Books that teach kids peace

By Jerry Diakiw | 1992-05-01 12:00:00

CHILDREN run into conflict in the playpen, the playground, and the family. They experience it vicariously in a variety of ways: through television and cartoons, and in current news stories ofconflicts around the world, They need to understand conflict better, both at the personal and the international level.

One powerful way of providing children with an understanding of conflict is through the use of children's books, read aloud and through discussion in the comfort of a parent's lap or in the security of the classroom. As Lisa Paul states:

"Stories create a space where moral and social issues can be explored safely-without threat. And therein lies their value...Injustices of society can be tempered through the sustenance of imaginative art."

A number of titles introduce young children to conflict through their own personal experience. The Hating Book by Charlotte Zototow (ages 3-8), Let's Be Enemies by Janice May Udry (ages 5-8), Bang, Bang, You're Dead by Louise Fizhugh and Mine's ihe Best by Crosby Bonsall (ages 3-7) are classics of interpersonal conflict resolution among children. Peace Begins With You by Katherine Scholes (ages 5-8) begins at a personal level then broadens to explore the concept of peace at national and international levels including environmental issues.

A number of titles explore the consequences of competition, mistrust, ignorance and aggression through allegory. Examples include The Pushcart War by Jean Merril (ages 9-12), an allegory of how war begins; The Minsgrel and the Mountain by Jane Yolen (ages 5-9) recounts how two kings are prevented from going to war by a peace-loving minstrel; War and Peas by Michael Foreman (ages 5-10) is a tale of a fictional country of great abundance in conflict with a country with little; Herbert and Harry by Pamela Allan (ages 5-8) demonstrates the dangers of greed and boarding. !am

Better Than You! by Robert Lopshire (ages 5-8) tells what happens when Sam, one of two lizards is competitive and quarrelsome. Two titles by William Steig stimulate discussion about war and its effects. The Bad Island (ages 5-9) tells how flowers take over an island of violent warring creatures. The Island of Skog (ages 5-10) illustrates how fear and mistrust can lead to tragedy. The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss takes the issue of brinkmanship to the brink.

The Sea People by Jorg Steiner is one of my favorites. Richly illustrated with many provocative points for discussion, it tells how the people of Greater Island who are progressive, hardworking, and expansionist, interact and resolve their differences with the people of lesser Island who are "laid back," gentle, simple and in balance with their environment-a powerful story (ages 8+). The Two Islands by Ivan Gantschev is a useful companion to The Sea People. The final page invites thought-provoking activities for children.

My other favorite is the brilliant wordless book The Expedition by Willi Baum (all ages). While hard to get, it is reproduced in full in improvisations: Learning Through Drama by D. Boot and C. Lundy. It tells the story of a Id' rge steamship arriving at a tropical island. The captain, eyeing a splendid cdi lice, has his crew dismantle it. Many levels of discussion are possible with this wonderful text. After discussing this book with a group of grade fives, Christina wrote:


I wrote this letter because I want you to know how I feel about countries sharing with each other, not giving to each other and taking from each other. I think that we should be proud of being one planet and we should feel lucky as we are the only one with life on it yet discovered. Because we are so lucky, we should protect our country by helping each other to enjoy what we have. We aren't one country or one city, we are one planet, one world. I suggest that we use what we have properly."

Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley (all ages) is a classic antiwar children's book. Why does the drummer fire? Where is the cormmander who gave the order? Why are so many men maimed? The text appears to glorify war but the subtext tells another story and asks some provocative questions. Paz by Cheli Duran Ryan is about a pacifist family who own a house that straddles the French and Spanish border. Potatoes, Potatoes by Anita Lober (ages 4+) recounts how two brothers join opposing armies. Umberto Eco's brilliantly illustrated antiwar book, The Bomb and the General (all ages) tells the story of the revolt of the atoms.

A number of picture storybooks deal directly with the effect of real war. These titles shock and upset us. While they are not appropriate for primary children, we should not shy away from using them with junior children. Better to deal with the horrors of war in the security and comfort of a caring classroom than have students watch these horrors, as they do now, in front of a TV set, alone at home. Bruno Bettleheim in The Uses of Enchantment argues for the use of unexpurgated fairy tales with young children because there is a need for them to face their deepest fears through story in the comfort of a parent's lap. So too, we do need to confront the reality of our wars with children in the comfort of the classroom. As Jonathan Kozol states so eloquently in his book TheNight Is Dark and I Am Far From Home:

"Teachers often respond to mc with words like these: 'Isn't it too much of an interruption to bring these agonizing, and enormously disturbing, matters to the lives of children?' I hear their words. I look into their eyes. It is as if they were to speak about another planet, or a world they dream of, or a world that they recall within a passage of Vivaldi or a printing of Renoir. They tell us that we must not 'bring in' rage and pain. I ask them then: What shall we do when rage walks in the door?"

A number of titles confront the reality of war head on. Rose Blanche by Robert Innocenti (ages 9+) is a heart wrenching story of a German girl in Nazi Germany caught up in the horrors of war while providing food to children in a nearby concentration camp. Hiroshima No Pika by Mariko Toshi (ages 9+) is the true story of the aftermath of the atomic blast on Hiroshima. A poignant story, again magnificently illustrated. My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto, winner of several children's book awards, also tells the story of the first atomic explosion through her childhood memories.

WAR BOY by Michael Foreman is a richly illustrated memoir as viewed through the eyes of a young boy in Britain during World War II. A Child in Prison Camp by Shychin Takshima (ages 9+) recounts the story of the internment of a Japanese family in Canada during the Second World War. The Faithful Elephants by Yokio Tsuchiiya (ages 9+) is a powerful, true story of the premeditated killing of zoo animals in Tokyo during the war. The Wall by Eve Bunting is a poignant story of a young boy's visit to the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C.

A title suitable only for senior secondary students (and many even argue that) demonstrates that the picture storybook format is no longer just for children. The Old Iron Lady and the Tin Pot Foreign General by Raymond Briggs (nges 16+) is a savage angry satire on the Falkland Island War. The old iron lady (Margaret Thatcher) is viciously and pornographically portrayed and the Argentinian generals are buffoons, but the transition from the multicolored comic book depiction to the simple, stark, black-and-white sketches of what happened to the soldiers makes for a very powerful antiwar statement.

When using these realistic story titles the teacher must provide an appropriate introduction. They should be previewed carefully and dealt with sensitively.

MORE RECENTLY a wonderful anthology has become available entitled The Big Book For Peace edited by Ann Durrel and Manly Sachs. It includes seventeen stories written by many of the best children's writers of our day. the list of illustrations reads like a Who's Who of award-winning illustrators.

The root causes of conflicts that arise in children's daily lives can be found internationally. These suggested titles permit parents and teachers to access children's understanding of conflict ma variety of ways. They encourage an exploration of the consequences of conflict as well as strategies for peacefully resolving conflict. Story is a powerful way to get at important issues that concern us. Conflict is an issue that we want our children to understand and learn to cope with.

Jerry Diakiw is a superintendent of schools with York Region Board of Education.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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