7 Children’s Books that Embody Peace

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Blessed are the Peacemakers

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, if we are to wage a real war against war, we shall have to start with the children.” – Gandhi

Now more than ever it seems imperative that we engage and embody and choose peace. From events that hit close to home like the Newtown tragedy and the Boston Marathon bombings, to our sisters and brothers all over the world who undergo daily violence, to the violent destruction of our very planet by over-consumption and abuse… it is essential to our future that we ignite change through peaceful means. To begin that process, it helps to know what peace is, what it feels like, what it looks like and tastes like and sounds like, and to make sure our children know too.

That is why I’ve chosen a new children’s book by award winning illustrator, Wendy Anderson Halperin, to share with you this month. The book is called Peace (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) and it unfolds around the central question of how can we, as individuals, create peace in the world.

Halperin does this through an untraditional format for a picture book. Using a verse from the Tao Te Ching as a narrative, Peace moves through double page spreads that brim with mini-stories, detailed illustrations and thought provoking quotes. Our planet Earth is at the center of each spread, shown from different vantage points, and in both day and night. Around the earth, illustrated vignettes tell tiny stories that are full of kindnesses. The first half of the book presents situations that require compassionate actions – an elderly man on a crowded subway train, two boys fighting, an empty city lot, a woman crossing the street – while the second half of the book shows how individuals resolved those situations with peaceful solutions.

Quotes from great thinkers and peacemakers unfurl from ribbons of text that weave and wind across each page, their words echo throughout the book. We hear Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Theresa, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr., Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Plato, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Albert Einstein, Emma Goldman, and more. The quotes are designed for kids and adults to think about and talk about, and combined with the illustrated vignettes, give readers both young and not-so-young examples of peace in action they can model in real life.

Artwork rendered with pencils and watercolors is richly detailed and set in pleasing tones. One double page spread includes artwork from schoolchildren in Michigan, Ohio, and New York, and ties into the anchoring idea of the book – that children’s ideas of peace can help forge a more compassionate future. As expressed by Gandhi and included in the book: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, if we are to wage a real war against war, we shall have to start with the children.”

Peace is not so much a book for read aloud story time, but rather a visual feast to pour over and share with children, a springboard for discussion and deep thought, and an inspiring model of the art of peaceful action.

For more info about Halperin and her other books for children, check out www.wendyhalperin.com. And visit her website, www.drawingchildrenintopeace.com, for peace projects such as how to draw earth from nine different points of view and how to draw peace symbols like doves, cranes and lotus blossoms. There are Peace Papers for kids to practice handwriting by copying quotes from Peace, and the Sit In Peace project, which invites kids to paint peace chairs and email pictures to Halperin’s online gallery.

  • Peace illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. 40 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-689-82552-1

A Few Other Books That Embody Peace

  • A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley, Full color photos picture children from around the world engaging in simple acts of kindness, accompanied by a poetic message about peace. (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-426-30086-8)
  • The Big Book for Peace edited by Ann Durell and Marilyn Sachs. A collection of original fables, poems, stories, biographies, and illustrations, all revolving around the central themes of peace and tolerance, contributed by over 30 kid lit authors and artists. (Dutton Juvenile, 1990. ISBN: 978-0-525-44605-7)
  • Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World written by Jane Breskin Zalben. An excellent resource for older kids that profiles sixteen peacemakers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Bunche, Cesar Chavez, Elie Wiesel, The Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi. (Dutton Juvenile, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-525-47734-1)
  • Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace written by Shelley Moore Thomas and photographed by Eric Futran. Through candid photos and simple prose this book shows how, all over the world, people are helping each other. (Albert Whitman & Co., 1998. ISBN: 978-0-807-57544-4)
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. This picture book tells the story of Wangari Maathai, from her girlhood in Kenya to her founding of the Green Belt Movement and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-152-06545-4)
  • What Does Peace Feel Like? Written and Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. With bright, colorful paintings, this picture book explores how peace feels and smells and looks. Includes quotes from schoolchildren at the International School in Rome and the word “peace” in over 150 languages. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. ISBN: 978-0-689-86676-0)


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

One Comment on “7 Children’s Books that Embody Peace

  1. Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I have also written a childrens’ book on peace called, “Peace is Different” and I would love to have it included in your list of children’s books. Thank you so much!
    Cindra Cleaves Simpson

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