Listen! Israel’s All Around
Listen! Israel’s All Around
When critiquing a board book, a reviewer examines the text for such features as age-appropriate language, the success of words used in rhymes, the lilt of the rhythms, the appeal of the illustrations and choice of media and colours. Does the book accomplish its goals?
In that regard, Listen! Israel’s All Around is a good board book to entertain and educate babies and toddlers.
Click, clacky, knock, knock, knock.
Matkot paddles pock, pock, pock!
Crisp falafel, much, munch, munch.
Stuff a pita, crunch, crunch, crunch.
The colourful 10-page book by American writer, lyricist and editor Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh (Can You Hear a Coo-Coo, A Hoopoe Says Oop!) can help young children learning to make sounds, introduce them to vocabulary and encourage understanding of rhyme and rhythm. The bright illustrations by Steve Mack add even more joy to the text. The smiling characters are clearly engaged in the activities written into the rhymes.
But it’s what this book doesn’t include that takes the shine off a glowing review. How do we teach our children about the complicated realities of the world? Should we show the bad with the good at an early age? If not now, then when?
In Canada, we are acknowledging the wrong done to indigenous peoples through colonialism, the seizure of their lands and institutional racism. Efforts at reconciliation are being made in all areas of society, although the damage done by the organized denial of their rights based on race may take generations to heal. It’s rare to find a children’s book now, even a board book, that does not have a representation by a First Nations child, custom, object or story. School curricula and educational materials emphasize the history and contributions of First Nations in building Canada. According to the age of the children being educated, these materials recognize that indigenous Canadians were denied their human rights and experienced tremendous harms at the hands of the Canadian government. The goal is to teach empathy through education, to make society better and provide everyone with opportunity.
It feels strange, therefore, to see a book about Israel without the mention that hundreds of thousands of children whose families identify with having historical continuity there live in physically restricted areas and are denied the possibilities to enjoy the same happy-go-lucky experiences of the children depicted in Listen! Israel’s All Around. According to the United Nations, “all over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but particularly in the Gaza Strip”, children are “robbed of every right.” Children suffer from a lack of proper nourishment and access to proper medical care. Their education is meagre and disrupted. They are killed by ammunition and shelling coming from Israel. The Israeli Defence Force imprisons hundreds of children each year.
It takes very little research to find reliable information from respected sources about the situation of Palestinian children, the laws passed by the Israeli government and the actions of its institutions and armed forces. This is the well-documented reality of Israel which the author should acknowledge, even only to include some customary games, foods or activities of Palestinian children. If children are not taught from a young age about the different groups who form the fabric of their society, it will be difficult for them to develop critical thinking skills, to question and analyze what is happening in their country or develop empathy for the situation of others.
Harriet Zaidman is a writer for children and book reviewer in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her novel, City on Strike, set in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, will be published in 2019 by Red Deer Press.