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Peace and the Sense of Belonging

Caren: “More Togeth­er than Alone,”
Peace and the Sense of Belong­ing

Home. Com­mu­ni­ty. A sense of belong­ing. Don’t we all long for love and con­nec­tion? And when the anchored sense of belong­ing dis­ap­pears, we spot it — on the drawn face of a child alone on a play­ground or on an elder­ly face of some­one alone on a park bench. Haven’t we all felt that moment of dis­lo­cat­ed lone­li­ness? If no one reach­es out to us and brings us into a cir­cle of kind­ness, lone­li­ness can twist into dan­ger­ous alien­ation. “More togeth­er than alone” a phrase used by poet, author, and teacher, Mark Nepo, is my new mantra.

Recent­ly two pic­ture books have caught my eye that speak to a sense of belong­ing. In each of these qui­et sto­ries, a child reach­es beyond her own secure cir­cle to include a lone­ly per­son in need of a friend:

I Walk with VanessaI Walk with Vanes­sa: A Sto­ry About a Sim­ple Act of Kind­ness by Keras­coet (Schwartz & Wade Books) is an expres­sive, word­less pic­ture book that cap­tures Vanessa’s lone­ly feel­ings as a new stu­dent and her fright when the class bul­ly ver­bal­ly attacks her on her way home from school. A girl in a yel­low dress watch­es from a dis­tance then finds kind­ness and courage to reach out to Vanes­sa in friend­ship. It’s a small ges­ture, but one that mul­ti­plies. Even­tu­al­ly an entire com­mu­ni­ty of hap­py friends accom­pa­ny Vanes­sa on her way to school the next morn­ing. The mantra, “more togeth­er than alone” res­cues Vanes­sa and strength­ens the com­pas­sion of the com­mu­ni­ty of kids.

A Map into the WorldA Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illus­trat­ed by Seo Kim (Car­ol­rho­da Books), is a touch­ing sto­ry of Paj Ntaub, a sen­si­tive young Hmong girl whose fam­i­ly moves into a new home in a new neigh­bor­hood in their new­ly adopt­ed coun­try. Across the street are Bob and Ruth, an old­er cou­ple who sit on a bench and wave hel­lo. Sum­mer turns to fall. Paj Ntaub’s home fills with the live­li­ness of baby twin broth­ers and Paj Ntaub’s own grow­ing up. Win­ter comes. Sad­ly, neigh­bor Ruth dies. Then spring arrives. With­out Ruth, Bob sits on the bench by him­self. Paj Ntaub sens­es Bob’s lone­li­ness. With her buck­et of chalk, Paj Ntaub draws pic­tures of her year on the side­walk and an arrow point­ing to her house. The chalk draw­ings are an invi­ta­tion, “a map into the world,” a way for Bob to recon­nect after loss. The mantra echoes again: “More togeth­er than alone.”

Caren: Going Deep­er

More Together Than AloneI shared Mark Nepo’s book titled More Togeth­er Than Alone with Ellie. Nepo’s book is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries that lift up moments across his­to­ry and cul­tures when human beings came togeth­er in cre­ativ­i­ty, empa­thy, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and enlight­en­ment.

To con­trast cul­tur­al moments, Nepo first intro­duces two fic­tion­al tribes: The “Go Away” tribe believes in strict laws, clear bor­ders, and loy­al­ty. The “Go Aways” meet the stranger and says, “You’re dif­fer­ent, go away.” The oth­er is the “Come Teach Me” tribe. This tribe is will­ing to cross bor­ders, build bridges, and wel­come the stranger. Wise­ly, Nepo reminds us that “we are born into both tribes and can move from one to the oth­er, depend­ing on the lev­el of our fear.”

Nebo com­pares the “noise lev­el” of fear and vio­lence and acts of kind­ness. Fear and vio­lence are loud, dis­rup­tive, dis­turb­ing, and can blind us like a sand­storm. Acts of com­pas­sion and kind­ness are qui­et and often go unac­knowl­edged. More Togeth­er Than Alone lifts up qui­et, his­tor­i­cal times of enlight­en­ment for adults. I Walk with Vanes­sa and A Map Into the World offer the same mes­sage to chil­dren.

Lis­ten to Mark Nepo speak about More Togeth­er Than Alone.

Ellie: Action Steps

Often chil­dren are nat­ur­al bound­ary crossers, will­ing to reach out to one anoth­er. How do we lose that unen­cum­bered audac­i­ty as adults? We can prac­tice togeth­er as we cross bound­aries to bet­ter under­stand our­selves, cross inter­per­son­al bound­aries to bet­ter know the per­son next to us, and cross sys­temic bound­aries to bet­ter know peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us. The work is not easy, nor com­fort­able. It takes prac­tice, a will­ing­ness to be open, a desire to be a mem­ber of the “Come Teach Me” tribe.” Each step, no mat­ter the effort, takes us clos­er to under­stand­ing that we are “more togeth­er than alone.”

  • Ask your­self where are the bound­aries in your school or com­mu­ni­ty? What and who are you taught not to see?
  • Walk around your school or com­mu­ni­ty and see some­thing new.
  • Make a point to talk to a neigh­bor or some­one new at your school.
  • Put your­self in a sit­u­a­tion where you are inter­act­ing with some­one who the world has called “the oth­er.”
  • Invite a part­ner to come on this jour­ney with you.

For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace — out loud. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, chil­dren and liv­ing our lives, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it their web­sites.


Knowing Your Past to Make Peace

Wel­come to Peace-olo­gy. We are two children’s authors team­ing up to review children’s books with peace in mind. 

Ellie: The oth­er day, I looked over the shoul­der of my five-year-old to see what he was draw­ing. There was the Ire­land flag on the left, the Nor­way flag on the right, and he was fin­ish­ing the Unit­ed States flag in the mid­dle. Simon was born on the day his great grand­moth­er died. He has always been curi­ous about his ances­tors. When my spouse’s extend­ed fam­i­ly sings the Nor­we­gian table prayer in har­mo­ny, Simon joins in enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. I love feed­ing this curios­i­ty of his in part because I believe we need to know where we come from and where we are cur­rent­ly stand­ing to move toward a peace­ful future.

Shi-Shi-EtkoIn rais­ing peace­mak­ers capa­ble of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, I have com­mit­ted to fill­ing our house with books writ­ten by and about Native peo­ple so my chil­dren will know the his­to­ry of the land we inhab­it. One of our cur­rent favorites is Shi-Shi-Etko by Nico­la L. Camp­bell. Shi-Shi-Etko (Ground­wood Books) tells the sto­ry of a girl spend­ing her last four days with her fam­i­ly before being tak­en away to a res­i­den­tial school. Her extend­ed fam­i­ly fill her mind and heart with mem­o­ries, knowl­edge and love so she will not for­get where she came from. She vis­its the woods, the riv­er and the creek, gath­er­ing bits of nature to take with her. It is trag­ic and beau­ti­ful. The stun­ning images pair well with the poet­ic words, both infus­ing our hearts.

The book has led to ques­tions about native plants, lan­guage, Native peo­ple, and our own ances­tors. It has fed the curios­i­ty of my chil­dren and opened up room to talk about where we came from and where we live. As peace­mak­ers, we must know the his­to­ry of our land. We must name that res­i­den­tial schools hap­pened, and name how we all lost out because of it. We are chal­lenged to learn our own ances­tral his­to­ries, cel­e­brate them, and cre­ate space for oth­ers to do the same.

Bde Maka Ska

Recent­ly the name of a lake by my home was changed from Lake Cal­houn to Bde Maka Ska. My moth­er-in-law dri­ves by it with my boys on her way to drop them off back home. If she ever calls it the old name, my son cor­rects her. We are slow­ly cre­at­ing space for the his­to­ry and ancient cul­ture of our land to breathe and make us bet­ter.

Find oth­er great Native books

Scene on Radio, a pod­cast out of Duke Uni­ver­si­ty, is one of my favorites. I rec­om­mend all their work, espe­cial­ly Sea­son 2: See­ing White. Sea­son 4 is about the his­to­ry of democ­ra­cy in our coun­try. Episode 1 of Sea­son 4 starts with the Chero­kee, and how they were and are arguably more demo­c­ra­t­ic than the Found­ing Fathers.

Jim Bear Jacobs

Jim Bear Jacobs

Caren: Dig­ging Deep­er. Ellie, know­ing our own his­to­ry and acknowl­edg­ing and appre­ci­at­ing the his­to­ry of oth­ers is crit­i­cal to build­ing peace. I’m remind­ed of a talk I attend­ed with Jim Bear Jacobs, a Min­nesotan, mem­ber of the Stock­bridge-Mun­see Mohi­can Nation, and rec­og­nized Twin Cities cul­tur­al facil­i­ta­tor. Jim Bear’s mis­sion is ded­i­cat­ed to strength­en­ing rela­tion­ships between Native and non-Natives by the telling of heal­ing sto­ries (Heal­ing Min­neso­ta Sto­ries) and the com­pas­sion­ate teach­ing of his­to­ry. The focus of his talk that Novem­ber day was Thanks­giv­ing, the holiday’s his­to­ry and myth mak­ing. To begin, Jim Bear intro­duced him­self by acknowl­edg­ing gen­er­a­tions of his ances­tors. He knew their names, where they lived, their place with­in his fam­i­ly and tribe. I won­dered how many of us could do the same. We tried, but none of us in the audi­ence had as an exten­sive fam­i­ly his­to­ry com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry as Jim Bear. The rev­er­ence for fam­i­ly his­to­ry as Jim Bear so clear­ly mod­eled chal­lenged each of us to reach back to our own with the same respect. The sim­ple act of rev­er­ence and respect brought an audi­ence of indi­vid­u­als into a cir­cle of one.

Ellie and Caren: Ques­tions Toward Action

Who are the sto­ry tellers in your fam­i­ly? What language(s) did your ances­tors speak? What words, recipes, prac­tices, folk­lore or cel­e­bra­tions are part of your own his­to­ry and place? What words remind you of your child­hood or feel like home? What have we dis­cov­ered about our­selves that we can share with oth­ers?

Don’t Sell Pic­ture Books Short!

Pic­ture books are for all ages. As writ­ers, par­ents, and teach­ers, we both have learned so much so quick­ly by pulling from the non­fic­tion pic­ture book sec­tion of the library. We’ve used pic­ture books in class­rooms, not only for young stu­dents, but with teenagers, as poet­ic illus­tra­tive mod­els, sam­ples of writ­ing con­structs and sto­ry struc­ture, or sto­ry truths for their lit­er­al minds. The pithy nature of pic­ture books can get to the heart of the mat­ter and lead to rich dis­cus­sions that take us to new places togeth­er.

Let us know:

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do. We would like to incor­po­rate your rec­om­men­da­tions into upcom­ing arti­cles, and of course, acknowl­edge you. Let’s cre­ate Peace-olo­gy togeth­er. Write to either of us and describe your sug­ges­tion. Include your name, con­tact, and pro­fes­sion­al or orga­ni­za­tion­al affil­i­a­tion and send to or .

We look for­ward to being on this peace jour­ney togeth­er.


Reading Books Through the Lens of Peace

Wel­come to Peace-olo­gy. We are two children’s authors team­ing up to review children’s books with peace in mind. 

Caren Stelson

Caren Stel­son, author and edu­ca­tor, peace advo­cate

Caren: After all our inter­views for our book Sachiko: A Nagasa­ki Bomb Survivor’s Sto­ry, I asked the book’s inspi­ra­tion, peace edu­ca­tor Sachiko Yasui, if she had any last words she would like to share with chil­dren.

Sachiko’s response was to think about this:

What is peace?
What kind of per­son should I be?
Keep pur­su­ing answers to these ques­tions.

I haven’t stopped think­ing about Sachiko’s ques­tions. When I met Ellie, we dis­cov­ered we ask the same ques­tions when look­ing for books for kids.

Ellie Roscher

Ellie Rosch­er, author and edu­ca­tor, peace advo­cate

Ellie: I read to my three- and five-year-old chil­dren every sin­gle day. They mem­o­rize lines from books and book char­ac­ters are the basis for our imag­i­na­tive play. I also teach peace lit­er­a­cy to teenagers. I am fas­ci­nat­ed as a par­ent and teacher which books spark curios­i­ty in kids and broad­en their uni­verse. Which books lead to true explo­ration around pow­er and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion? Which beau­ti­ful­ly show human­i­ties unfold­ing with a bend toward jus­tice? I am active­ly on the look-ut for books that inform our imag­i­na­tions about what kind of healed world is pos­si­ble.

Caren and Ellie: In our upcom­ing Peace-olo­gy series, we’ll be on the look-out for peace books we can rec­om­mend to you. What is the lan­guage of peace? Which sto­ries cap­ture peace in ways that inspire inquiry? How can children’s books help adults and chil­dren explore the mul­ti-lay­ers of peace togeth­er… because Mahat­ma Gand­hi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the chil­dren.”

PeaceHere is the first book we’d like to share to ring in the New Year: Peace by Wendy Ander­son Halperin, Atheneum Books for Young Read­ers, 2013.

Weav­ing the words from the Tao Te Ching, “For there to be peace in the world …” as well as oth­er quotes from world’s peace­mak­ers, chil­dren explore a peace jour­ney through Wendy’s exquis­ite­ly detailed draw­ings, inspired by ele­men­tary chil­dren. Snug­gle up and togeth­er wend your way from peace in the world to peace in your heart.

What can you do in 2020 to cul­ti­vate peace in your body, your fam­i­ly, and your world? Maybe it’s design­ing a quilt of peace inspired by Wendy’s book, or lis­ten­ing deeply to per­son­al sto­ries of a friend, fam­i­ly mem­ber, or a staff mem­ber in your school. Or maybe it’s slow­ing down, adjust­ing neg­a­tive self-talk, and help­ing our chil­dren appraise the pos­i­tive. Our world needs more peace, and it can start with each of us.


illus­tra­tion copy­right Wendy Ander­son Halperin, from Peace, Atheneum, 2013

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do.

As we can, we would like to incor­po­rate your rec­om­men­da­tions into upcom­ing arti­cles, and of course, acknowl­edge you. Let’s make Peace-olo­gy inter­ac­tive. Write to either of us and describe your sug­ges­tion, includ­ing your name, con­tact, and pro­fes­sion­al or orga­ni­za­tion­al. www.ellieroscher or

Hap­py New Year to all. We look for­ward to being on this peace jour­ney togeth­er.

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