The Shepherd’s Granddaughter
Written by Anne Laurel Carter
Groundwood Books, 2008, 211 pp., ISBN: 978-0-88899-902-3
“One day, if I don’t come home from school, tell them I’m fighting the Israelis.”
“What about school? Becoming a scientist?”
“Freedom is more important.”
A realistic novel set in Palestine, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter presents some of the conflict that currently exists between the Israeli government’s policies and the Palestinians residing in Palestine, however, within this conflict is hope. Hope in family, hope for the future, and hope for the people who live within Palestine. Told through the character of Amani, a young Palestinian girl, the story highlights individual perspectives in respect to land ownership, governmental control, and historical circumstances that influence the present.
Amani is the granddaughter of a shepherd, and all she has ever wanted to do is follow in her grandfather’s footsteps. When she reaches adolescence, her grandfather, the patriarch of her family, decides that she can accompany him as he cares for the sheep. As she works with her grandfather she learns what she needs to do so that one day she will be able to become the family shepherdess. Caring for the sheep and their needs for grazing, she becomes more aware of Israeli development on what has traditionally been the land of her people. This infringement not only creates hardship for her flock’s livelihood, but also disrupts the psychic livelihood of her family and neighbors. She learns that there is no easy way to determine a right and wrong side; however, she finds there are a plethora of perspectives that include her grandfather’s entreaty to learn to pray without anger, her brother’s passion for Palestinian freedom, and her own desire to raise her sheep in safety.
Told with clarity and compassion, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is a middle grade novel that allows readers to ponder how hope can exist within conflict, and how people working together can create peace and safety where sometimes governments fail. A rich plot line reveals well-developed characters who wrestle with their own flaws as well as the flaws of others. This text presents one of the world’s ongoing cultural and historical conflicts in terms that honor those who are seldom represented in Western texts. A way to introduce young people to the conflict between Palestine and Israel, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter can be paired with texts such as Checkpoints (Marilyn Levy, 2008) and Real Time (Pnina Kass, 2004). In terms of a theme that addresses hope within conflict, other texts that could also be used include Ask Me No Questions (Marina Budhos, 2006), Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan (Mary Williams & Gregory Christie, 2005), and Iqbal (Francesco D’Adamo & Ann Leonori, 2005). Readers interested in texts that also explore the plight of children in times of conflict might read Children at War (P.W. Singer, 2005), Shattered: Stories of Children and War (Jennifer Armstrong, 2003), and Zlata’s Diary (Zlata Filipovic, 1994).
Anne Laurel Carter is a teacher-librarian in Toronto, Canada, who studied Hebrew, worked on kibbutzim in Israel multiple times since 1971, and lived with Palestinian families while researching this novel. She also taught in Ramallah and traveled extensively as a young woman. With insights that many readers will not have in respect to the question of a sovereign Palestine, Carter allows the reader to ponder the concept of borders, both real and artificial.
Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH