Students upset at proposed book ban
A 9-year-old student and others are upset that school board officials have decided a non-fiction book on Middle East troubles is unfit for reading by youngsters
Mar. 5, 2006. 07:50 AM

Evie Freedman doesn't want anyone telling her what she can and can't read.

The Burlington Grade 4 student gobbles up more than half a dozen books a week. She's read all 20 selections in the Ontario Library Association's Silver Birch Awards program, including the controversial Three Wishes about children in the Middle East.

The notion that anyone would try to stop her from reading it is an affront to the 9-year-old.

Her school board in Halton hasn't taken Three Wishes off the popular Silver Birch list of recommended reading. But the York board has removed it and other boards like Toronto are still picking through a minefield of censorship and political debate trying to decide how to respond to a complaint from the Canadian Jewish Congress about the book's suitability for young children.

Evie says the objections to Three Wishes are typical: Adults are always underestimating what children can handle. By her own admission, she's "a mature kid," but thinks lots of youngsters her age would enjoy the book.

"I don't usually enjoy non-fiction books, but I enjoyed it. It had the voices of real children. It was actually real-life things that kids in other countries are going through and I'm really interested in that," she said.

Evie has it pegged as one of this year's Silver Birch winners, voted on by about 58,000 Ontario students. "It just deals with so much reality. It's so straightforward. None of the other books were like that," she said.

But is it too much reality for the Silver Birch program's target audience, kids 8 to 11? Yes, say the Canadian Jewish Congress and York school officials. They stress that nobody's asking to have the book banned, just guided to older students or read under the supervision of teachers and parents.

The children interviewed by author Deborah Ellis in Three Wishes describe realities barely imaginable to their Canadian counterparts ó living under the surveillance of gun-carrying soldiers, suicide bombings, checkpoints and gas masks. But readers also glimpse kids in the Middle East eating at McDonald's, going to camp and parties, and getting annoyed by their siblings.

One passage in particular, in which a child talks about joining her sister, a suicide bomber, in heaven, has some adults wondering about the message it sends to kids.

"What you're left with is a book where in a fair number of instances you have kids saying maybe suicide bombing is a viable alternative, or maybe it's understandable or maybe it's a career choice for me," the CJC's Len Rudner told the Star.

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