Under the Radar: Annick Press
cj bott, James Bucky Carter, Sean Kottke, Jon Ostenson and Jennifer Walsh
In this installment of Under the Radar, we are pleased to feature Annick Press, a Canadian publishing house that offers titles for a wide range of readers, from toddlers to young adults. Annick Press is committed to publishing high quality literature for young readers that will “encourage critical thinking and the development of a child’s inner resources so that, in addition to becoming confident, contributing members of their community, they are also engaged with society at large and their peers around the globe. Most of all, we are passionate about ensuring that our books be pleasurable, self-affirming, informative, and entertaining.” This mission shines through strongly in the two titles we’re featuring in this column, Enemy Territory, by Sharon McKay, and The Lynching of Louie Sam, by Elizabeth Stewart. Both novels were published in 2012 and have garnered high praise from reviewers and award committees alike. Enemy Territory is a finalist for the 2013 IODE Violet Downey Book Award, which annually honors the best English language book for young readers, while The Lynching of Louie Sam has been nominated for the International Reading Association’s 2013 Notable Books for a Global Society honor as well as a Snow Willow Award from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.
We are also excited to welcome Jon Ostenson as a new reviewer to the Under the Radar team. This column is formatted to highlight each reviewer’s unique voice and impressions of these featured novels.
Summary: Enemy Territory by Sharon McKay profiles a Jewish boy named Sam and a Palestinian boy named Yusuf who are both in a Jewish hospital for treatment of wounds garnered in the fight for territory between Israel and Palestine. Though mortal enemies, these boys find common ground in some areas as the novel progresses. Tired of their hospital surroundings and longing for adventure, Sam and Yusuf sneak out of Hadassah Medical Center and venture around a Palestinian neighborhood, a Jewish mall, and the Dead Sea. Though their adventures take them further than they originally intended, it provides the time and space for Sam and Yusuf to air their differences and come to a common understanding of each other.
cj bott: I liked Enemy Territory from the moment I started reading it. Two angry fourteen-year old boys in a Jerusalem hospital — Sam, an Israeli who may lose his leg, and Yusuf, a Palestinian who may lose his eye — sneak out of the hospital to find candy for Alina, a cancer patient. The story itself is very old; two people who are enemies due to the dictates of a political situation realize they must work together to survive, and somehow out of necessity and finally common need, they learn to respect each other. Sam and Yusuf, both stubborn and unable to let go of centuries of distrust, do not make the transition easily. Most of what I know about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict comes from news sources, not always the most reliable. Books like this are an essential way to help our young people see the many sides to a given situation, even one on the other side of the world.
Jon Ostenson: cj, I agree that one of the strengths of this book is that it helps us see both sides (or multiple sides) of a complex issue like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If we’re following news sources and political commentary in the United States, it’s possible to receive a slanted view of this conflict, given our country’s long-standing alliance with Israel. With an issue as complex as this conflict, though, there are likely ways that both parties are “right” and “wrong.” Through the means of these two characters and their adventures in both Israeli-friendly and Palestinian-friendly territory, we get to see the layers that make up the complicated history of these peoples. I appreciate that Sharon McKay didn’t take the easy way out with these two: they don’t become fast friends overly quickly, and even at the end of their journey there’s some tension. It’s not realistic to expect that these differences can be overcome in the space of a couple of days, no matter how perilous the adventures they share.
James Bucky Carter: Did anyone else get the feeling that Yusuf came out looking better than Sam throughout much of the novel? If so, why do you think that was? For me, I guess Yusuf just seemed less spoiled and more humanitarian/humanistic in his heart. But, another thing I felt as I read was that even though the book has a bifurcated consciousness, it still felt like Sam’s narrative.
cjb: I did feel that Yusuf was a more admirable, mature character, perhaps because though the internet taught him everything about the world, his life is very grounded in tradition.
Sean Kottke: I also had the same impression. I wonder if it’s because, as Jon and cj suggested, Yusuf’s perspective is more novel to me, having heard Sam’s perspective more forcefully in the American media for so many years. It could also be that I watched the Oscar-nominated Palestinian documentary 5 Broken Cameras while reading Enemy Territory. Both the film and the novel do a superb job of contextualizing the conflict within the lived experience of everyday Palestinian citizens, and would be great to braid together in a unit of study.
Bucky: One thing that interests me about both these novels is that they are both border narratives. We had an MAT student, Bernadette Valenzuela, do practicum work on the topic of border spaces last semester, and one of the things she mentioned is that bordered areas act as their own sort of country when the borders are national, meaning that spaces such as those in these books are — perhaps ironically — liminal spaces all their own even as their inhabitants see difference and are quick to other. Bernadette, pulling from the work of Gloria Anzaldua, Maria de la Ruz Reyes, and Elizabeth Garza, used the term “nepantla” to describe this space and the term “fronterizos” to describe any people living in such a border liminal space. These spaces have blurred boundaries, though, so I suppose we’re seeing some metaphorical nepantla with Sam and Yusuf. Surely they are each experiencing new frontiers. The US-Canada border seems more fluid as a political space than does the Israel-Palestine demarcations, but in each of these novels we see “third country”dynamics. Each of these texts offers multiple examples of binary thinking, linguistic and cultural signifiers of difference, and the mob mentality, but, thankfully, there are those willing to at least consider coexisting in some sorts of third spaces. Yusuf and Sam do so intimately, and George and the Gillies family in The Lynching of Louie Sam do so with Joe Hampton and Agnes. We see the Gillies face more consequences for these actions.
Sean: That’s a great connection between the two novels, Bucky, and it really gets to the heart of Annick Press’ mission to tell stories that help young readers become engaged with society at large and their peers around the globe. What better way to do this than to use fiction to explore the relationships between young people who share a common geography but divergent worldviews? What I like about Enemy Territory and The Lynching of Louie Sam is that they place North American readers in the position of observers to two conflicts from which we are largely separated, by geography in the former case, and by history in the latter. From a rational outsider’s perspective, the level of mistrust and mutual alienation that can develop between people who occupy such narrow geographical niches may be incomprehensible, especially when survival in their uniquely inhospitable environments would seem to favor cooperation over hostility. However, these stories lend us an insider’s perspective, allowing us to experience the psychological and political divisions between the populations represented by the protagonists more powerfully than reading details of the conflicts in an informational text could. I remember reading about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a textbook and some newspaper articles during a middle school social studies unit on the Middle East. After taking a test at the end of that unit, we moved on to another region of the world, expediently forgetting that the conflicts we had just studied were still going on and still carrying life-and-death consequences for people our own age as we prepared our minds to absorb more facts about the next region on the globe. Not only would braiding in Annick Press’ novels help young readers better engage with the details of these conflicts more intensely and at a deeper, more lasting level than a simple informational text treatment alone could afford, it might also raise readers’ awareness of fundamental connections between these geographically and historically far-flung conflicts and barriers that exist between ourselves and the diverse populations in our own communities. Creating liminal spaces at the intersection of literature and informational texts with novels like these would certainly go far toward answering David Levithan’s challenge from the 2011 ALAN Workshop that we build an “army of empathy” among readers in our classrooms and libraries.
Jennifer Walsh: I agree with the astute and deep philosophical observations already stated about Enemy Territory and what it brings to the table. From the perspective of a middle school teacher, this book simply breaks the conflict down into easy to understand chunks. Clearly, this is important in order for younger learners to grasp the very long history of dissent and argument over Middle East land and place. Many young people live this current battle, sometimes removed by a generation or two. One of my students chose the PLO as a topic for her multi-genre project last year and I was shocked to hear that she was on the pro-side (probably due to what Sean said regarding the fact that our media is very one sided in this argument). However, after she told her story, I realized how much this issue still impacts us: this student’s grandparents lost their home and were removed during one of the land battles in the Middle East. What I loved about this book was that neither side seemed to be demonized, right or wrong. To introduce the Middle East conflict through this novel would be an amazing unit and would hopefully shed equal light onto both sides of the matter at hand. I do love that the age old story of “distrust of the \u2018other’” doesn’t seem to be a battered subject here, but a fresh perspective on how the reality of the situation may play out.
Summary: The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart is a novel told from the perspective of 15 year-old George Gillies, who lives in Washington Territory in 1884. On their way to Sunday school, George and his brother and sister discover a burned out house and the dead body of a local man. In order to get justice, a group of local men band together to cross into Canadian Territory and lynch a young, 14 year-old, Native American named Louie Sam, who is immediately suspected of the crime. While George immediately thinks his father and the rest of the men are justified in their actions, he grows to question the justice in the lynching. As George starts to peel back the layers of what really happened to the dead man (Jim Bell), he discovers the buried secrets of some local families. However, as George becomes more and more confident of Louie Sam’s innocence, he must stand up for what he believes is right, even in the face of his adversaries. The Lynching of Louie Sam is a moving portrayal of growing up and differing views of justice.
cjb: The Lynching of Louie Sam made me angry. Though I know living in the wilderness of 1884 was filled with dangers and distrust, the prejudice that allowed men, supposedly leaders in the community, to blame and then hang an innocent Indian youth made me as angry about such injustices as those in our news today. However, George Gillies, the fifteen-year-old narrator, who at first believed Louie Sam guilty of the robbery and murder of Mr. Bell, slowly begins to see the fault in his thinking. The very men he had respected had not only committed the crime, but had put the blame on an Indian boy who they saw as expendable.
Jon: One thing about Louie Sam that I found interesting is that the narrator (George) begins by siding with the bigoted townspeople who form the lynch mob. Like many young people, he wants to see the world in black-and-white terms and appreciates the mob’s interest in justice. It’s George’s father that first suggests that there might be something unjust in the way that Louie Sam is being judged, but George won’t see it. It’s not until he sees Louie Sam and recognizes how young he is (just fourteen) that I think he starts to question the judgment of the adults around him. Louie Sam’s age (and, to an extent, the courage with which he faces the adults who come to lynch him) helps George feel empathy for the boy–a critical characteristic that we (as teachers and librarians) hope to help young people develop. It’s empathy that allows us to put ourselves in others’ places and gain understanding of what they’re going through, and it’s this feeling that pushes George to start investigating the truth of the events behind Mr. Bell’s murder.
I find myself as a reader then having to feel that same empathy towards people like George’s father, the town doctor, and Mr. Stevens (Abigail’s father) when they won’t step forward forcefully and try to see these wrongs righted. The consequences for such actions could be severe, and I have to remind myself that it wouldn’t be easy to make such a choice if I were in their shoes. This is why I love literature–the way it forces me to confront my own foibles as I place myself in the shoes of the characters I’m reading about. Are there people (or types of people) that I see as expendable today? That’s an uncomfortable question to ask myself, but one that I think we have to confront as a society if we’re to reach our goals of equality and respecting human rights.
Bucky: I was angry as Hell too, cj. I connected to the story in strongly personal ways, having recently experienced some things at my institution that have helped me learn some of the lessons that George learned about “justice.” While his experiences are much more severe in nature, of course, each has reminded me of the power — both constructive and destructive — of consensus and of how frustrating and life-altering “appearances are reality” situations can be.
I’ve been toying around with the idea of crafting an inquiry unit entitled “What Does it Mean to be Educated in America?” I envision it as having “education narratives” like Frederick Douglass’ and other assimilation narratives, but I think this book could fit the bill too. Thoughts? Could we see allusions in the politics, actions and consequences in this book and what is going on with how education “reformers” are working and changing public education?
Jon: I like the idea of a unit like this, Bucky, and I think this novel could be a great addition to it; in part, at least, you could have students look at what George learns in school versus what he learns as part of life experiences. (It reminds me a bit of the end of To Kill A Mockingbird when Scout claims that she’s pretty much learned all there is to learn, except maybe algebra.) To be educated in America means understanding the history of issues of bigotry and racism, and the way that history shapes our present. Schools might teach us the history (dates, facts, people’s names, etc.) of the Indians in the Americas, but a book like this teaches us different and more important things about that history. We need to help students understand how superficial the history we receive in schools or textbooks can be, to recognize the complexity that’s present behind the facts and to search for that before we accept the story told in schools and textbooks. What other books would you consider for this unit? What would students create as a result of it?
Bucky: Jon, that’s a great suggestion and connection. I can see something from Leslie Marmon Silko being part of the unit, as well as Walden (especially if accompanied by accounts of Thoreau’s real “independence” from society) and “Barn Burning,” The Scarlet Letter, and something from Sherman Alexie. I’d think that intersections of schooling and justice would be central to such a unit, so bringing in articles about the Common Core and privatization efforts, as well as films like Waiting For Superman, Bully, and The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman, could work too. I envision it as exploring notions of power and influence and how they are sometimes seen and known, sometimes not seen or known, and sometimes seen and known but treated as if they are not.
cjb: “What Does it Mean to be Educated in America?” That could become quite a controversial topic, in fact it must. To be true to it, all perspectives and personal realities would have to be accepted. Personal realities are formed by where the person is born, the time and place, learned belief systems, experiences within and outside of one’s comfort zone, formal and informal education, and acceptance of others’ realities to list just a few of the defining factors. “What Does it Mean to be Educated in America?” Each one of us has had a different education in America.
We are the educated elite. My education was and is different from people in different locations and time, different socioeconomic levels, different religious or nonreligious backgrounds, and the different realities that each of us acquires through our life experiences. I believe in recognizing and honoring each individual’s realities; I cannot, for one second, not respect that individual’s story. Because of that, I found Enemy Territory less a story of right and wrong and more a story of individualism. The Lynching of Louie Sam is centered in right and wrong. George learns a powerful lesson, that not everyone lives the same definition of right and wrong, perhaps his first true life lesson. His reality changes greatly, and at the end of the book he is very different than he was in the beginning of the book.
Sean: Beyond the sheer injustice of the incident referred to in the book’s title, my anger upon finishing The Lynching of Louie Sam focused on a single question: why the heck hadn’t I heard about this before? Granted, I grew up far from the Pacific Northwest, and there are likely plenty of details of the regional history to which I was exposed in school that aren’t part of the shared historical knowledge of most Americans outside of the Midwest (Battle of Tippecanoe, anyone? Toledo War?). Still, the only recorded lynching on Canadian soil and the strain in international relations that resulted would seem to make this enough of a singular event as to warrant some attention in the narrative of American history. However, a bill that is currently working its way through my state’s legislature to ensure that children study foundational documents of American history, heritage and patriotism is just a small demonstration of the big idea of the discipline of historiography – that understanding whose history gets told is as important to know as the historical details themselves. Louie Sam’s terrible fate would definitely not fit smoothly into a narrative built on the themes of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism, which is the story I heard in school. This is why I really like the idea of building not just a unit but a broad, multi-disciplinary curriculum on the theme of “What Does it Mean to Be Educated in America?”, composed a la Howard Zinn from the voices of many individuals’ stories across the geographical and historical sweep of the American experience. In fact, Annick Press’ entire catalog of YA titles could be said to address this theme, given their mission, and The Lynching of Louie Sam would be an excellent candidate for engaging in this kind of moral inquiry, as would To Kill a Mockingbird. Barbara Wright’s YA novel Crow is another recent novel that would be perfect to braid with The Lynching of Louie Sam in such a curriculum, as its story revolves around another tragic incident that is sadly omitted from most narratives of American history, the Wilmington (NC) Insurrection/Massacre of 1898. Both Louie Sam and Crow pass my ultimate test for historical fiction, which is to present the events of a remote time in such a way as to offer a fresher perspective on the present day zeitgeist than last week’s news. Despite the popular mantra of America being in a “post-racial” era, any city, school or neighborhood in which the prevailing attitude between groups of citizens, whether distinguished by heritage, gender, disability or job title, is mistrust, the potential for scapegoating the Other exists, and tragic consequences are sure to follow. Novels like The Lynching of Louie Sam and Enemy Territory that dare to cross borders both physical and psychological and challenge the reader to confront the world through the Other’s eyes help build the social capital that our young readers need if they are to become “confident, contributing members of their community” and the global village.
Jennifer: I love, love, love the idea of your unit, Bucky! I would think this would end up covering an entire semester, it would be so broad. Like Sean, I am surprised I don’t know more about prejudice against Native Americans through literature. While we learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder that Native Americans were to be “feared”, we didn’t learn stories like this; I honestly thought at the beginning that Louie Sam was an African American and we were dealing with the KKK. I couldn’t imagine others taking such a young man and hanging him without proof. I would love to see this novel taught in connection with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which deals with so many of the same issues. While ROTHMC is an African American perspective from 1933, it is the coming of age and understanding the meaning of justice for adolescents that make these novels so worthy to be taught together. What does it mean to \u2018know justice’? Thanks, Bucky. I think I just got an idea for a unit that I’d love to look into for my students!
Jon: This is a bit off the unit plan track, but something that Sean and cj’s comments made me think of. I think cj’s distinction between the two books is important, and I, like Sean, wondered why I hadn’t heard of this event. Two things come to mind, and they remind me of a phrase in Enemy Territory that I really liked. Late in the book, Sam and Yusuf start talking about Israeli checkpoints and the suicide bombers they are designed to deter. Sam accuses Yusuf of defending suicide bombers and Yusuf responds that he is “not defending suicide bombers, [he is] explaining” (p. 140). I appreciate Annick Press’ commitment to books that not only entertain but help students engage in critical thinking and inform them. I think that authors who engage in retelling historical events or exploring current events that are emotionally charged (like those in these two books) have a special challenge: how to inform their audience and give their readers what they need to make critical judgments without oversimplifying the issues or descending into didactic storytelling and passing judgment for their readers. Both of these books adroitly meet this challenge, in my view, because they present complex characters who are not easily reduced to a “side” (whether it be White Settler vs. Native American or Palestinian vs. Israeli). In Louie Sam’s case, while the facts don’t allow us to agree with the lynching, the way the different characters react to the pressures of a complex situation helps us understand more about human nature, which should allow us to be more critical about our own actions. The two main characters in Enemy Territory are likewise complex, and the experiences they share together help us see a more realistic view of teenagers who are just trying to be “normal” in the midst of a very complex conflict. I appreciate how both these books and the vision of this press are trying to give young readers a more authentic glimpse into these multi-faceted issues.