Before opening the cover of the graphic novel, I knew that this was a true story, a memoir that had been originally told in an animated film for the National Film Board of Canada, but I had no other familiarity with the story or the reaction that it would generate within me. I was perplexed when I immediately recognized the setting of the story—I had been at that camp myself, a gift from an unknown sponsor much earlier and, while I distantly recalled much of the camp experience, I had totally forgotten where it was located until I saw the provided map. Memories came flooding back. Like my earlier experience, the author/protagonist was also attending the camp for the first time and, like this reviewer, was more excited about the accessibly of comic books and time to read than anything else!
The camp, in central Alberta, Canada, is located close to the small town of Eckville which, in the 1980s, became notorious because of its anti-Semitic mayor who also was a grade nine teacher in the local school. For several years the teacher, Jim Keegstra, taught his students that the Holocaust was a hoax. This was eventually halted by a parent campaign that resulted in a law case regarding hate and anti-Semitic propaganda. Keegstra was fired, but what was his legacy in the belief systems of those students? “Believing the curriculum was “incomplete,” Keegstra had been teaching Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in his classroom – that Jewish people had an international plot to control the world and were to blame for everything that’s wrong” (17).
To combat Keegstra’s troublesome legacy, the Alberta Jewish communities invited the students taught by Keegstra to the summer camp for a day of basketball and fellowship encouraging cultural understanding. The reader is privy to the initial worries and concerns of Hart and his fellow campers regarding the admission of these students into the camp and their lives. What follows is an illustration of misunderstandings and beliefs…and the natural healing and changing of worldviews through the game of basketball. The illustrations are simple line drawings, mostly in black and white, with spots of bright colors and backgrounds emphatically aiding in the emotional telling of the story. The perspective of the text and the illustrations is that of the children with the colored panels accentuating the outlandish monsters created by their imaginations and lack of knowledge of each other.
In the author’s note at the end of the book he discusses the effect Keegstra’s trial had on him as a grade 6 Jewish student. “Keegstra was successfully convicted of criminally promoting hatred of Jewish people, which was an important test of Canada’s hate speech legislation” (83). Hart continues to explain that the public debate surrounding this trial, although uncomfortable, forced Canadians and others beyond our borders to seriously consider the dangers of racism, the necessity of critical thinking skills, and the personal responsibilities to stand up against hate.
Although the basketball game took place in 1983, the trial in 1985, and Keegstra’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996, the issues of racism, anti-Semitism, critical thinking, conspiracy theories and the dangers of hatred are not limited to the past.
I was a mother with two young children when the Keegstra Affair came to light. I lived locally and followed the news faithfully but was never aware of this basketball game until now. This is a story that needs to be read and revisited both the in the original filmic version and this newly published graphic novel again and again. The book includes an introduction, follow up to the trial, study questions, and a glossary. It is a concise and accessible entry to the ease of spreading conspiracy theories, fake news, misinformation, and hatred. Highly recommended for school and public libraries.
The Basketball Game
By Hart Snider
Art by Sean Covernton
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Canadian, Jewish
Character Representation: Canadian, Jewish