Lifelong Learners: Adults on the Rug

After four years of columns on pic­ture books as tools to build peace, we are bring­ing this chap­ter of the sto­ry to a close. We have enjoyed our time reflect­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, and we are deeply grate­ful for your read­er­ship and engage­ment. To find clo­sure, we would like to reflect and high­light some of our own learn­ings along the way.

[Ed. note: Click on a book cov­er, graph­ic, or pho­to to learn more about the book or read the Peace-olo­gy arti­cle in which that image was first used.]

Caren, work­ing on Peace-olo­gy over the years, what new insights did you have on build­ing peace?

Caren:  I remem­ber you and me sit­ting at Gigi’s Café in Min­neapo­lis — pre-COVID — as new writ­ing friends and ask­ing our­selves what it would mean to embark on a series of arti­cles about peace and pic­ture books. At the time, we had no idea where this jour­ney would take us. What I’m most proud about is our sus­tained, delib­er­ate pur­suit of what peace means as we stepped into each arti­cle. Writ­ing about peace. Read­ing about peace. Shar­ing ideas of the many path­ways to peace. Our work togeth­er, Ellie, has changed me in ways that are not only intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al, but phys­i­cal. My breath­ing has changed. I breathe in and out more slow­ly and deeply to calm myself when I’m in a moment of flus­ter. My heart may be the same size, but it feels big­ger as it opens to new ways of car­ing. I rec­og­nize the elec­tri­cal wiring of kind­ness — how one small act of kind­ness can bring new and brighter bod­i­ly ener­gy. One act of kind­ness can cre­ate a chain-reac­tion of small kind­ness­es from one per­son to the next. Over our four years togeth­er, Peace-olo­gy has cre­at­ed chain-reac­tions of peace­mak­ing and peace friend­ships. The light from your friend­ship and oth­er friend­ships we’ve made through Peace-olo­gy have helped sus­tain me, par­tic­u­lar­ly in these trou­bled times. There­in lies the hope.

What about you, Ellie?

Ellie: In cre­at­ing Peace-olo­gy over the years, I have come to think about mak­ing peace as a body pos­ture we take on in mov­ing through the world. Every moment, there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to opt into the work of mak­ing peace. We can make peace with our bod­ies, with oth­er peo­ple, in com­mu­ni­ty, and at the insti­tu­tion­al and sys­temic lev­el. This is the work of our lives. It is nev­er done, so we cul­ti­vate a sus­tain­able pace. In doing this, we make our­selves safe to young peo­ple who see the hurt in the world and want so bad­ly to join in the peace­mak­ing. Books and con­ver­sa­tions with these young peo­ple mat­ter so much, and so does mod­el­ing peace­mak­ing in a way that sparks their curios­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion. They can be our teach­ers in our work together.

How did writ­ing about pic­ture books as peace build­ing tools shift how you think about the impor­tance of pic­ture books?

Caren: Pic­ture books are not just for chil­dren. They are for all of us. I’ve been struck by the inter­gen­er­a­tional pow­er of pic­ture books with peace­mak­ing themes. They pro­vide the seeds for nec­es­sary dis­cus­sion in a cir­cle on a class­room rug, at the din­ner table, in the car dri­ving at night. Chil­dren are deep thinkers if you lis­ten care­ful­ly and with curios­i­ty. Chil­dren want to under­stand their world. They want to talk about how to find ways out of dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. They look for upstanders who demon­strate how to find the courage to make a dif­fer­ence. More than ever, I’m a believ­er in the pic­ture book form to deliv­er both the sto­ry and the images in sharp relief, so much so the feel­ing of a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry can stay with a read­er for a life time.

What about you, Ellie?

Ellie: I agree, Caren. After pub­lish­ing four books for adults, I pub­lished my first pic­ture book while we were writ­ing Peace-olo­gy. I watched adults buy the book for the chil­dren in their lives, in part because some­times it is eas­i­er to help young peo­ple engage in peace than it is to turn toward the work our­selves. Again and again, the adults would tell me how much they liked the book and learned from it. They thought the book was for the kids, but it changed them, too. Pic­ture books are for us all, and they are amaz­ing tools to facil­i­tate these sacred inter­gen­er­a­tional con­ver­sa­tions where we can all learn and grow togeth­er. In writ­ing a pic­ture book, I also learned more deeply how the words of a pic­ture book work with art to tell a sto­ry that is rich and dense with beau­ty. Some­times peace work tran­scends words, and art can cap­ture mag­ic in a way words fall short. Read­ers young and old can bring their imag­i­na­tions and hearts to the page and be moved by the visu­al story.

Did writ­ing the Peace-olo­gy col­umn influ­ence how you think about or go about writ­ing your own pic­ture books? 

Caren: I am drawn to sto­ries that reveal moments of social break­throughs. As a non­fic­tion writer, I look for sto­ries about seem­ing­ly ordi­nary peo­ple who find the courage to do extra­or­di­nary acts to help oth­ers with­out ask­ing for reward. These moments and acts are trans­for­ma­tion­al. I’ve come to under­stand if you heal your­self, you help heal the world. If you help heal the world, you help heal your­self. This is what I’ve learned writ­ing for chil­dren and young adults.

And you, Ellie?

Ellie: Remark­able Rose is based on the true sto­ry of a girl who loved to play soc­cer. She was told by her teach­ers and par­ents that in Kib­era, girls don’t play. They are sup­posed to help their moms with chores and focus on school. But Rose felt hap­py and free when she ran and kicked her ball. Not play­ing would have turned her into a peace­keep­er, not mak­ing the adults mad, but she chose to make peace in her body and join a girls’ team, which took courage. The girls are now women who con­tin­ue to work for gen­der equi­ty in ways that trans­form their com­mu­ni­ties. Peace-olo­gy was the under­cur­rent buoy­ing me as I wrote, telling the sto­ry of Rose as a peace mak­er. And I am so grate­ful. Some­times peace looks like lis­ten­ing to the yes inside your body and allow­ing that yes to lead you brave­ly into com­mu­ni­ty work.

What books and themes that we chose have stuck with you over time? 

Caren: I’ve so enjoyed writ­ing all our arti­cles. Each one encour­aged us to go deep­er into the com­plex­i­ty of peace. Through sto­ry, we’ve learned there is a lit­er­a­cy to peace, just as there is a lit­er­a­cy to read­ing. The series of Peace-olo­gy arti­cles that focused on “high­er ground” brought togeth­er four of us as authors: edu­ca­tion­al psy­chol­o­gist Joyce Bonafield-Pierce, ele­men­tary art teacher Renee Dauk-Bleese , you, and me. I loved how Renee incor­po­rat­ed the pow­er of pic­ture books, and the con­cept of high­er ground into art projects for her ele­men­tary stu­dents. We watched how the atmos­phere in her art room changed as stu­dents dis­cussed, drew, and offered gifts of peace to one anoth­er and as ser­vice projects. Even when a year had passed, Renee’s stu­dents still remem­bered which “high­er ground” words they chose, need­ed most, and had put in their pock­ets to keep with them — words, such as courage, patience, lis­ten­ing, kind­ness. What hap­pened in Renee’s art room through peace, art, and pic­ture books was transformational.

And you, Ellie?

Ellie: It is so hard to pick one! I come back again and again to the peace cor­ner that Renee Dauk-Bleese built in her class­room for her stu­dents, and I con­nect that to the book The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Gar­den. Some­times the idea of peace can stay so vague, I love the idea of cre­at­ing a real, tan­gi­ble space for our bod­ies to asso­ciate with peace. When Renee or her stu­dents need a lit­tle space to reg­u­late their ner­vous sys­tems, they can go rock and breathe in the peace cor­ner. Sim­i­lar­ly, the phone booth becomes a place where char­ac­ters in the book can go and grieve. The inten­tion­al­i­ty around cre­at­ing a space for the work of peace reminds us that peace is a prac­tice we cul­ti­vate over time, and our world needs more peace spaces built and used.

As we turn toward oth­er adven­tures, what is one thing you’d like to leave with the read­ers of Peace-olo­gy?

Caren: Imag­ine a cir­cle on the rug — the kids, the adults. Imag­ine the qui­et as chil­dren lean in lis­ten­ing to a sto­ry about the mak­ing of real peace. Imag­ine, as the adult on the rug, how you may feel read­ing that sto­ry, the feel­ing the story’s qui­et pow­er. Imag­ine lis­ten­ing to the wis­dom of chil­dren and their yearn­ing to live in a lov­ing world. Don’t we as adults have that same yearn­ing? How do we cre­ate that space? What peace tools do we need to embrace and embody? What sto­ries do we need to guide us? Let’s begin together.

Ellie?

Ellie: In a soci­ety that tells us to do more, buy more, con­sume more, and pro­duce more to earn our exis­tence, we have become fran­tic and over­whelmed. We are, in fact, too fran­tic to dream, and we need dream­ers to make peace. Kids can see what is pos­si­ble, and if we slow down, sit on the rug, and real­ly lis­ten, we can get to work togeth­er, mov­ing at the speed of trust. Build­ing peace that lasts is deep, slow work that becomes the work of our lives. 

Read­ers, thank you. Keep read­ing, keep learn­ing, and keep build­ing peace!

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David LaRochelle
5 months ago

Thank you for these four years of columns, and the ways that you made peace tan­gi­ble for your read­ers. You’ve intro­duced me to books I would have nev­er known, and you’ve mod­eled ways to be peace­mak­ers. Your rip­ples con­tin­ue to resonate.

Caren
Caren
Reply to  David LaRochelle
3 months ago

Aw David, you are so kind. Thank you for these love­ly remarks.
In friendship,
Carne