From the age of six, Amani has wanted to follow in her beloved grandfather’s footsteps and become a shepherd. Despite the tradition that only boys tend sheep, she is most at home on the mountains and among thes olive groves surrounding her home in Palestine, where her grandfather Seedo tutors her in shepherdry and life. Seedo surprises the family when he passes his crook to Amani, but she shines in her role as a 21st-century shepherd, e-mailing a government vet and incorporating the latest methods of animal husbandry into her world.
Amani’s flock – and her family – are threatened, however, by encroaching Jewish settlements that occupy traditional grazing grounds and ultimately lead to the destruction of the family’s home and farmlands. In one frightening incident, Amani’s sheep are poisoned. When her uncle and father are jailed for opposing Israeli actions, help comes from unlikely sources, including a rabbi and Christian peacemakers, who enable Amani’s father to return and the family to rebuild.
The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is a well-intentioned, very earnest narrative that aims to foster international harmony by educating young readers. (A portion of the book’s royalties will go to the Children in Crisis Fund of the International Board on Books.) Accordingly, the book invites parallels to the work of Deborah Ellis, but unlike Ellis, Anne Laurel Carter has trouble keeping her fiction from becoming secondary to the issues with which it grapples.
Also, this novel has enough material for a whole series of books, and it gets overwhelmed by a series of underdeveloped subplots – Amani’s mystical encounters with a wolf and her budding crush on an American-born Jewish boy are two key examples – that fragment the narrative’s focus and undermine its realism. This is a shame, because Amani is a likably plucky character with whom readers will empathize.