Book Review: Sharing Our Homeland

Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp

Written by Trish Marx and Photographs by Cindy Karp, 48 pp., (Lee and Low, 2010)
This richly-illustrated picture book introduces us to Alya, a Muslim girl, and Yuval, a Jewish boy, who participate in a two-week summer peace camp in Israel.

Contents:

  • [Introduction]
  • Alya
  • Yuval
  • The Holy Land
  • Off to Camp
  • Special Days
  • At Home with Alya
  • At Home with Yuval
  • The Sleepover
  • Saying Good-Bye
  • Further Reading
  • Web Sites of Interest
  • Author’s Note
  • Pronunciation Guide and Glossary
  • Author’s Sources

The good stuff

First, kudos to Marx and Karp for taking on this ambitious, noble, and delicate project. I applaud the choice of following two children through their camp experiences as they learn to respect each other.

  • Compelling photography
  • Well-written, straightforward prose
  • Even-handed depiction of life at home and religious observance
  • Quotes from Alya, Yuval, and their families
  • Quotes from the camp director, camp counselors, and others associated with the camp
  • A new name for cotton candy–”grandmother’s hair!”
  • Back matter that discusses the motivation and the research behind the book

The not-so-good stuff

  • I would have preferred a book title that was more about the summer peace camp
  • Uneven subtitle–Muslim and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp or Palestinian and Israeli Children at Summer Peace Camp might have been more appropriate than Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp
  • The arc of the book was hard to follow and seemed disjointed
  • In the glossary, Judaism is defined as the religion of Jews, based on the belief in one G-d and the teachings of the Old Testament. Use of “Old Testament” is a Christian perspective.

Questions

I couldn’t help but wonder–

  • What is the politically correct way to talk about these kids? Is Palestinian and Jewish correct? Should it be Muslim and Jewish? How was this manuscript vetted?
  • Why did Yuval’s family leave Morocco?
  • Why does Yuval’s moshav have a high fence with razor wire for security?
  • Why does one girl on the book cover choose not to use the peace sign like all the others?

Overall

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Submitted to the Jewish Book Carnival

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About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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10 Responses to Book Review: Sharing Our Homeland

  1. Dorothy Goldstone says:

    I really appreciate the way Barb does a book review — the plus’s come first, so I want to know more. The negatives fit in afterwards, so I have an open mind, and can fit them in, but not throw the whole thing out. The bullet format allows me to retain the info — indeed, be willing to READ it in the first place, during a hectic day!

    And, having read this particular piece, I know she really walked delicately around a very difficult and challenging book.

    For me personally, I feel the book has a lot of subtle anti-zionist messages in it, that are more in the visual packaging and not so much in the writing….. Dorothy

  2. Linda Silver says:

    I didn’t see much anti-Zionist bias and goodness knows, I’m alert to it. The only text that I found to be objectionable is on page 11, when the author explains the Palestinian rejection of a homeland in 1947, following the break-up of the British mandate, with the sentence, “They did not want to give up their land.” The other piece of bias is in the bibliography on page 44, which contains several very distorted books about Israel. Judged as a totality, the book is acceptable.

  3. Lisa Silverman says:

    I haven’t yet seen this book and we will ask for it to review for Jewish Book World.
    I do agree with Barbara that the title would read better if it had said “Palestinian and Israeli”.
    I am guessing that the peace-sign holdout girl on the front cover is just a bad picture of the kids when one of them was not paying attention to instructions. But if that is the case, it makes one wonder why this was considered the best picture to put on the cover of the book.

  4. Louise May says:

    As the editor of the book I worked closely with the author and our Jewish and Palestinian consultants in the United States and Israel to determine the title and terminology used in the book. The Palestinian children who attend Peace Camp live in Israel, not the territories, and their families refer to themselves as Israeli Palestinians, so a subtitle referring to Palestinian and Israeli children would not be accurate. While “Palestinian and Jewish” may seem unbalanced, this terminology was the preference of all the people–Jewish and Palestinian–involved with the camp. In order to portray the camp experience and setting as accurately as possible, we adhered to their preference.

    As indicated in the Acknowledgments, the book was vetted by several people in the United States and Israel, including Jewish and Palestinian directors at Givat Haviva, where the summer camp is held, and The Abraham Fund Initiatives, both organizations that work for Jewish-Arab peace. In addition, the book was vetted by a Rabbi in upstate New York who is also a professor of world religions. Our goal was to present the story of a real camp experience in an objective and informative way that young children in the United States would understand.

    As for the cover photograph, we felt it was a real depiction of any group of kids at a given moment. You can never get them all to do the same thing at the same time. The fact that one child is not holding her fingers in the peace sign may mean something or nothing. Maybe she didn’t hear the instructions of the photographer. Maybe she just didn’t feel like doing what she was asked to do. Maybe she wasn’t feeling “peaceful” that day. The fact that there is a little discordance on the cover also provides a great discussion starter for kids. Why do they think the girl is holding out?

    • Thank you so much for the explanation and for the hard and delicate work in bringing this book to young readers.

    • Dorothy Goldstone says:

      Louise May’s explanation, which refers again to Palestinian and Jewish children as if these two labels are equivalents, only underscores that this was a conscious intension not only by this editor, but, as she said, by all who vetted the book. Thank you for validating the belief that so many Jewish groups feel world-wide that so-called “anti-zionist” policies are actually a mask for antisemitism!

      By equating Jewish with Israeli, Ms. May and her book have nailed that fact right into the policy of her “peace” camp. A true attempt at peace might be one working with Palestinian Israeli’s, and Jewish Israeli’s is that was the distinction she wished to make, but she “fell” for the same old semantic pretense!

      I had tried to remain polite in my initial response. Now that the editor has explained the derivation of this title, I can only say that the book continues the conflation of zionism with Jewish, and hence helps those who hide their antisemitsm behind antizionist rhetoric. Dorothy Goldstone

  5. Kathe Pinchuck says:

    Thank you Barbara for your break down of good stuff and not-so-good stuff, with which I agreed and left me ambivalent about the book. I am not thrilled with the term “Israeli Palestinian.” I would assert that if you are living in Israel, under the Israeli government, a more appropriate term, and one that would be better understood by younger readers would be “Israeli Arab” or “Arab Israeli.” Here was another thought: I would think Yuval comes from a secular family if he is going to that particular camp, so I’m not thrilled with the comparison of religious observances between Yuval and Alya’s families, but I understand that explaining the situation would take the narrative off on a tangent.

    • Thanks, Kathe. After I read the book, I contacted some of my Israeli writer pals to ask what was politically correct. There was something that just didn’t seem right to me.

  6. Pingback: Jewish Book Carnival! «

  7. Heidi Estrin says:

    This review and the subsequent discussion was invaluable to me as I worked on my review of the book for School Library Journal. Thanks to all of you for such a vibrant discussion. And thanks to Barbara for sharing this excellent post in the Jewish Book Carnival (see http://jewishlibraries.org/blog)!

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