Tag Archives | peace

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.


Compassion and Empathy in Peace-making

One of the activ­i­ties I do with young peo­ple is called speed dat­ing. It’s an empa­thy build­ing exer­cise because, I have found, we actu­al­ly have to prac­tice talk­ing to each oth­er and real­ly lis­ten­ing. I ask the kids to form two cir­cles fac­ing each oth­er. Each pair gets a healthy chunk of time to address a ques­tion I pose. We talk about read­ing each other’s body lan­guage and facial expres­sions and ask­ing fol­low-up ques­tions that get the part­ner to light up. Then I move one of the cir­cles and with a new pair, we do it again. At the end of each ses­sion they ask when we can do it again. “You can do it any time,” I chal­lenge. “You are just talk­ing to each oth­er.” In our fast-paced liv­ing and screens, it helps when an adult carves out time for young peo­ple to lis­ten and con­nect with oth­ers to whom they may not oth­er­wise talk. Some­times peace­mak­ing looks as sim­ple as reach­ing out to the per­son next to you to ask an inter­est­ing ques­tion.

At home, I love using pic­ture books to build com­pas­sion and empa­thy with my kids. Books offer access to peo­ple all around the world who may think, act and live dif­fer­ent­ly than they do. Often, my kids make me stop on a page ear­ly on in the sto­ry so they can decide which char­ac­ter they’d like to be. As the sto­ry unfolds, my kids get to spend time in the shoes of anoth­er per­son or ani­mal, look­ing at the world with a new per­spec­tive.

Sofia: A Young, Empa­thet­ic and Com­pas­sion­ate Peace­mak­er

Sofia ValdezSofia Valdez, Future Prez is the sto­ry of a sec­ond grade girl who coura­geous­ly ven­tures to City Hall to request that a trash heap in her neigh­bor­hood be con­vert­ed into a park. She starts a peti­tion and ulti­mate­ly ral­lies the com­mu­ni­ty to trans­form their shared space. The sto­ry, writ­ten by Andrea Beaty, has a live­ly rhyming cadence, and David Robert’s pic­tures are enter­tain­ing and vivid.

I love read­ing this book to my kids in part because of the story’s com­pas­sion and empa­thy— two key char­ac­ter­is­tics of peace­mak­ing. Sofia’s abue­lo walks her to school until one day he trips on the trash heap and hurts his ankle. Shar­ing her grandfather’s pain moti­vates Sofie to see Mount Trash­more as a prob­lem to solve. What if we place the pain of our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers at the heart of our work for a change? After get­ting sent all around City Hall— from the Mayor’s office to the Depart­ment of Cheese— a woman in the base­ment final­ly tells Sofia she is too young to build a new park. Refus­ing to take no for an answer, Sofia turns the tables and says, “If you were me, and if I was you, and he was your grand­pa, what would you do?” She is request­ing com­pas­sion and empa­thy. The woman paus­es, thinks, and ral­lies her col­leagues to hear Sofia out. The employ­ee takes a moment to stand in the shoes of Sofia. That moment changes the momen­tum and tra­jec­to­ry of the whole sto­ry. 

Dig­ging Deep­er

Mark Yaconelli

Mark Yaconel­li

Mark Yaconel­li is an author, sto­ry­teller, retreat leader, com­mu­ni­ty activist, hus­band, and father. He is the founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of The Hearth: Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty One Sto­ry at a Time, a reg­is­tered non­prof­it that assists cities and ser­vice-based agen­cies in employ­ing per­son­al sto­ry­telling prac­tices to assist com­mu­ni­ties in deep­en­ing rela­tion­ships, bridg­ing divi­sions, and cel­e­brat­ing indi­vid­ual courage. One of Mark’s sto­ry­telling chal­lenges puts work­shop mem­bers in pairs. Each per­son tells a sto­ry about them­selves. After lis­ten­ing care­ful­ly, per­son A tells per­son B’s sto­ry but uses “I” as if it hap­pened to them. Try­ing on each other’s sto­ries is a pow­er­ful tool for build­ing empa­thy and com­pas­sion. It asks us to go out­side of our­selves for a moment and expe­ri­ence the world as the oth­er.

Ellie and Caren: Dwelling with Com­pas­sion and Empa­thy

There is a dif­fer­ence between peace keep­ing and peace mak­ing. To be a peace mak­er, we must get com­fort­able with being present to pain and heartache with peo­ple with­out jump­ing in to fix, gloss over, or avoid. Peace­mak­ing requires us to sit with folks while they are griev­ing or angry. Dwelling with oth­ers is a place to grow our mus­cles of com­pas­sion and empa­thy.  This video gen­tly address­es in an ani­ma­tion empa­thy and com­pas­sion. What does it look for one per­son accom­pa­ny­ing anoth­er in his or her pain. So often we do not want a sit­u­a­tion fixed, we just want to feel seen and heard. We want to feel less alone. 

Ques­tions Toward Action

Who in your fam­i­ly, your work or com­mu­ni­ty would ben­e­fit from your com­pas­sion and empa­thy? Who in your life is will­ing to dwell with you when things get hard? What does that per­son do well to help you feel heard and accom­pa­nied? When was a time you sat in pain with some­one and lament­ed with them— either through words, tears, art, or sim­ple pres­ence? How would you artic­u­late the dif­fer­ence between peace keep­ing and peace mak­ing? Which is hard­er for you?  

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.


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 www.ellieroscher.com or www.carenstelson.com .

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 www.carenstelson.com

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


Chasing Peace: Refugee Stories

This sum­mer, deeply trou­bling sto­ries about migrants and refugees at the US-Mex­i­can bor­der have come to us in news­pa­per sto­ries, record­ings, pho­tographs, and videos. In choos­ing to sep­a­rate chil­dren from their par­ents, our gov­ern­ment has shown a dis­turb­ing lack of empa­thy for peo­ple flee­ing vio­lence and tur­moil in their home coun­tries. It is our hope that these pic­ture books will help fos­ter empa­thy and shed light on the com­plex issues of migra­tion for young read­ers, while giv­ing a sense of the courage, resilience, and human­i­ty behind each jour­ney.


The Jour­ney
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Francesca San­na 
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2016

This remark­able book had its begin­nings when author/illustrator Francesca San­na met two girls in a refugee camp in Italy and lis­tened to their sto­ry. Soon, she began col­lect­ing many more sto­ries of peo­ple forced to flee their home­lands and decid­ed to cre­ate a col­lage of these expe­ri­ences in this stun­ning pic­ture book. The Jour­ney feels at once uni­ver­sal and spe­cif­ic as it fol­lows one fam­i­ly on their long, dan­ger­ous voy­age from their beloved home­town, which has become a war­zone, toward an uncer­tain future in “a coun­try far away with high moun­tains”, where they can be safe. We don’t know the details, but evoca­tive illus­tra­tions use dark, abstract­ed shapes to great psy­cho­log­i­cal effect through­out the book to depict the fear the chil­dren feel as they flee the war that “took” their father.

from The Jour­ney, illus­tra­tion copy­right Francesca San­na

The jour­ney is a pre­car­i­ous one as the fam­i­ly trav­els first by car, then hides in trucks, trav­els at night by bicy­cle and then on foot, only to arrive at a bor­der, where they must hide and lat­er be smug­gled across. An illus­tra­tion depict­ing the crowd­ed boat pas­sage feels aching­ly famil­iar from images in the news. After cross­ing many bor­ders, the sight of migrat­ing birds fly­ing sug­gest the hope of a secure future for this brave and resource­ful fam­i­ly.

Susan Marie: 

A Dif­fer­ent Pond
writ­ten by Bao Phi
illus­trat­ed by Thi Bui
Cap­stone Press, 2017

A Dif­fer­ent Pond is a sto­ry from a Viet­namese refugee fam­i­ly liv­ing in Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta. A boy and his father go fish­ing at a city lake in the chilly, ear­ly morn­ing dark: “We stop at the bait store on Lake Street. It always seems to be open.” When the two return home with their catch at sun­rise, the boy’s par­ents will head off to their Sat­ur­day jobs. Author Bao Phi and illus­tra­tor Thi Bui have received major awards for this pic­ture book, a Char­lotte Zolo­tow Award and a Calde­cott Hon­or, respec­tive­ly.

Both the text and the art weave togeth­er three strands: the grit­ti­ness of life in the city, the trau­ma of refugee strug­gle, and the sim­ple beau­ty of human expe­ri­ence. Take, for exam­ple, the moment when the boy and his father sit and eat togeth­er. Their break­fast is two sand­wich­es, plain cold bologna on white bread. The two talk for a moment about how the father used to fish by a pond with his broth­er who died in the war. And yet the moment is also beau­ti­ful. Bui’s illus­tra­tion recre­ates the glow of a small fire and the play of light on their faces, while Phi’s text cap­tures a bit of mag­ic: “There’s half a pep­per­corn, like a moon split in two, stud­ded into the meat.”

from the book A Dif­fer­ent Pond, illus­tra­tion copy­right Thi Bui.

A reward­ing read­ing project for adults inter­est­ed in this book is to read it along­side adult titles also pub­lished in 2017. Bao Phi’s most recent book of poems, Thou­sand Star Hotel, pub­lished by Cof­fee House Press, and Thi Bui’s graph­ic nov­el mem­oir, The Best We Could Do, pub­lished by Abrams, are pierc­ing and beau­ti­ful accounts of the expe­ri­ence of their refugee fam­i­lies.


Stepping Stones: a Refugee Family's JourneyStep­ping Stones: A Refugee Fam­i­ly’s Jour­ney
writ­ten by Mar­gri­et Ruurs
art­work by Nizar Ali Badr
Orca Book Pub­lish­ers, 2016

This sto­ry of a fam­i­ly leav­ing war-torn Syr­ia is anchored by unusu­al and evoca­tive stone col­lages cre­at­ed by Syr­i­an artist Nizar Ali Badr. A young girl, Rama, nar­rates the chang­ing land­scape of her dai­ly life with her fam­i­ly, where she goes from the peace of lis­ten­ing to Mama prepar­ing break­fast (“bread, yogurt, juicy red toma­toes from our gar­den”) to the vio­lence of flee­ing Syr­ia “when bombs fell too close to our home.” As the fam­i­ly under­takes this per­ilous jour­ney, the weight of stone in the illus­tra­tions con­veys a sense of grav­i­ty and resilience as the fam­i­ly forges ahead and makes new mem­o­ries “not of war, but of peace.” The text is bilin­gual in Eng­lish and Ara­bic and a por­tion of the pro­ceeds of this book goes to sup­port Syr­i­an refugees.

from The Step­ping Stones: A Refugee Fam­i­ly’s Jour­ney, illus­tra­tion copy­right Nizar Ali Badr

Susan Marie: 

Two White RabbitsTwo White Rab­bits
writ­ten by Jairo Buitra­go
illus­trat­ed by Rafael Yock­teng
trans­lat­ed by Elisa Ama­do
Ground­wood Books, 2015

This pic­ture book, Two White Rab­bits, is a work of art for all ages, told from the point of view of a young girl who is mak­ing her way north through Mex­i­co with her father. The dif­fi­cult world of the sto­ry is depict­ed with remark­able ten­der­ness. Del­i­cate shad­ing in the draw­ings details every­thing from the feath­ers on hens, to the rolled sleeves of men rid­ing atop freight cars, to the bushy tail of the chu­cho (mutt) that trav­els along on the har­row­ing jour­ney. At the open­ing of the sto­ry, the lit­tle girl explains, “When we trav­el I count what I see,” and she counts cows, birds, clouds, peo­ple by the rail­road tracks, while her ever-atten­tive father nav­i­gates their com­pli­cat­ed route. She rides with her father through the night in the back of a pick­up truck: “Some­times, when I’m not sleep­ing, I count the stars. There are thou­sands, like peo­ple. And I count the moon. It is alone. Some­times I see sol­diers, but I don’t count them any­more.”

illus­tra­tion from Two White Rab­bits, illus­tra­tion copy­right Rafael Yock­teng

Author Jairo Buitra­go, who lives in Mex­i­co, and artist Rafael Yock­teng, who lives in Colom­bia, have worked togeth­er on a num­ber of acclaimed books trans­lat­ed from the Span­ish, includ­ing Jim­my the Great­est! (2010), Walk with Me (2017), and On the Oth­er Side of the Gar­den (2018), all pub­lished by Ground­wood Books.


The Arrival
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Shaun Tan
Loth­i­an Books, 2006

I think of The Arrival as an unusu­al and fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture book/graphic nov­el hybrid. It is 128 pages, word­less, and makes use of both pan­els and full page spreads to tell the sto­ry of a man jour­ney­ing ahead of his fam­i­ly to forge a life for them in a new coun­try. This sur­re­al tale begins in the man’s home­land, which has been over­run by the loom­ing shapes of omi­nous mon­sters. The sto­ry unfolds after he arrives in an over­whelm­ing­ly for­eign city full of strange ani­mals, cus­toms, and an unfa­mil­iar lan­guage (cre­ator Shaun Tan made up a visu­al lan­guage to sim­u­late the expe­ri­ence of dis­ori­en­ta­tion for the read­er). The com­mon strug­gles many refugees face of find­ing work, hous­ing, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing are all present in the rich­ly detailed pen­cil illus­tra­tions.

from The Arrival, illus­tra­tion copy­right Shaun Tan

Through inno­v­a­tive use of fan­ta­sy ele­ments and emo­tion­al speci­fici­ty, Shaun Tan has cre­at­ed a sophis­ti­cat­ed nar­ra­tive that feels whol­ly orig­i­nal and is itself a visu­al jour­ney.


The Best Wish of All

World PizzaOnce in awhile I find a book on my read­ing pile that I’ve passed by a few times. It might be that the cov­er doesn’t make sense to me and I shuf­fle through to choose anoth­er title. Or the title might be sil­ly (in my mind) and I don’t open the book because some­thing else catch­es my inter­est. And then one day I open that book and I dis­cov­er that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cov­er. (Is there a truer tru­ism?)

This time that book is World Piz­za. It’s going to be about the dif­fer­ent kinds of piz­za around the world, right? It is not. There’s a clever play on words in the title which I wouldn’t have dis­cov­ered if I hadn’t opened the book and read it. (Note to self: open the book and read it!)

You see, World Piz­za is a love­ly book. It’s a tiny bit sil­ly, enough to keep those being read to smil­ing, but it’s real­ly a book about peace (I can’t fig­ure out how to rec­om­mend this book with­out giv­ing that away). A moth­er makes a wish and sneezes, result­ing in piz­zas for every­one, every­where. It’s a book about what we have in com­mon and how that brings us togeth­er and how that’s more impor­tant than what keeps us apart.

Cece Meng’s sto­ry is told with the right kind of words, words that tell the sto­ry as it should be told, which are words that get the read­er think­ing. And smil­ing. They are not preachy words. Not at all. It’s a hap­py book and we all need hap­py books.

Ellen Shi’s illus­tra­tions of a diverse pop­u­la­tion of char­ac­ters around the world eat­ing and cel­e­brat­ing piz­za, as well as piz­za com­bi­na­tions you’ve nev­er con­sid­ered before, open the reader’s mind to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of World Piz­za. They are some­times fun­ny and some­times gen­tle in all the right ways, cre­at­ing a sto­ry that leaves an impres­sion. And her col­or palette is yum­my.

I can eas­i­ly see this book being asked for again and again. Who doesn’t want to hear a sto­ry about piz­za for every­one? And who doesn’t want to be reas­sured about the good­ness in this world we live in?

World Piz­za
writ­ten by Cece Meng
illus­trat­ed by Ellen Shi
Ster­ling’s Chil­dren’s Books, 2017



Peace is elu­sive. It is a goal of some peo­ple at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imag­ine no pos­ses­sions / I won­der if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A broth­er­hood of man / Imag­ine all the peo­ple shar­ing all the world …” Is peace pos­si­ble?… more