Peace, Kindness, Unity, Fairness

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Peace, Kindness, Unity, Fairness

Children's picture books

The Association for Library Service to Children, committee of the American Library Association, recently put out a list of books to share the message of “creating unity, acting with kindness towards others, and promoting peace." Here are a few of their picture book recommendations. I included one highlighting justice, or fairness, since without justice, there can be no peace.
If You Plant a Seed written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, famed artist and wordsmith, uses two animals, a rabbit and a mouse, and their planting and harvesting of tomato, carrot, and cabbage to set the stage for telling a tale about the consequences of selfishness. The pivotal moment when four hungry birds land on the site where the gardeners are consuming the fruit of their labors, speaks volumes with its artistry. The last pages of this delightfully illustrated book provides powerful visual lessons on the consequences of first hoarding, then sharing. Most engaging is the up close, ground level views of the gardening endeavors and the spread of sky.
Alfie and the Birthday Surprise by Shirley Hughes succeeds in showing selflessness in service to one’s neighbors, the cycle of aging, death and youthful energy using a cat then a kitten as subjects, and the power and delight resulting from pet bonding. A deceptively simple plot probes the characters’ feelings with its details. The loving gestures, then their effects, are realistically portrayed and are excellent takeaways for the elementary-school age child.
In The Sandwich Swap, Queen Rania, the queen of Jordan, is able to convey a message of tolerance using homemade sandwiches made of hummus and peanut butter. First there is friendship between two girls of different cultural backgrounds, then there is school lunch drama, followed by a break up, then a food fight in the cafeteria, and then friendship again. School-aged children may identify and learn from this portrayal of multi-culturalism expressed with openness to new food.
Boldly illustrated, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, shows the world from the height of tiny, buck-teethed, prominently shorter-than-everything-and-everyone else, Molly Lou Mellon. First grandmother’s encouraging, wise counsels are explained, and then there comes a transition for Molly. Moving to a new home, and a new school, she copes with the taunts of bullies, so much bigger than she is. Golden hues suffuse the pages with bright colors, which match the courage of this pint-sized girl. Satisfyingly, grandma is brought in at the end of the book, matching the beginning.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, tells a tale from the unusual viewpoint of one of the perpetrators of unkindness, exclusion, which is directed to the new girl in a school. Told in the first person, there is a crescendo of the noise of the clique and the cumulative effect of a lack of empathy and responsiveness is poignantly illustrated. We witness how powerful peer pressure is for the youngster, and its effect on her very real, emotions. Resilience, is also treated by sensitively drawn illustrations.

What Does Peace Feel Like? by V Radunsky “and children just like you from around the world” answers the question in the title using each of the five senses of smell, hearing, sight, taste and touch. For touch, hugs from a mom feel peaceful, while multiflavored ice-cream tastes of peace. The answers, collected from children in an International school in Rome, are easy to understand, from a child’s perspective.

For the older child, significantly stronger vocabulary explaining the concept of peace is to be found in Wendy Anderson Halperin’s Peace. Using the words of Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an Apache blessing, the Dalai Lama and at least 50 others, peace and its artistic representations are spread throughout miniature drawings of enormous variety. Its illustrations were done by students from eight different schools from three different states. This picture book is a feast for sharp-eyed young readers, and the quotes are suitable for sophisticated vocabulary building. Adults will find it absorbing and meditative.

Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand celebrates the peaceful personality of Ferdinand the Bull. From his early acceptance by a wise parent to his later presentation at the bull fighting ring, this famous children’s storybook character Ferdinand is as charming as he is timeless. Robert Lawson’s black and white illustrations do justice to the predictable plot, which can only be described as brilliant simplicity. It gives us its grand lessons in authenticity, in diversity and in calm.

In Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, we are treated to the spectacle of kindliness. Volunteers in a soup kitchen including a young boy and his uncle, share in an inter-generational service project. Persons from the homeless community meet the helpers in the kitchen before and during the meal, but how the youngest volunteer interacts, respectfully, with the indigent, is one priceless subtle message of this Reading Rainbow book. The visible unity in diversity of the volunteers working away at their tasks, and the warm pastel colors of the illustrations leave young readers full of empathy.

Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez, has a female super heroine as the protagonist. She is powered by a very strong will, and her grandmother’s encouragement, as well as boundless energy and compassion. Early on she experiences playground teasing from the boys, but soon acquires a following of masked super heroine friends, eventually rescuing a dog in distress from the top of the slide. In the end, Lucía must decide if she will unmask herself, after her fight for what is right. This picture book puts bullying, sexism and activism center stage, as well as teaching us something  about the “luchadores” of Mexico.