By Rocco Staino

School Library Journal
March 30 2010

It looks like Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning Number the Stars
(Houghton, 1989) may be caught in the middle of an international
storm between the United States and Turkey.

Lowry wrote in a blog post dated March 9 that she received a troubling
letter from a teacher at Turkey's Tarsus American College, a private,
coed secondary school that offers an International Baccalaureate to
its international and Turkish students.

"Last week the inspectors from the Turkish Department of Education came
to our school and after reading one paragraph of your book, Number the
Stars, banned the book at our school," wrote Brenda Murphy Suffield,
adding that the book had been taught in English and Turkish at the
seven and eighth grade levels. "As an American I was appalled.

I would like to protest this banning. In my opinion, the pulling of
your book was the worst form of censorship."

Lowry's novel is based on the true story of the little known evacuation
of Jews from Nazi-held Denmark to Sweden during World War II.

"I have checked the Internet to see if this book has been banned
anywhere else, and I could not find any information that supports
this banning by the Turkish Department of Education," Suffield goes
on to write, adding that school principal Sidika Albayrak dismissed
protests by teachers after the inspectors had left. "The inspectors
did not read your book, and they did not complete any kind of written
analysis where they cited objectionable parts. In my opinion, their
actions were capricious and unfounded."

Although the book has been banned from the Tarsus's curriculum, as of
March 23, school librarian Sezin Ozkan says it's still available in
the library collection. Ozkan, who was surprised by the government's
action, has since ceased communication with this reporter.

Why would the Turkish government remove a modern classic that's been
taught in many school curricula? Lowry wonders if it's connected to
a recent move by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, which,
despite protests from Turkey and urgings from the Obama administration
not to offend its NATO ally, voted 23-22 to endorse a resolution on
March 4 declaring the Ottoman-era killing of Armenians as genocide.

The resolution now goes to the full House, where prospects for passage
are uncertain.

Minutes after the vote, Turkey, which plays a pivotal role for U.S.

interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan, recalled its ambassador,
Namik Tan, from Washington.

"Turkey is a largely Islamic country," says Lowry. "And although Number
the Stars espouses no religious or political view, it does tell a
true story of compassion toward persecuted Jews, and its unstated
theme is clearly that of integrity and humanity between people of
differing faiths. Perhaps that is a story that the Turkish government
does not currently want told to children."

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians and other
Christians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I,
an event widely viewed by scholars as the first modern genocide.

Armenian American groups have for decades sought congressional action
recognizing the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between
1915 and 1923 as genocide, and some 20 countries officially recognize
it as fact. But Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire,
says the numbers were inflated and those killed were victims of
civil war and unrest. In fact, Turkish penal code 301 forbids anyone
insulting Turkey or mentioning Armenian genocide.

Award-winning author Lois Lowry's 'Number the Stars' is involved in
a political storm between the U.S. and Turkey.

International writers groups are also equally disturbed as Lowry by
the book banning. "While books claiming an Armenian genocide have
been subject to lawsuits in Turkey under Article 301 of the penal
code, to my knowledge, this article does not apply to issues around
the Holocaust, nor is there any other legislation that would apply,"
a bewildered, Sarah Whyatt, program director of International PEN,
which along with the PEN American Center, are investigating the
reasons behind the book's withdrawal. Both organizations defend
freedom of expression.

When contacted by SLJ via email, several teachers at Tarsus American
College say they were instructed not to discuss the situation, and
the director of the lower school, Charles Hanna, has not responded
to numerous emails.

However, a member of the faculty at the American Collegiate Institute
in Izmir, a sister school to Tarsus, tried to explain the lack of
communication. "The school board does keep very tight reins on the
teachers, especially Turkish nationals, so they will not offer much

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the House of Representative's Committee
on Foreign Affairs did not return emails. The Turkish Embassy in
Washington said it would forward the matter to its education department
back home.

Still, Lowry is disappointed that her book has become embroiled in
such a highly charged political matter.

"My reaction to the banning is a great sadness for a beautiful country,
one I have visited myself," she says. "I remember standing once among
the ruins of the library at Ephesus--one of the largest libraries of
the ancient world--in awe of the history surrounding me.

What a tragedy, that in modern Turkey, literature and literary freedom
cannot be honored as it once was."

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