By Katharine Davies Samway
This article appeared originally in Rethinking Schools, vol. 27, no. 2, winter 2012–13.
It was a beautiful fall day for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival and I was volunteering at a booth devoted to Palestine and the impact of the Israeli occupation. Crowds of people passed by the booth and many of them stopped to look at the posters and pick up handouts. But what really captured my attention were the children, 9 or 10 years of age, who were riveted by one particular image—a photo of an Israeli soldier pointing his gun at a Palestinian child of about 5.
“Mami, Mami! Come and look!” Children pulled their parents and older siblings into the booth to look more carefully at the photo and talk with me about it. They were horrified that such a young child had such a frightening experience.
Talking with the children and their families, I learned that they didn’t know much, if anything, about that part of the Middle East. As I tried to explain some of the key events that led to the photo, and why it is important for Americans to be informed, I realized that we had no information written for children. I should have brought some books and an annotated booklist to hand out, I acknowledged to myself. But I could think of less than a handful of possibilities.
Maybe, I thought, there are good books out there for K-8 learners that I’m not familiar with, and so I began to scour my local libraries. I ordered books through interlibrary loan, read books recommended by friends, and reread books that I already owned. What did I learn? I discovered that there are several nonfiction books about life in ancient Palestine. There are also many nonfiction books about modern-day Israel that serve as propaganda for Israel and do not treat the plight of Palestinians honestly and comprehensively. These books tend to be dense, with a lot of complex historical information jammed into a few pages and a springling of photos.