The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
In a gritty city filled with dust and yellow wind, a girl survives by stealing from other poor people. Her life was just as dust filled and ugly as the city around her. Then one night, she saw an old frail woman with a fat bag walking along. She would be an easy mark, so the girl tried to get the bag away from her. The old woman held on tightly, but eventually asked the girl to promise to plant them and she could have the bag. The girl promised. In the bag were only acorns, nothing to eat, no money to spend, but a wealth of trees. So the girl started planting them one by one, and nothing changed for a long time. Then green sprouts started to appear, then trees grew and green returned to the broken city. But the girl had already left, going to other cities that needed a forest too. Until one night she had her fat bag of acorns with her, and a young person tried to steal it from her. All it took was another promise and she let them have the bag.
This allegory is lovely. The setting is hauntingly familiar, a war zone where all that is left behind is the dust and rubble of war and people who cannot escape the city or see a future beyond it. The transformation of the theft of property into a promise is stunning. Simple and profound, it is courage, passion and change all wrapped into a single act. I also love the moments before the trees appear, the anticipation, the question of whether it will work, the effort before the payoff. And then the fact that the girl leaves to go to other cities, makes this entire story less about her than about her deeds. It’s one intelligently written book that works so well.
Carlin’s illustrations are done in muted grays and sands, they are images that suck the color out of the day, cover you in their dust. And yet, they are also filled with hope. When that first green hits the page, it’s like you can smell it in the air. Then the transformation that is so colorful, so fresh.
This radiant allegory would be appropriate for classrooms learning about allegories or about peace. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Feridun Oral
The old owl tells the story of Christmas to a gather of birds. He tells the story of Jesus in the manger and the birds above in the rafters. The birds heard a song in the baby’s voice, a special song that they would carry through the world. The robin asked why the birds don’t sing that song anymore, and the partridge explained that people don’t listen. The little robin suggested that even if they don’t know the language anymore, their hearts could understand it. The birds talk about whether the message would be heard and understood, and then the robin realizes that children are the most likely to hear the message. So all of the birds sing the song, spread the message, particularly to children. And something amazing happens.
I’m never sure with any Christmas book what level of Christianity I’m going to find in them and then what type of message it is going to be communicating. When this book’s second set of pages had the manger scene, I thought I was in a very traditional Christmas book. What followed though, was a delightful surprise as the book immediately turned from the traditional Christmas tale to one that is universal, a story of peace. Westerlund tells the story with a pacing right out of folktales. Her wise older owl, the inventive young robin are characters that are traditional in the best sense of the word.
Oral’s illustrations have a soft beauty to them. Throughout his images of the birds, there is thick snow in the air. The colors are consistently subtle and wintry, tawny browns, creamy whites and deep browns are punctuated only with the colors of the birds and the green of the trees.
A lovely addition to Christmas stories, this book is beautifully written with rich illustrations. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin
A simple poem is at the heart of this picture book about peace. Each line of the poem forms the basis of a page of the book and is also accompanied by other quotes about peace that bring a wonderful depth to the entire read. As one reads, it almost becomes a chant about peace, a reverberation of the power of peace, and when one finishes that peace lingers for a long time. When I finished the book, I immediately wanted to do two things: start all over again and also research some of the quotes and people I had never heard of before. There are quotes from all of the big names like the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr. but wonderfully, there are also quotes from others whose messages are just as powerful.
Halperin’s illustrations are detailed and wonderful. The images are bright and speak directly to the sorts of peace being discussed. In those images and in the surrounding quotes, children will see ways that they can personally work for peace on small and large levels. There is a delicacy to the illustrations that works so well with the subject matter. They are inclusive, warm and joyful.
As I was reading, I noticed a quote from Peace Pilgrim, a woman I was lucky enough to meet when she was alive. My family hosted her for a night and she spoke at a small park in rural Wisconsin on the shore of a lake. It was that sort of person being included in this book that meant so very much to me. I also think about others searching for the new people they have found in this book and discovering her.
A lovely and powerful book about peace, this belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec
Released October 22, 2012.
In this wordless picture book, two men watch one another over neighboring walls, separated only by a thin line of grass dotted with flowers. Both sides of the wall are very similar, both men have spyglasses, drinks and umbrellas. Their days are filled with boredom and suspicion, broken only by the appearance of a snail who visits them both and moments where they bother one another with music and loud noises. It isn’t until a bird arrives and lays an egg that hatches and runs away that the truth of the conflict is revealed. Tallec has managed in no words at all to show the fallacy of conflict and the way to peace.
Tallec uses humor here to bridge any divide. It is mostly physical humor that will have children laughing, successfully mocking the conflict without any words at all. The snail is a particularly inspired piece of humor that is sure to surprise and please. So much of this book is about the surprises that life brings with the ending of the book providing the biggest and best surprise of all. There is a great playfulness that invites readers into this serious situation to a degree that without it would not have been possible. The wordless nature of the book also makes it particularly suited to a subject of crossing barriers. I can see using this with people who speak different languages, allowing a depth of discussion that would be unusual with other wordless books.
This book is outstanding. It speaks to peace without any preaching, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. It is a striking and vibrant example of what can be achieved with no words at all. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines
Celebrate peace with this book pairing beautiful quilts with poems. Short poems explore the nature of peace and the myriad of forms it takes. There is the peace of quiet, of home, of nature. Then there is the peace that is the opposite of weapons, anger and war. There is the peace of acceptance, of moments, of prayer. Then for readers, there is the peace of reading this book.
Each poem itself is a moment of peace, inviting the reader to linger, consider. The author has created distinct poems that work both as individual poems and as a whole work together. The flow from poem to poem is very successful, making it difficult to read just one or two poems from this book.
The quilts themselves are done in jewel tones. They range from strong-lined images filled with words to natural scenes of quiet grace. Turning the page from one to the next is a journey of color, expression and beauty.
Highly recommended, this book beautifully marries poetry and quilting, resulting in a book that is warm, cozy and lovely. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
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Check out the book trailer to see some of the quilts and hear some of the poetry:
No! by David McPhail
A young boy sets out to deliver a letter and on his way is faced with all sorts of war actions including bombing, troops, and tanks. When he is bullied by a larger boy, he speaks out and stops it. This nearly wordless picture book only has a single word, repeated three times in different tones. The illustrations in McPhail’s classic style paired with the single word make this a very powerful book about the power of one voice, one word, one person.
I am a fan of wordless books because so often as here illustrations can say volumes more than a page of text. McPhail has created a book that talks of war more powerfully than many long treatises on the topic. Even better, this war is accessible to children who can understand the horror being shown but then will be amazed and relieved at the power of a dissident. I especially appreciate the final pages in the book which show the tools of war being used in peaceful ways. Lovely.
Recommended as a book to start a discussion. This is not a story time book but one that should be used when talking about war and peace in depth or for a family to read together and discuss.