Rummanah Aasi
 I find reading banned or challenged books to be like a treasure hunt of some sort. You are given a person's (or persons') reasons for objecting the book and then you can read it with their lens. Sometimes you can kind of see where the objection is coming from while other times you can't seem to make a logical connection. Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis hasn't stirred much controversey in the U.S. but it is one of top challenged books in Canada.

Description: Deborah Ellis's enormously popular Breadwinner trilogy recounted the experiences of children living in Afghanistan; now Ellis turns her attention to the young people of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After visiting the region to conduct interviews, she presents their stories here in their own words. Twelve-year-old Nora, eleven-year-old Mohammad, and many others speak directly about their lives - which prove to be both ordinary and extraordinary: They argue with their siblings. They hate spinach. They have wishes for the future. Yet they have also seen their homes destroyed and families killed, and live amidst constant upheaval and violence.This simple, telling book allows young readers everywhere to see that the children caught in this conflict are just like them - but living far more difficult and dangerous lives. Without taking sides, it presents an unblinking portrait of children victimized by the endless struggle around them.

Review: Three Wishes is a hard and uncomfortable read not due to the book's writing style, but of the unflinching, honest, and often times bleak accounts of how war takes a toll on the lives of young people between the ages of 8 and 18. Instead of looking toward their futures with optimistic eyes, these kids really don't know whether they are going to be alive tomorrow. Instead of doing what we would call normal kids activities such as playing in the streets, they're lobbing rocks at soldier's and dodging tear gas and bullets.
  Presenting both sides of the conflict, Israeli and Palestinians kids talk openly about the conflict. Each narrative is prefaced with a short historical or personal background description providing a point of reference for the sentiments expressed. Anger, despair, and fear ripple through the story where you can see the constant cycle of violence takes their tow. Ellis effectively remains absent, serving as chronicler for these ordinary kids in traumatic circumstances. The three wishes range from being a doctor to wishing the war to end to simply wanting to grow old (something which I never considered as a wish). Along with the text, there are black-and-white photos of the narrators and of scenes in Ramallah and elsewhere where the children are from are included. Three Wishes is a heavy read, but it's a really good presentation of a confusing, complicated historic struggle told within a palpable and perceptive format.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Current Events

Reasons why it was banned/challenged: In 2006 in Ontario, Canada, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) urged public school boards to deny access to this children’s non-fiction book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to students in the elementary grades. The CJC said that Ellis had provided a flawed historical introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that some of the children in the book portrayed Israeli soldiers as brutal, expressed ethnic hatred and glorified suicide bombing. The effect on young student readers, the CJC said, was "toxic."
Update: Although the Ontario Library Association (OLA) had recommended Three Wishes to schools as part of its acclaimed Silver Birch reading program, and although schoolchildren were not required to read the book, at least five school boards in Ontario set restrictions on the text:

a) The District School Board of Niagara encouraged librarians to steer students in Grades 4–6 away from Three Wishes and to tell parents that their children had asked for the book.

b) The Greater Essex County District School Board restricted access to the book to students in Grade 7 or higher.

c) The Toronto District School Board restricted access to the book to students in Grade 7 or higher and withdrew the book from school library shelves.

d) The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board refused to stock the book and refused to provide copies to students who asked for it.

e) In 2005, before the CJC made its views about Three Wishes public, the York Regional District School Board also withdrew the book from the Silver Birch program.

Protests by the OLA, The Writers’ Union of Canada, PEN Canada and the Association of Canadian Publishers failed to persuade the school boards to repeal their restrictions. Source: Freedom to Read

Words of Caution: The objection to Three Wishes is clearly politically motivated. It's interesting that only one group presented in the book raised objection to the book. Yes, Israeli soldiers where depicted at times to be brutal, but how would you describe someone who demolished your house and kicked you out on the streets? The Palestinians people were also depicted as suicide bombers and terrorists, but there is no objection to this particular part of the book. Yes, attacks were discussed more passionately in some of the childrens' lives because they experienced the attack first hand-either they knew the person directly responsible or had loved ones who died. Without giving the situation context or understanding the other's thought process, it's easy to misconstrue their feelings. I'm not saying what the childrens are advocating is right, but that's what they think and perhaps this is the place where we can start to change hatred into peace and understanding.
  As a librarian and educator, I find it offensive to imply that anyone would blindly give this book to a child without providing them enough information about the topic. The book presents an opportunity for discussion, which what I personally think is the objective of writing this controversial book. There are not that many good books written on this topic for children and young adults. Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure what the CJC means by Elli's book not being accurate. You can't write a nonfiction book without real sources and authority. The book does have bibliographical references. I would definitely recommed this book for Grades 5 and up who've learned about this region in their classrooms.

If you like this book try: Samir and Yonatan by
7 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This sounds like it would be an incredibly challenging read Rummanah. It would be hard for me to read about these kids and what they face each day - which sounds awful, kind of like "ignorance is bliss", but that's not what I mean:) I think books like this are important, to give people a glimpse of what's going on and what life is like for people in these countries.

  2. Oh my...I can't believe that this book was challenged - particularly since it was only the objection to negative portrayal of Israelis and not the Palestinians. Actually, I can believe it, but it's still quite pathetic. You don't hear about Canadian challenges as much as American ones.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    ohhhh, just saying a book is challenged makes me want to read it...:) I understand why schools make those decisions, the banned book debate is always going to be something schools, parents, kids and teachers will have to deal with....

  4. @Jenny: It was hard to read and see kids so heartend at a very young age.

    @Alison: I originally picked this one up for my other reading challenge but I didn't realize the extent of the challenge.

    @Tina: Yes, it's very tricky but you know you'll always will have something that someone is going to find objectionable. It's sad to see that most of the challenges come from school libraries.

  5. MZMollyTL Says:

    The Three Wishes controversy is one close to my heart Rum, as I was on the Silver Birch Selection Committee at the time, the group that placed it as one of the nominated titles. Letters were actually written that called for the people that recommended this book to lose their teaching license. Thankfully, I'm still teaching and the ramifications of the Three Wishes controversy is still felt, years later.

  6. I like that you point out that a child shouldn't just be handed the book and merrily go on their way that it needs to be taught in context. I think it shouldn't have been challenged as clearly the situations that were objectionable were taken out of context. I think that's fear more than anything from the CJC. That it be restricted to the older grades seems excessive.

    I haven't heard of this one but my son read The Breadwinner this summer and loved it. I might get this one for him to read as he's trying to understand the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. Thanks for the review!


  7. Candace Says:

    Wow. This sounds like a powerful book. I have been watching a lot of documentaries with this kind of subject. Its so heartbreaking seeing what these kids have to go through and grow up with as 'normal'.
    I think I agree that this would be a good starting point for discussions with kids. We can't raise them to be ignorant, they need to know what's going on in other parts of the world. And one thing I struggle with is my kids not appreciating how good they have it. I actually have been meaning to try to find non fiction childrens books that show how kids in third world countries live. Or in countries that are in a constant state of war. I don't want to stress my kids out, but I want them to want to do what they can to help and to just be aware I guess.
    My kids are too young for this one but I think I'm going to have to get it for myself and when they're older we can read and discuss it together.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention and sharing the banning details as well.

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