Ten Books to Use to Talk About World Peace (and not just with children) by Susan Hansen
Peace is not just the absence of war. For real peace to happen everywhere in this world, we need to work on the way we see each other and the way we think about each other and get rid of what is causing us to start fighting in the first place. Here are ten books that I have shared with children and adults that have sparked conversations around the themes of what unites us and what comes between us:
In Whoever You Are, Mem Fox reminds us with few words and vivid illustrations, that whoever we are and wherever we are,
“Joys are the same
and love is the same.
Pain is the same,
and blood is the same.
Smiles are the same
and hearts are just the same –”
This is a simple but powerful book that shows how parents and children all over the world aspire to the same things: food, shelter, education, love, laughter and joy.
In The Other Side, Jacqueline Woodson invites us to overcome racism by getting as close to each other as we possibly can, by sitting together on that fence that divides us and working to bring down that fence. In this story of a summer when “everyone and everything on the other side of that fence seemed far away,” two children inch their way toward each other despite warnings from parents and friends that they must stay on their side. The book ends with the hope that “someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.”
In Mirror, the author and artist Jeannie Baker, shows two vastly different worlds side by side, literally. Through these wordless collages, the reader can follow a day in the life of an Australian and a Moroccan family and study their similarities and their differences.
In Sneetches and Other Stories, the great Dr. Seuss, examines the absurdity of racial or cultural superiority, as an opportunistic salesman takes advantage of the vanity of the Sneetches who want to feel different by taking on or putting on a star. The lesser-known story in the same collection, The Zax, reminds us that while we are busy holding on to our side of the argument and digging our heels in and refusing to compromise, the world will not stand still. It will grow around us.
Another Seuss classic, Yertle the Turtle, is an allegory for the instability of injustice. The book shows that when those more powerful stand on top of the oppressed, it will only take a burp to bring everything tumbling down.
Literacy is a powerful weapon. Reading allows us to learn about our own reality as well as that of others and begin considering other points of view and perspectives. In More Than Anything Else, Mari Bradby tells the powerful story of Booker T. Washington and his quest to learn to read. When as a child, he sees a man read a newspaper to a crowd, he realizes that “there is a secret in those books” that will allow him to jump into another world and be saved.
Through reading we can all enter into each other’s worlds and come to see that we are more alike than different. The author and artist Demi has a series of books on the world’s greatest religious and spiritual figures. In Buddha, she writes as a believer to tell the life story of the Buddha and in Muhammad she does an amazing job of bringing the story of that Prophet to life, with respect and understanding. Her books illustrate how these two spiritual movements both taught about compassion, kindness and acceptance.
I love The Yellow Star by Carmen Agra Deedy, because it highlights the power of speaking out and standing up to aggression. “Early in the year 1940, in the country of Denmark, there were only Danes,” the book opens. So when the Nazi’s try to separate the Jews from the rest of the Danes by forcing them to wear the yellow star, the king refuses to allow that. “’If you wished to hide a star,. . .where would you place it?’ . . . ‘Of course! . . You would hide it among its sisters.’” So he rides out into public wearing a yellow star. His countrymen follow his example and, “once again, in the country of Denmark, there were only Danes.” The Author’s Note states that after extensive research, Agra Deedy could not verify the historical truth of this story. But then she asks: “What if it had happened? . . .What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, ‘you cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.’”
Sometimes, we have to consider the horrors of war as it applies to our own lives, to realize what role we can all play in its elimination. The poet Alice Walker, personifies war in her picture book Why War is Never a Good Idea:
“Though War has a mind of its own
War never knows
It is going
Though War is Old
It has not
One last book that speaks to the power of what we as parents can do to raise children that are kind, compassionate and aware of the needs of others, is Mama Says by Diane and Leo Dillon. Through beautiful words and illustrations, it shows how mothers all over the world want and teach the same things to their children. It also speaks to the fact that as long as women are not given the forum to speak these truths, not just to their own children, but also to the whole world, no real peace is possible; not for them and not for the rest of us.
Susan Hansen is a teacher and an instructional coach in Austin, Texas. She writes about education on her blog www.miningforhiddengems.blogspot.com . She also contributes to www.writingfourlives.blogspot.com, the blog that keeps her committed to her writers group. The choices of books for this particular article were inspired by the document The Promise of World Peace, that was published in 1985. Susan can be followed on Twitter @SusanHansen63.