War and Peace

SachikoWhat hap­pened to me must nev­er hap­pen to you.”

Caren: Those were the first words Sachiko Yasui, a Nagasa­ki atom­ic bomb sur­vivor, told me as we began our work togeth­er writ­ing her sto­ry. On August 9, 1945, at 11:02, six-year-old Sachiko was play­ing out­side with her friends, mak­ing mud dumplings, when the sec­ond atom­ic bomb of World War II explod­ed over her city of Nagasa­ki. Sachiko and her friends were 900 meters from ground zero, less than a half mile away. Sachiko’s sur­vival was mirac­u­lous and so is her sto­ry of recov­ery, resilience, hope, and peace. I spent six years inter­view­ing Sachiko in Nagasa­ki, Japan, and research­ing the his­to­ry of the atom­ic bomb­ing of Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki for a book for young peo­ple. Sachiko: A Nagasa­ki Bomb Survivor’s Sto­ry was pub­lished in 2016 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Pub­lish­ing Group. I intend­ed to write Sachiko’s sto­ry to change young read­ers’ lives — to under­stand the hor­rors of war and the deep need for peace. What I didn’t antic­i­pate is how much Sachiko would change my life. The last words Sachiko offered for our book were these:

What is peace?

What kind of per­son should I be?

Keep pur­su­ing answers to these questions.

Sachiko’s ques­tions have spurred me on to, what is now, a life-long jour­ney to under­stand peace and act in the name of peace. One of those actions is to col­lab­o­rate with peace­mak­er and writer Ellie Rosch­er to write this series of Peace-olo­gy arti­cles. Anoth­er is to become involved in the Peace Lit­er­a­cy Insti­tute under the umbrel­la of the Nuclear Age Peace Insti­tute in San­ta Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia. Each morn­ing, I think of Sachiko and ask myself: What’s one thing I can do to bring a ran­dom act of peace into my day.

Sto­ries change lives. Sachiko’s changed mine. What sto­ries have changed yours?

A Bowl Full of PeaceA Bowl Full of Peace — What do you put in a bowl?

How would you write a pic­ture book about Sachiko’s sto­ry?” asked Car­ol Hinz, my edi­tor at Carolrhoda/Lerner. The ques­tion stumped me. Then I remem­bered Grand­moth­er’s bowl. When Sachiko’s fam­i­ly returned to Nagasa­ki, her home and every­thing in it had been destroyed. The only object found was Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl. Sachiko’s father dis­cov­ered the bowl in the rub­ble. By some mir­a­cle it sur­vived with­out a crack or chip.

In A Bowl Full of Peace, Japan­ese illus­tra­tor Aki­ra Kusa­ka cap­tured Grandmother’s bowl, the resilience of Sachiko’s fam­i­ly, and the long­ing for peace. After I read the pic­ture book to a sev­enth-grade class, I asked stu­dents what was going through their minds as I read. One boy said how impor­tant his fam­i­ly was to him. A girl added she hadn’t real­ized how much you can lose in a war. I asked illus­tra­tor Aki­ra Kusa­ka, to share how Sachiko’s sto­ry affect­ed him. He said know­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry changed his art and his life.

A Bowl Full of Peace illustrations
illus­tra­tion copy­right Aki­ra Kusa­ka; from A Bowl Full of Peace, writ­ten by Caren Stel­son, illus­trat­ed by Aki­ra Kusa­ka, pub­li­ished by Car­ol­rho­da Books.

Grandmother’s bowl became Sachiko’s family’s sym­bol of hope and peace. Every August 9th, Sachiko’s moth­er filled Grandmother’s bowl with ice chips to com­mem­o­rate the atom­ic bomb­ing. Togeth­er, the fam­i­ly remem­bered all those who were so ter­ri­bly thirsty from the heat of the bomb’s blast, all who were in excru­ci­at­ing pain, all who died. As the ice melt­ed in Grandmother’s bowl, Sachiko’s fam­i­ly spent the day pray­ing that such a ter­ri­ble war would nev­er hap­pen again. As Sachiko grew old­er, the bowl became her most trea­sured object. On the bowl were the fin­ger­prints of her beloved broth­ers and sis­ter, her par­ents, and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers lost to the bomb. But what Sachiko placed in the bowl was just as impor­tant — hope, love, peace. This August 9th, the sev­en­ty-fifth anniver­sary of the atom­ic bomb­ings of Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki, I too will fill my spe­cial bowl with hope, love, and peace.

Peace Lit­er­a­cy: Dig­ging Deeper

A New Peace ParadigmWhat if chil­dren spent twelve years of their school lives learn­ing about peace in the same way they learn to read and become lit­er­ate? What if schools and com­mu­ni­ties invest­ed in a devel­op­men­tal, skill-based cur­ricu­lum that guid­ed chil­dren, teach­ers, and par­ents in a life-long study of peace­ful liv­ing? What would our soci­ety look like then? Peace Lit­er­a­cy Direc­tor Paul Chap­pell asks those ques­tions and suggests:

Our under­stand­ing of peace is only as good as our under­stand­ing of the human con­di­tion and trau­ma. To gain a deep and prac­ti­cal under­stand­ing of extrem­ism, trau­ma, and the nature of human hap­pi­ness, and to solve our nation­al and glob­al prob­lems in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry and beyond, we need a real­is­tic and prag­mat­ic mod­el of the human con­di­tion … Peace Lit­er­a­cy is based on research about basic human needs such as self-worth and belong­ing, and how trau­ma gets entan­gled with these needs.”

For greater insight into Peace Lit­er­a­cy, its phi­los­o­phy and cur­ricu­lum, go to www.peaceliteracy.org .

The first time I heard Paul Chap­pell speak, I was impressed by his deep under­stand­ing of trau­ma, his own and society’s. How do we under­stand bul­ly­ing? School shoot­ings? Racist anger? Sui­cide? The list goes on, describ­ing a war of tan­gled trau­ma. When you see aggres­sion, what are the heat­ed rea­sons under the sur­face? How do we, as lov­ing par­ents, teach­ers, neigh­bors, reach out to our young peo­ple who burn with the heat of fear lone­li­ness, and despair — and take action? One car­ing adult can make all the dif­fer­ence in a young person’s life. That adult could be you. It could be me.

As Sachiko Yasui asked:

What is peace?

What kind of per­son do you want to be?

Keep pur­su­ing answers to these questions.

Ques­tions Toward Action: Caren and Ellie

We are writ­ing this post as the entire world faces the COVID 19 Pan­dem­ic. Ter­ri­ble and chal­leng­ing as this time is for every­one, it may be just the right time to start a prac­tice of peace, even while social dis­tanc­ing. Where to start?

With our­selves: Find some qui­et time to be with your­self. Breathe deeply. Ask your­self: What are you grate­ful for? Who are the peo­ple you love? What is one thing you are glad you did, yes­ter­day or today? What can you do tomor­row that will make you proud of yourself?

Peace Nook

With one anoth­er: Who can you reach out to by phone, email, social media, postal ser­vice, or side­walk chalk draw­ing and send a mes­sage of friendship?

Chalk artist

In com­mu­ni­ty: What can you do as a ser­vice to oth­ers to help ease the lone­li­ness of being sep­a­rat­ed, or help with a cause to ease the suf­fer­ing of this pan­dem­ic time?

A Box of Peace Cranes

Origami peace crane

For young peo­ple, teach­ers, par­ents, any­one, the Birds of Peace web­site may spark ideas and invite you to join oth­ers in an online com­mu­ni­ty of peace seek­ers. Please check out the web­site and share it widely.

This is the last Peace-olo­gy post until Sep­tem­ber when Caren and Ellie will resume their peace explo­ration. Until then, stay healthy and safe and let us know what you find along your own path­way to peace.

For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace by talk­ing and lis­ten­ing with each oth­er. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and chil­dren, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it our websites.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments