land o’ Lakes Public Schools, which have been active participants in the Ontario Library Association reading programs. This year, for the first time in six years, she has had reservations about some of the language in books on the list, and has expressed her concerns to the Library Association. However, Three Wishes was not among the books she was concerned about.

Before Three Wishes was pulled, it was read by several students in the grade 5-6 class at Hinchinbrooke School and Anne Peace-Fast said it was the favoured non-fiction book by the students who read it.

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