“Huckleberry Finn” and the use of the “n” word. “Harry Potter” and the witchcraft charge. The mess over Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” and whether she ever intended it to see the light of day.
Publishing controversies bubble up every now and then, but the recent reaction to an ABC book — “P is for Palestine” — caught the owner of Book Culture on the Upper West Side by surprise. Jewish moms, according to a report in the New York Post, were livid, charging in Facebook posts that the book was anti-Semitism masquerading as an ABC book.
It’s not every day, after all, that people protest a children’s book. But when the subject matter is Palestine, all bets are off.
In the 20 years that Chris Doeblin has been running independent bookstores, he’s rarely had an experience like this: threats being called into the store. His shop received threats when it said it would carry Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” which was inspired by the prophet Mohammed. The book, which was published in 1988, led to the Iranian government slapping a fatwa on Rushdie. But that was decades ago, Doeblin told The Jewish Week.
The threatening calls and emails came after Book Culture announced
a reading with Goldbarg Bashi, author of the new children’s book, “P is for Palestine.” Most of the callers to the store took issue with one page in the alphabet book, in which the letter I stands for intifada. Intifada is the Arabic word for uprising and the word many associate with years of violence in Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.
The Middle Eastern-Swedish author and Pace University history professor’s book, with illustrations by Golrokh Nafisi, is being sold on Etsy and in select bookstores. The book was self-published with funds raised on LaunchGood.com.
Bashi wrote about the negative reaction to her book in a Facebook group for New York City moms. “Because of the serious level of threats aimed at me … I may need police security for my reading of a children’s ABC book. In New York City. In November 2017.”
The threats to the store were all empty, according to Doeblin, and the event had a relatively small audience.
“The event was unremarkable in every way,” Doeblin, who attended last Saturday’s reading, told The Jewish Week. “There was a number of calls that the store received that were pretty ominous and threatening and there were threats of protest, but nobody showed up to protest at all.
“So we could argue that that’s being taken a little bit out of context,” said Doeblin of the intifada page. “But it certainly seems over the top when you consider that it’s a kids’ book.”