September 21, 2017

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Imagining Peace

Adults who read the picture book Imagine (Clarion/HMH, Sept. 2017; K-Gr 4), charmingly illustrated by Jean Jullien, will hear John Lennon’s voice singing the words of his iconic song (and text of this book). That’s not necessarily true of young readers who will enjoy following the adventures of a plucky pigeon that brings an olive branch and a peaceful outcome to a variety of encounters. The illustrations are uncluttered and colorful; the creature purposefully carries a messenger bag slung over one wing, decorated with a peace symbol and brimming with branches to share. Children will relate to the conflicts that the bird resolves and recognize in them the ways that they, too, have been peacemakers.

When introducing the book to a group, begin by asking students to think about and then share with a partner what it means to be a peacemaker.  As you read the story aloud, pause to let students notice what situations need the help of the pigeon and conclude by asking them to share one way they have helped resolved conflicts or spread goodwill. Play a recording of Lennon’s performance of Imagine, or better yet, project the words and have a sing-along.

After hearing Imagine, students will enjoy a visit to the website created to help the book’s readers connect with others around the world who desire peace. The graphics of the site match the book’s illustrations and link to the charming book trailer, a place to leave messages of peace, and those written by others. Encourage students to identify one specific place they might commit to be a peacemaker and share that hope with the world.

Point readers who are ready to grapple with more complex ideas about peacemaking to Suzanne Slade’s Dangerous Jane (Peachtree, Sept. 2017; Gr 2-5), a picture book biography of Jane Addams illustrated by Alice Ratterree. Empathy growing from her childhood produced in Addams a desire to help others who felt rejected and hopeless. As an adult she founded Hull House to provide hope and dignity for her immigrant neighbors, assisting those from a variety of backgrounds to work together in peace.

Founding the Women’s Peace Party during WWI brought Jane international attention and the Nobel Peace Prize. Ask students to address the difficult reality of Addams’s life—her efforts to bring peace were widely opposed and ultimately unsuccessful. What does it mean to fail at peacemaking?  There’s plenty to linger over and appreciate in the limited color palette and detailed drawings of this book.

Peace has been destroyed and broken, then what? Making It Right, Building Peace, Settling Conflict (Annick, 2016; Gr 7 Up) by Marilee Peters provides a clear introduction to the concept of restorative justice. Middle and high school students will eagerly consume the entire book, aided by the thoughtful design with pull quotes and brightly colored illustrative elements.

The history of restorative justice is briefly described and there are many short sections about groups who have been marginalized by a dominant culture, including the Australian Aboriginals, First Nations people in Canada, Blacks in South Africa, and Indians in the United States. Examples from Rwanda, Uganda, Guatemala, and Northern Ireland highlight restorative justice in some of the most extreme situations imaginable. Several case studies would also be appropriate as read-aloud selections for upper elementary students as an introduction to the complexity involved in addressing societal wrongs. Students might act out a restorative justice circle and evaluate their decisions. The words of Imagine come full circle here, since without a dream that peace can happen, the hard work of peacemaking is impossible.

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