Peace-ology

Peace-ology was originally published in Bookology Magazine. For each Peace-ology post, Caren Stelson and Ellie Roscher partner to learn and explore the meaning of peace by talking and listening with each other.

Big Worries in Little Bodies

May 12, 2021

Tending to Anxiety in Children

Ellie: When I was little, I saw someone on television sinking in sand and asked my mom what was happening. She explained quicksand to me. My imagination took over, and I was overcome with fear. What a horrible way to die, I thought. My inner peace was off kilter. Each night during bedtime prayers, I’d pray to not get stuck in quicksand. My mom assured me there was no quicksand in Minnesota, but it took a while to be able to approach a sandbox without feeling my chest tightening.

I thought of my quicksand phase the other day when my four-year-old asked a series of questions about robbers, thieves, and crooks during bedtime. A library book presented the idea of burglary to him, and he had serious questions about the safety of our house and our family during the night. This same day he had preciously reminded me of his age and level of understanding when had asked me, “Momma, is the future a different world or a spice?”

I tried to validate his fear of robbers without feeding it. I listened carefully to what he was asking and what was behind the questions. We talked through the library book and pointed out differences in our reality. I reassured him that he was safe, reminded him we were in the next room, and gave him extra snuggles.

You’ve Got Dragons
You've Got Dragons

You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and illustrated by Nick Maland is a story about a boy named Ben who worries came in the form of dragons. The dragons show up when you least expect them, and they are scary. Dragons make your heart thud; your knees shake and your tummy ache. You can pretend they are not there, or pretend they are something else, which is exhausting, but they are always there. Some adults don’t understand, and other adults want to talk about their dragons instead of listening. An expert on dragons, Ben reminds us to talk to someone about our dragons, name them, laugh with them and get lots of hugs. In the end, we can learn from our dragons, trusting that they don’t mean us harm. Ultimately, the dragons are not as powerful as we are.

illustration from You've Got Dragons
illustration copyright &#169 Nick Maland, from You’ve Got Dragons,
written by Kathryn Cave, published by Peachtree Publishing

This book, if processed well with kids, can be an empowering relief for children who live with worries. It is a tool to promote inner peace. It names how things like trauma, insecurity and anxiety manifest themselves in our bodies and also offers effective coping strategies we can all learn. The illustrations are realistically daunting without being overwhelming. And Ben assures us that dragons do not stay forever.

Digging Deeper: Dispelling Shame

It can be easy to dismiss the worries of a child, but to that child, they may feel consuming. When we do not name and talk about our anxieties, or when we do share them and they are discounted, shame around them can grow. I remember the first time I went to see the school counselor in high school, I was ashamed. I felt like my anxieties were not big enough or real enough to be sitting in a counselor’s office. He sat and listened for a long time. The first thing he said was, “Wow. That must be really hard.” The shame lifted immediately. I was able to admit that yes, what I was going through felt hard. Tending to it and fostering inner peace was worth my time.

Brené Brown, in her TED talk on listening to shame, says we have to talk about shame. Everything she learned about vulnerability, creativity, courage and innovation came from studying shame. Shame tells us that we are bad. That we are a mistake. That we aren’t good enough. That somehow we deserve the dragons and that they are never going away. My friend’s therapist had her name her shame gremlin and draw it to externalize it. Now when she is feeling shame about her worries, she can point to her shame gremlin and call it out, which reminds her she is more powerful, and it too will not stay forever.

Tending to the Body

Resmaa Menakem, a trauma therapist, loosely explains trauma as something that happens to your body that feels like too much too fast too often until the system is overwhelmed and there is not enough room to process. In healing, then, we create room for that body processing to happen. Animals will often shake when they get hurt, but humans tend to freeze and get more rigid.

Resmaa Menakem
Resmaa Menakem
My Grandmother's Hands

In his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Menakem recommends starting in a safe place alone, engaging in ancient soothing activities to settle our bodies when we notice a stress response that feels like fight, flight or freeze. These are things children often do naturally, as do parents with babies:

  • Humming
  • Belly Breathing
  • Buzzing
  • Slow Rocking
  • Rubbing Your Belly
  • Chanting
  • Singing

We can model these self-soothing activities and help young people explore which feel intuitive to them when the dragons show up.

Naming emotions reduces anxiety. It is so important to validate the worries of children without dismissing them or feeding them. By listening closely to children about their fears and anxieties, and offering them tools to soothe and cope, to live with the dragons until they go away. We can also remember to be kind in tender to ourselves in our worries. When we tame our dragons, we can grow inner peace for ourselves and extend peace to others.


Compassionate Listening Deconstructs Fences

April 14, 2021

Caren: When my daughter Beth was fourteen, she traveled with a small exchange group of teens to Poland where she would live with a couple and their teen daughter in a small village. In a true exchange, the Polish teens then traveled to Minnesota for a similar experience. Neither group spoke the other’s language. Recently, while cleaning out boxes, I found a reflection Beth wrote of that experience:

The Polish kids taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned; the power of a smile … I thought that to create the iron strong bonds of friendship, a common language was essential. Now I have learned, communication and language are not the same thing.

Beth is an adult now, yet through all the years, she and her Polish “sister” Ania have remained friends. Border crossing can make an indelible mark on a young person’s life and give her the courage and skills to widen her world. 

two friends in Poland
Beth and Ania traveling together 13 years after meeting. (photo courtesy of Elisabeth Stelson)

You don’t have to travel to another country to cross borders. You can cross borders by crossing the street, stepping into another’s neighborhood, or sitting next to someone new. What you pack in your traveling suitcase is as simple as a smile. An open heart. A listening ear. A realization that to meet a new person is to explore a new world. 

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

The Other Side

Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful picture book, The Other Side, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, is an example of border crossing. The story depicts a small, segregated town where black families and white are separated by a physical border — a fence. Clover plays with her African American friends on one side. Annie, with wavy red hair, lonely and wanting to play, watches from the other side. When Clover’s mother reminds her daughter to stay on her side of the fence, Clover asks why. “That’s the way things have always been,” her mother replies. The warning doesn’t keep Clover and Annie from reaching out to each other. No one says the girls can’t sit on the fence. And when they sit next to each other on the top fence rail, they see the big wide world and each other. Eventually the girls on both sides of the fence play together, knowing someday someone will “knock this ol’ fence down.”

Compassionate, Deep Listening for Adults, Too

My father used to remind me, “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” 

Good advice. A more profound quote is a Quaker saying: “An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard.” For me, crossing borders means to learn to listen carefully, deeply, and compassionately to someone’s story without thinking about what I may want to say in response. If we can look into each other’s eyes and listen to each other’s stories, something breaks open in our hearts. Physically, in our bodies, we can feel barriers breaking down and empathy and understanding rise up.

Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson

In the list of TED talks about deep listening, the one that moved me the most was Judy Atkinson’s insightful talk about “The value of deep listening, the aboriginal gift to the nation.” 

Dr. Atkinson is an Aboriginal scholar who speaks to the social trauma in her own country of Australia and the power of listening to understand and heal. Dr. Atkinson’s talk asks us to cross borders to the other side of the world. What we find in her story could well happen across our own streets, in a nearby neighborhood, with someone sitting next to us. In any culture and language, deep listening is a universal tool to connect.

Deep Listening Practice for Everyone

How can we help our children (and ourselves) become border crossers? Start with practicing deep listening. Educator and writer Diana Raab had a list of tips in her article published in Psychology Today:Deep Listening in Personal Relationships.”

  • Put yourself inside the mind of the speaker.
  • Listen for meaning.
  • Pay attention to body language.
  • Cultivate empathy.
  • Avoid making judgments.
  • Look into others’ eyes when they’re speaking.
  • Pay attention to the feelings associated with the words.
  • Notice the speaker’s tone and inflection.
  • Repeat in your own words what someone has told you.
  • Acknowledge that you’re listening by nodding or saying “Uh-huh.”
  • Occasionally summarize others’ comments when given the chance.

“By listening carefully when someone speaks, we’re telling them that we care about what they’re saying. It’s also important to remember that listening is contagious. When we listen to others, then chances are they will be more inclined to listen to us.” writes Raab with more good advice.

No matter how young or old, if we practice deep, compassionate listening, we’ll find the courage to cross borders into one another’s world. As in the picture book, The Other Side, we might even watch those ol’ fences come tumbling down. 


Tiny Steps Toward Peace

  • March 10, 2021

Ordinary Acts of Peace

Ellie: When I say the word Peacemaker, who is the first person that comes to mind? It is so important to teach children about famous peacemakers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Malala, and Nelson Mandela. If we only teach about folks who have become larger than life, however, children may put peacemaking on a pedestal that seems unattainable for themselves. We can teach children and remind ourselves that we can choose peacemaking now in the tiny, ordinary moments of the day.

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson is a book about how one generous deed can change the world. Mary, an ordinary kid, stumbles upon some blueberries and decides to pick them for her neighbor, Ms. Bishop. That tiny act starts a chain reaction of compassion and kindness that spreads throughout the world. Mary’s kind deed loops back to her by the end, when she receives a necklace from someone who is paying kindness forward in a chain that can be traced back to Mary’s blueberries. The book is full of delightful rhymes and examples of how ordinary gestures can multiply into something truly extraordinary. Society would have us believe that love and power are static so that we rush to grab and hoard our piece of the pie before it’s gone. In truth, love and power grow one tiny act at a time.

Questions for Kids

  • Who is a peacemaker that you know and want to be like? How can you be more like that person, not just when you grow up, but today?
  • Who is someone your age that you see making other people feel good?
  • When is a time you received much needed help or an unexpected gift?
  • Who is your favorite person to surprise with kindness?
Cranes received as gifts in the lobby of Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Minneapolis, MN
Cranes received as gifts in the lobby of Abbott Northwestern Hospital
, Minneapolis, MN, enjoyed by patients and visitors

Growing Peace

Caren: At Abbott Northwestern, a hospital close to my home, a hospital chaplain gave a COVID patient a folded paper crane. It was a tiny, compassionate act with an unexpected impact. The patient was encouraged both by the gift and its symbolism: “I will overcome COVID and I will keep this crane for my entire life,” he promised. Hearing this story, Japanese people of all ages made paper cranes and sent them to the hospital as gifts to patients. The hospital received 16,000 cranes, strung them together and used them to decorate the hospital. Senbazuru is a Japanese tradition of stringing together paper cranes as an expression of healing and peace. One crane at a time, these people transformed the hospital so that now it is bursting with color, hope and peace.

Consider folding paper cranes with your family or students. String them together and hang them as a symbol of peace and a reminder that small contributions can add up to create something beautiful and new, together. (Learn to fold here.)

Practicing Tiny, Practicing Peace

12 Tiny Things

Ellie: My most recent book, 12 Tiny Things, explores the idea that little things are in fact big things. Each chapter has a theme and one tiny thing to try around that theme to build a more rooted and intentional life. Working for peace, it is easy to get overwhelmed and burned out. We can jump to fix brokenness at the systems level and skip over the tough inner peace and healing work. 12 Tiny Things embraces the power of small, daily acts to transform our hearts and our communities. We believe in claiming incremental improvement on the go. We believe everything we need is already inside of us, we just need to remember. And we believe in unfolding together.

Although the book is geared toward adults, we have built resources for kids and teenagers who want to try on some tiny things to grow peace. 12 Tiny Things is a great resource to use individually, intergenerationally, and in groups.

Digging Deeper

Behind every famous peacemaker is a network of lesser-known community organizers doing the daily, tiny grunt work to dismantle oppression and change systems. The story we tell about Rosa Parks starting the Montgomery bus boycott makes it seem like her decision to remain seated on the bus was random and individual. Rather, a designed foundation had been built over the course of years to ensure the bus boycott would be effective. More than the surface story tells, the bus boycott was about protecting women’s bodies.

In 1949, six years before the bus boycott, Gertrude Perkins was raped by two police officers in Montgomery. She reported the rape and the trial got national press. The black community in Montgomery organized to support her. Then nine months before Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to sit at the back of the bus, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for the same act. There were years of tiny and not so tiny acts of civil disobedience and networking that set Rosa Parks’ act up to be a tipping point. It is important to see historic events of peace, not in isolation, but set in the web of small acts of resistance so that we too might see the power and influence of our daily choices to practice peace. Listen to this Scene on Radio podcast episode to hear more about Gertrude Perkins’ role and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

What tiny act of peace will you choose today?


Finding Peace While Grieving

  • February 10, 2021

Caren: Some days are tough. During this COVID-19 pandemic, our children face plenty of challenges. Loss of playground time. Loss of playdates. Changes in school routines. Changes in home routines. These days, children may need more time alone on a “peace blanket” to grieve their former lives. The rest of us may need the same.

boy sitting on peace blanket
time alone on a peace blanket

There are many ways to soothe when coping with loss and grief. Stories can help too. One of the most profound picture books about grief I’ve come across is The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada.

One NPR This American Life podcast inspired Heather Smith to share Mr. Sasaki’s story. Mr. Sasaki was heartbroken when his cousin died. As a way to heal, he bought an old-fashioned telephone booth and placed it on a hill near his Japanese home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In it, he added an old rotary telephone connected to nowhere. He called it his “wind telephone.” Whenever he needed to “talk” with his dead cousin, he would go to the booth, pick up the phone, and let his words of love be carried by the wind.

On March 13, 2011, the largest earthquake recorded in Japan struck, triggering a massive tsunami and causing a frightening nuclear plant accident. Over 19,000 people lost their lives, 2,500 are still missing. Mr. Sasaki’s phone booth survived and soon became a landmark for others grieving for their loved ones. After talking on the “wind telephone,” one woman said, “We were so broken. Talking on the phone today changed something.” That something is the beginning of healing and a search for personal peace.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden
The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden back cover

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden fictionalizes this story for a young audience. Young Makio loses his father in the great tsunami. Mr. Hiorta loses his daughter. One day, Makio hears Mr. Hirota hammering away, building, of all things, a phone booth. Hearing Mr. Hirota speak to his lost daughter, Makio finally finds his way to the phone booth. He picks up the phone to nowhere and pours out his heart.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden takes place after the tsunami no one could control. Our children face a viral tsunami. What can we do to comfort our children as we grieve ourselves?

Caren and Ellie: Going Deeper — Supporting a Grieving Child

The Rabbit Listened

The National Alliance for Grieving Children is a helpful resource. Among the many suggestions, experts remind— us of ten ways to help children through the grief process: • Take care of yourself • Be honest • Listen • Acknowledge your child’s grief • Share • Be creative • Maintain clear expectations • Reassure your child • Create new rituals and traditions • Be patient.

The picture book, The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, tenderly illustrates these ten steps to remind adults of the importance of patience and listening while reassuring children that it’s possible to overcome dark moments

Caren and Ellie: More Pathways to Peace While Grieving

Slinky

Peace as a slinky: Think of grief, not as a linear series of stages, but as a spiraling journey.

Some days are difficult. Some days are brighter. We will always miss our loved ones, or forever harbor shadows of traumatic events, but in time and healing, grief can find its place along the continuüm of the spiraling life of our future selves.

rocking chair

Peace in a rocking chair: In My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, author Resmaa Menakem speaks to the physiology of trauma and the vagus nerve, Menakem calls the “soul nerve.” The vagus nerve is “where you experience a felt sense of love, compassion, fear, grief, dread, sadness, loneliness … (148) Rocking is one of the most instinctively human ways to sooth our bodies. Rocking with a child on our lap is one of the most natural and healing ways to cope with our difficult times.

Peace on the page: Julia Cho’s December 30, 2020 New York Times article, “A 12-Year-Old’s Letter to her Post-Pandemic Self” asks: How will you retain gratitude for the return to normal life?  Cho’s daughter’s response is a letter to herself: “I’ve come from 2020 to remind you not to forget.”

Time may not heal all wounds, but time, love, listening, understanding — and stories — can help children, and the rest of us, find healing pathways to peace as we grieve.


The Alchemy of Fry Bread

  • January 14, 2021

Peace as Seeing the Deliberately Dismissed

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” (Arundhati Roy)

Ellie: I am lucky to say I married a bread baker. He loves the physicality of the process. I love the warm, scrumptious result. For years now, I have savored the taste of homemade bread. Now, my two little boys run into the kitchen when they hear my spouse pulling the bin of flour out of the cupboard. They love mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, and watching it rise through the oven window. Sharing bread with friends, family, and neighbors has become a delightful part of our days.

Bread brings people together. The ingredients in bread are so elemental. When combined with love, they nourish and sustain a people. At the center of a gathering, at the center of a culture is a foundational grain that sustains life — naan, tortilla, rice, ugali, injera, and fry bread to name a few. Food, then, is a bridge between worlds. Learning about the central food of a people, if done well, is access to the history, heritage, resourcefulness and perseverance of a cultural community. The magic of food can be an instrument of peace.

Fry Bread

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Millard is a beautiful, accessible picture book story that raises visibility and challenges stereotypes of Native Americans.

Frybread is food. Frybread is shape. Frybread is sound. Frybread is color. Frybread is art.

Kevin Noble Millard brings all of the reader’s senses to attention, deepened by colorful, engaging illustrations. Then he shifts. “Frybread is history. The long walk, the stolen land. Strangers in our own world. With unknown food, we made our own recipes from what we had.”

He includes the names of hundreds of indigenous nations and communities in the U.S., helping students understand that the terms Native American, American Indian, and Indigenous Americans include many diverse cultures and peoples. There is no single story. He reminds readers, “Frybread is us. We are still here. Elder and young, friend and neighbor. We strengthen each other to learn, change and survive.”

In an interview with Sally Lodge, Kevin Noble Millard says about Frybread: “People had to make do with what little they had, and from these simple ingredients they made fry bread. It was a food that had its beginnings due to deprivation and the absence of food they were used to. And now fry bread has become a food central to the lives of most Native families — and something very celebratory.”

Teaching Fry Bread

Use the cultural iceberg idea to explore how Fry Bread brings us deeper into American Indian culture and history. Fry bread is a cultural aspect that is easy to see and access. The book opens a door to learn about other cultures beginning with something as elemental as bread. It encourages us to really see each other for who we are and recognize the unique gifts that different cultures bring to society. What is above the water in your culture? In Kevin Noble Millard’s? What is below the surface in each?

Questions for Kids

How is fry bread part of everyday life and special occasions in this book? What foods are part of special occasions that you take part in?

Do you have a favorite food in your family or culture that is special or has a special history? Who makes this special food? How did they learn to make it?

How does food help tell the history of a people? What stories have you heard about foods your family eat?

What steps does Kevin Noble Millard take to challenge stereotypes of Native Americans? What steps can you take to challenge stereotypes you encounter?

What are the words on the endpapers of the book?

Whose voices are deliberately unheard in your family? School? Community? Country? How can we hold more space for all voices to tell their unique story?

Digging Deeper

“Trauma in a people looks like culture.” (Resmaa Menakem)

Playing Indian

In Playing Indian, Philip J. Deloria explores the history of the symbol of Indian over the course of US history. White Americans have historically mimicked Native Americans’ clothing, tradition and ceremonies, hoping to build a legitimate insider identity while simultaneously stealing land from the native peoples. The idea of the American Indian has changed over time to suit the needs of the ruling élite. Denigrating Native Americans as savage others eventually became dismissing them as consenting to vanish, willingly riding off toward the horizon. This final image solidifies the symbol of American Indians as historic. Yet Native tribes are here, as Frybread states, “learning, changing and surviving.”

Native American tribes have been deliberately silenced and preferably unheard. Books like Frybread are important tools for peace in that they expand the awareness of hundreds of unique cultures through story. Our work of peace includes dispelling the singular and historical symbol of Indian to see and hear the varied living, breathing, and frybread-eating tribes across the land.

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk back in 2009 called “The Danger of a Single Story.” Her message is still relevant, powerful and worth watching or watching again.

Read the full interview of Kevin Noble Millard in Publishers Weekly.


Eco-Peace: Reimagining the Possibility

  • December 9, 2020

Part of our work as peacemakers is to properly situate ourselves in a web of life. We are creatures in a vast, brilliant and complex ecosystem called not to dominate, but to live with in harmonious relationship. Children often seem naturally drawn to animals and nature, with an inherent ability to walk gently on the green earth. As they grow, there are many wonderful books to nurture their instincts toward ecological peace. One of these books is Ada’s Violin.

Ada's Violin

Ada is a small girl who loves the sound of the violin. She lives in a town in Paraguay that houses a large landfill. Her grandmother is a recycler who digs through the garbage looking for cardboard and aluminum to turn in for money. Ada’s music teacher, Señor Chavez, teaches the kids of the town to turn discarded items into instruments. Water pipes become flutes and packing crates become guitars. Ada’s violin is made out of an old paint can, an aluminum backing tray, a fork and pieces of wooden crates. Worthless items to some become invaluable to her.

Ada’s music class practices outside and after months of rehearsal, they become the recycled orchestra. Their music lifts the spirits of the folks in the town. Ada becomes first violin at age twelve, and eventually they travel to other cities and countries to perform. Ada learns to look at trash and hear music. In reimagining discarded items as tools to create beauty, she finds dignity in herself.

Recycling as an Act of Peace

Ellie: My five-year-old son told us he wanted to play the violin when he was three. He’d sit and listen to classical music and could pick the sound of the violin out at that tender age. When he was still asking to start violin lessons at age four, we said yes. Sometimes the instrument chooses you. Thanks to books like Ada’s Violin, he is also very concerned about the environment. The other day he told me he loves the world and wants to help heal it. He went on, “I know I can do a lot as a kid to be eco, but when I am an adult, I think I want to be governor so I can make sure our rules protect Earth.”

When we are out, my son picks up any trash he sees and brings it home. Although it would be easy for me to recycle or properly dispose of these items and commend him for picking up litter, I encourage him to imagine how we can use them for something else. Looking at an object a second time with fresh eyes supports the environment. As creatures, learning to live in peace with nature is paramount. The reimagining also engages a muscle necessary for other peace work. To build a more beautiful society, we have to be able to imagine things not as they are, but as they could be. Children like Ada inspire us to look again. Where some see trash there is music if we choose to look and listen with our hearts wide open.

Digging Deeper

If you’d like to learn more about Ada and her violin, watch the 60 Minutes bit on Ada’s Recycled Orchestra.

One Plastic Bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and The Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon is another inspiring picture book that can spark the imaginations of young people who want to heal the earth. In Isatou’s town, the goats were starting to eat the littered plastic bags and get sick. She collected and cleaned plastic bags, cut them into strips, turned them into yarn, and made purses out of them to sell in the village. It is another example of turning dangerous trash into something useful, so everyone wins! With older kids, try it yourself! Collect plastic bags and watch this video to learn how to turn plastic bags into bed mats! Make bed mats out of used plastic bags.

When was a time you reimagined trash as treasure? Sometimes it just takes a little practice to look at thing with new eyes. Try a few of these with your family or students: “20 Ideas to Turn Trash into Treasure.”

Lingering Question

When you think of the world not as it is but as it could be, what do you see? Ask the children in your life what their vision for a peaceful world is and help them take steps toward ushering their re-imagined world into reality.


The Kindness Factor

  • November 10, 2020

It’s Bigger Than We Think

Caren: As we write this article, we are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic and a consequential election season. Both events ask us to address big, core questions: What kind of people do we want to be? How do we resolve our conflicts? How do we uphold justice? What principles do we want to teach our children? How will we heal our divided nation?

The kindness factor is part of the healing our society needs. Kindness may sound small, but it’s bigger than we think. Kindness is not a nicety done when convenient. In a single act of kindness lies acknowledgement, respect, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. When accepted, an act of kindness is a two-way gift. Disguised as a singular act, it can send ripples of change beyond the people directly involved, affecting unknowable others. By cultivating kindness to our homes, schools and community lives, we have the power change our very culture.

photo: Matt Collamer | Unsplash

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

William James

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make new trees.”

Amelia Earhart

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way. Even the smallest act of kindness can make a big difference in the world.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

Mother Teresa
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson uplifts the power of kindness in her picture book Each Kindness, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. The story begins as Chloe watches the school principal introduce Maya, a new girl to the school. “We all stared at her. Her coat was open and the clothes beneath it looked old and ragged. Her shoes were spring shoes, not meant for the snow. A strap on one of them had broken.” Maya takes a seat next to Chloe and smiles. Chloe scoots her desk a few inches away and turns to look out the window.

Chloe, her friends, and the rest of the class show little kindness toward Maya. The day Maya’s desk sits empty, Chloe’s teacher brings in a bowl filled with water. As the children watch, Ms. Albert drops a pebble into the bowl. “This is what kindness does,” Ms. Albert said. “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple into the world.” Chloe is left with an emptiness in her stomach. How many opportunities had she missed to offer kindness to Maya? Readers are left with the invitation to send kindness rippling out into the world.Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson

On her website, Jacqueline Woodson writes:

“At some point in our lives, we are all unkind. At some point, we are all treated unkindly. I wanted to understand this more. I think too often we believe we’ll have a second chance at kindness – and sometimes we don’t. I do believe, as Chloe’s teacher, Ms. Albert, says, that everything we do goes out, like a ripple into the world. I wrote this because I believe in kindness.”

Going Deeper, Teaching Kindness: Caren and Ellie

Dr. Daniel Goleman

Dr. Daniel Goleman

Research in neuroscience and neuroplasticity is showing us new ways to think about learning and schools. Helping students socially and emotionally enhances their academic learning. When students feel safe and enjoy their school environment, their brain state is more attuned to learning. Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the international bestseller, Emotional Intelligence writes:

The centers of the brain are intricately interwoven with the neurocortical areas involved in cognitive learning … When a child trying to learn is caught up in a distressing emotion, the centers for learning are temporarily hampered. The child’s attention becomes preoccupied with whatever may be the source of the trouble. Because attention is itself a limited capacity, the child has that much less ability to hear, understand, or remember what a teacher or a book is saying. In short, there is a direct link between emotions and learning.

Dr. Goleman argues that practicing kindness develops hardwiring in our brains, making compassion and kindness more natural and our relationships more positive. In his webinar, “Why Compassion Matters Today and Tomorrow,” he claims that the more we practice kindness, the more we change our behavior, making our homes and schools more positive, kind, and compassionate places to be. (Watch Dr. Goleman’s lecture.)

Kindness Pals

Peace of Mind

Linda Ryden introduces the idea of “Kindness Pals” in Peace of Mind, her curriculum for Grades 3 – 5. Each week, children are paired with a new person in their classroom with the invitation to do something kind for their partner. At the end of the week, children share their kindness experience. She asks, “How does your body feel when you are kind? How have your thoughts changed towards your Kindness Pal? How did you feel when your kindness pal was kind to you?” If Chloe and Maya had been Kindness Pals, their story might have been quite different.

Kindness ripples, ensuring that a little goes a long way. If we believe in, teach and practice daily kindness, imagine how can we change our homes, classrooms, neighborhoods and our country.

Resources

Daniel Goleman’s lecture was hosted by Emory University’s Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion Based Ethics. For more information about Emory University’s SEE Learning (Social, Emotional, Ethical) innovative K‑12 developmental education program, go to www.seelearning.emory.edu

Peace of Mind: Effectively Integrating Mindfulness, Social and Emotional Learning, and Conflict Resolution to Create a Kinder and More Positive School Climate, Peace of Mind, LLC Washington D.C. 20015, www.TeachPeaceofMind.com.


Naming Your Labels

  • October 14, 2020

Living from a Place of Inner Peace

Ellie: Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story is the tale of a blue crayon with a red label. The crayon was not very good at being red. He couldn’t draw strawberries or work with yellow to draw an orange. Everyone tried to help. Even scissors and sharpeners made snips and tucks to see if changing him would help. He kept trying harder and harder, but nothing seemed to work. He felt like a failure. Then, a new friend asked him to draw a blue ocean. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m red.” She invited him to try, and he did. Not only was his ocean perfect, it felt easy! “I’m blue!” he proclaimed as he enthusiastically drew the sky. There was nothing wrong with him. The problem resided in the label assigned to him.

The first time I read this book aloud to my little kids, I cried. Hard. My heart went straight to two of my high school students who came out as trans and navigated gender transitions. Then I thought of students exploring their sexual identity or students who came from mixed race families struggling to find a sense of home in their racial identity. These young people were grappling with labels that had been given to them that didn’t quite fit. Like the blue crayon, they felt like they were doing something wrong. Once they broke free of the limiting label and found one that fit better, they found vitality and power in who they were and who they were becoming. It felt like an unlocking. It felt like release. And coming home. Finding a more suitable label brought freedom and and increased sense of inner peace.

Labels bring ease. Our brains like to categorize things, and they can be exceedingly helpful. When it comes to our identity, however, I encourage students to only use labels that set you free. Similarly, instead of applying unwanted labels to others, we can instead get curious and listen to the labels others choose for themselves. Something as simple as asking people what their preferred pronouns are or allowing people to diagnose themselves on the Enneagram personality test are small acts of peace.

Going Deeper: Ellie and Caren

Dar Williams

Dar Williams, singer

Listen to the song “When I Was a Boy” by Dar Williams and think about how gender roles and stereotypes limit both boys and girls. So many of our binary labels cut us in half when our humanity is messier and more beautiful than that. As young people unfold in all sorts of ways, how can we hold space for them to decide who they are becoming and encourage wholeness?

Listen to Scene on Radio Podcast: S3 E10: The Juggernaut: Writer Ben James and his wife Oona are raising their sons in a progressive and “queer-friendly” New England town. They actively encourage the boys to be themselves, never mind those traditional gender norms around “masculinity” and “femininity.” All was well. Until the elder son, Huck, went to sixth grade. This episode also features psychologist Terry Real, who does amazing work around masculinity and intimacy.

Writing Prompts for Adults and Kids: Ellie and Caren

  • Who do your parents say that you are? Your friends? Your teachers? Your siblings? Are they right? Who do you say that you are?
  • When was a time someone told your story for you? How did that feel?
  • Pick one aspect of your identity: Write about a moment you realized you were a boy/a girl/white/a person of color/rich/poor/an American etc?
  • What are the unwritten rules around gender you experience? What are qualities that we call male or female that are actually human characteristics available to everyone?
  • Which of your labels limit you as you strive for wholeness? Which of your labels set you free?

No Justice. [No Action.] No Peace.

  • September 9, 2020

Caren: “No justice. No peace.” This summer, millions of people – young, old and from all backgrounds — protested police brutality and systemic racism, all during an historic pandemic. Ellie Roscher and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, not far from where George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer and close to the epicenter of marches and protests. With the school year beginning, in-person or online, what is our responsibility to help children process these historic times and participate in peaceful change?

John Lewis

John Lewis, Civil Rights leader and Congressman, Feb 21, 1940 – Jul 17, 2020

John Lewis, the late Civil Rights leader and Congressman, can guide us. On the day of his funeral, July 30, 2020, the New York Times published a letter written by Lewis before his death. In it, John Lewis challenged each generation to fulfill its moral and democratic obligations to speak out against injustice:

When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. 

We teach meditation to our children. We encourage kindness, empathy, compassion. We create welcoming circles, so children have a sense of belonging. All of these offer a way into peace. We also must help our children learn to “stand up, speak up, speak out,” and take action for peace.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr, (published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is an alphabet primer of energy, vocabulary, symbolism, and actions that offers young citizens the many ways to speak out for what they believe is right. From “Assemble. Take Action.” “Create allies.” “Listen. Learn. Lead. Light a candle. Write a letter. Pass laws” to “Shake a hand. Lend a hand. Have hope. Be hope.” this colorful picture book embodies John Lewis’s message. In addition, the back matter of Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights gives us a brief history of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and a glossary of protest words with their definitions. From beginning to end, Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights provides a discussion for adults and children — yes, even young children — that speaks to John Lewis’s call to action: “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.”Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

illustration copyright © Jared Andrew Schorr, from Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, written by Rob Sanders, published by Simon & Schuster, 2018

After I read Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, images of young activists came to mind: Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai’s clarion call for education for girls; Sweden’s Greta Thunberg rallying the world to address climate crisis; Emma Gonzalez and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who spoke out loudly for gun control after the shooting at their school, and the videos of countless young people protesting in the streets for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Young people are our hope. Let’s teach our children, and each other, to take action for justice, peace, and our democracy.

Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez

Protest after George Floyd murder

Peaceful protest after the murder of George Floyd, photo by Catie Viox, Cincinnati City Beat, posted 6/5/2020

Going Deeper: Caren and Ellie

Teaching civics is more than learning about government and history — or should be. How can we help our students become more informed, engaged young citizens? How do we, as educators, help our young people fill their toolboxes for democracy? Pyne Arts Magnet School in Lowell, Massachusetts, explores a way. From the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Scene On Radio’s producer and host John Biewen with Chenjerai Kumanyika, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, discuss the role of civics in schools and introduce the 8th graders at Pyne Arts Magnet School through Ben James’s reporting.

Listen to “S4 E10: Schooled for Democracy” as 8th graders build consensus and commit to a societal problem that is important to them — youth mental health. Students research the issue, prepare an action plan, practice their persuasive argument, execute their plan, then take their experience to Civics Day at Boston’s State Capitol to win first prize. It’s an inspiring story of hands-on democracy that teaches kids they really can make a difference

Questions Toward Action: Caren and Ellie

How can children of all ages begin to fill their toolboxes for democracy? How can we help them recognize traits that inspires democratic principles, such as fairness, honesty, responsibility? How do we best teach young people how the American government works? How do we prepare our precious children to become engaged citizens and take peaceful action to create “a more perfect union” and a better world?  There are plenty of resources and inspirational leaders to guide us. “No justice. No peace”? Let’s expand the call to:

No justice.

No understanding.

No action.

No healing.

No peace.

Resources

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim and E.B. Lewis, Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House, 2016

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, Little Brown, 2016

Our House Is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet, by Jeanette Winter, Beach Lane Books, 2019

Never Again: The Parkland Shooting and the Teen Activists Leading the Movement, by Eric Braun, Lerner Publications, 2019


War and Peace

  • May 13, 2020
Sachiko

“What happened to me must never happen to you.”

Caren: Those were the first words Sachiko Yasui, a Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, told me as we began our work together writing her story. On August 9, 1945, at 11:02, six-year-old Sachiko was playing outside with her friends, making mud dumplings, when the second atomic bomb of World War II exploded over her city of Nagasaki. Sachiko and her friends were 900 meters from ground zero, less than a half mile away. Sachiko’s survival was miraculous and so is her story of recovery, resilience, hope, and peace. I spent six years interviewing Sachiko in Nagasaki, Japan, and researching the history of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a book for young people. Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story was published in 2016 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group. I intended to write Sachiko’s story to change young readers’ lives — to understand the horrors of war and the deep need for peace. What I didn’t anticipate is how much Sachiko would change my life. The last words Sachiko offered for our book were these:

What is peace?

What kind of person should I be?

Keep pursuing answers to these questions.

Sachiko’s questions have spurred me on to, what is now, a life-long journey to understand peace and act in the name of peace. One of those actions is to collaborate with peacemaker and writer Ellie Roscher to write this series of Peace-ology articles. Another is to become involved in the Peace Literacy Institute under the umbrella of the Nuclear Age Peace Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Each morning, I think of Sachiko and ask myself: What’s one thing I can do to bring a random act of peace into my day.

Stories change lives. Sachiko’s changed mine. What stories have changed yours?

A Bowl Full of Peace

A Bowl Full of Peace — What do you put in a bowl?

“How would you write a picture book about Sachiko’s story?” asked Carol Hinz, my editor at Carolrhoda/Lerner. The question stumped me. Then I remembered Grandmother’s bowl. When Sachiko’s family returned to Nagasaki, her home and everything in it had been destroyed. The only object found was Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl. Sachiko’s father discovered the bowl in the rubble. By some miracle it survived without a crack or chip.

In A Bowl Full of Peace, Japanese illustrator Akira Kusaka captured Grandmother’s bowl, the resilience of Sachiko’s family, and the longing for peace. After I read the picture book to a seventh-grade class, I asked students what was going through their minds as I read. One boy said how important his family was to him. A girl added she hadn’t realized how much you can lose in a war. I asked illustrator Akira Kusaka, to share how Sachiko’s story affected him. He said knowing Sachiko’s story changed his art and his life.A Bowl Full of Peace illustrations

illustration copyright Akira Kusaka; from A Bowl Full of Peace, written by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Akira Kusaka, publiished by Carolrhoda Books.

Grandmother’s bowl became Sachiko’s family’s symbol of hope and peace. Every August 9th, Sachiko’s mother filled Grandmother’s bowl with ice chips to commemorate the atomic bombing. Together, the family remembered all those who were so terribly thirsty from the heat of the bomb’s blast, all who were in excruciating pain, all who died. As the ice melted in Grandmother’s bowl, Sachiko’s family spent the day praying that such a terrible war would never happen again. As Sachiko grew older, the bowl became her most treasured object. On the bowl were the fingerprints of her beloved brothers and sister, her parents, and other family members lost to the bomb. But what Sachiko placed in the bowl was just as important — hope, love, peace. This August 9th, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I too will fill my special bowl with hope, love, and peace.

Peace Literacy: Digging Deeper

A New Peace Paradigm

What if children spent twelve years of their school lives learning about peace in the same way they learn to read and become literate? What if schools and communities invested in a developmental, skill-based curriculum that guided children, teachers, and parents in a life-long study of peaceful living? What would our society look like then? Peace Literacy Director Paul Chappell asks those questions and suggests:

“Our understanding of peace is only as good as our understanding of the human condition and trauma. To gain a deep and practical understanding of extremism, trauma, and the nature of human happiness, and to solve our national and global problems in the twenty-first century and beyond, we need a realistic and pragmatic model of the human condition … Peace Literacy is based on research about basic human needs such as self-worth and belonging, and how trauma gets entangled with these needs.”

For greater insight into Peace Literacy, its philosophy and curriculum, go to www.peaceliteracy.org .

The first time I heard Paul Chappell speak, I was impressed by his deep understanding of trauma, his own and society’s. How do we understand bullying? School shootings? Racist anger? Suicide? The list goes on, describing a war of tangled trauma. When you see aggression, what are the heated reasons under the surface? How do we, as loving parents, teachers, neighbors, reach out to our young people who burn with the heat of fear loneliness, and despair — and take action? One caring adult can make all the difference in a young person’s life. That adult could be you. It could be me.

As Sachiko Yasui asked:

What is peace?

What kind of person do you want to be?

Keep pursuing answers to these questions.

Questions Toward Action: Caren and Ellie

We are writing this post as the entire world faces the COVID 19 Pandemic. Terrible and challenging as this time is for everyone, it may be just the right time to start a practice of peace, even while social distancing. Where to start?

With ourselves: Find some quiet time to be with yourself. Breathe deeply. Ask yourself: What are you grateful for? Who are the people you love? What is one thing you are glad you did, yesterday or today? What can you do tomorrow that will make you proud of yourself?

Peace Nook

With one another: Who can you reach out to by phone, email, social media, postal service, or sidewalk chalk drawing and send a message of friendship?

Chalk artist

In community: What can you do as a service to others to help ease the loneliness of being separated, or help with a cause to ease the suffering of this pandemic time?

A Box of Peace Cranes
Origami peace crane

For young people, teachers, parents, anyone, the Birds of Peace website may spark ideas and invite you to join others in an online community of peace seekers. Please check out the website and share it widely.


Compassion and Empathy in Peace-making

  • April 14, 2020

One of the activities I do with young people is called speed dating. It’s an empathy building exercise because, I have found, we actually have to practice talking to each other and really listening. I ask the kids to form two circles facing each other. Each pair gets a healthy chunk of time to address a question I pose. We talk about reading each other’s body language and facial expressions and asking follow-up questions that get the partner to light up. Then I move one of the circles and with a new pair, we do it again. At the end of each session they ask when we can do it again. “You can do it any time,” I challenge. “You are just talking to each other.” In our fast-paced living and screens, it helps when an adult carves out time for young people to listen and connect with others to whom they may not otherwise talk. Sometimes peacemaking looks as simple as reaching out to the person next to you to ask an interesting question.

At home, I love using picture books to build compassion and empathy with my kids. Books offer access to people all around the world who may think, act and live differently than they do. Often, my kids make me stop on a page early on in the story so they can decide which character they’d like to be. As the story unfolds, my kids get to spend time in the shoes of another person or animal, looking at the world with a new perspective.

Sofia: A Young, Empathetic and Compassionate Peacemaker

Sofia Valdez

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez is the story of a second grade girl who courageously ventures to City Hall to request that a trash heap in her neighborhood be converted into a park. She starts a petition and ultimately rallies the community to transform their shared space. The story, written by Andrea Beaty, has a lively rhyming cadence, and David Robert’s pictures are entertaining and vivid.

I love reading this book to my kids in part because of the story’s compassion and empathy— two key characteristics of peacemaking. Sofia’s abuelo walks her to school until one day he trips on the trash heap and hurts his ankle. Sharing her grandfather’s pain motivates Sofie to see Mount Trashmore as a problem to solve. What if we place the pain of our community members at the heart of our work for a change? After getting sent all around City Hall— from the Mayor’s office to the Department of Cheese— a woman in the basement finally tells Sofia she is too young to build a new park. Refusing to take no for an answer, Sofia turns the tables and says, “If you were me, and if I was you, and he was your grandpa, what would you do?” She is requesting compassion and empathy. The woman pauses, thinks, and rallies her colleagues to hear Sofia out. The employee takes a moment to stand in the shoes of Sofia. That moment changes the momentum and trajectory of the whole story.

Digging Deeper

Mark Yaconelli

Mark Yaconelli is an author, storyteller, retreat leader, community activist, husband, and father. He is the founder and executive director of The Hearth: Building Community One Story at a Time, a registered nonprofit that assists cities and service-based agencies in employing personal storytelling practices to assist communities in deepening relationships, bridging divisions, and celebrating individual courage. One of Mark’s storytelling challenges puts workshop members in pairs. Each person tells a story about themselves. After listening carefully, person A tells person B’s story but uses “I” as if it happened to them. Trying on each other’s stories is a powerful tool for building empathy and compassion. It asks us to go outside of ourselves for a moment and experience the world as the other.

Ellie and Caren: Dwelling with Compassion and Empathy

There is a difference between peace keeping and peace making. To be a peace maker, we must get comfortable with being present to pain and heartache with people without jumping in to fix, gloss over, or avoid. Peacemaking requires us to sit with folks while they are grieving or angry. Dwelling with others is a place to grow our muscles of compassion and empathy.  This video gently addresses in an animation empathy and compassion. What does it look for one person accompanying another in his or her pain. So often we do not want a situation fixed, we just want to feel seen and heard. We want to feel less alone.

Questions Toward Action

Who in your family, your work or community would benefit from your compassion and empathy? Who in your life is willing to dwell with you when things get hard? What does that person do well to help you feel heard and accompanied? When was a time you sat in pain with someone and lamented with them— either through words, tears, art, or simple presence? How would you articulate the difference between peace keeping and peace making? Which is harder for you?


Peace and the Sense of Belonging

  • March 31, 2020

Caren: “More Together than Alone,” 
Peace and the Sense of Belonging

Home. Community. A sense of belonging. Don’t we all long for love and connection? And when the anchored sense of belonging disappears, we spot it — on the drawn face of a child alone on a playground or on an elderly face of someone alone on a park bench. Haven’t we all felt that moment of dislocated loneliness? If no one reaches out to us and brings us into a circle of kindness, loneliness can twist into dangerous alienation. “More together than alone” a phrase used by poet, author, and teacher, Mark Nepo, is my new mantra.

Recently two picture books have caught my eye that speak to a sense of belonging. In each of these quiet stories, a child reaches beyond her own secure circle to include a lonely person in need of a friend:

I Walk with Vanessa

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet (Schwartz & Wade Books) is an expressive, wordless picture book that captures Vanessa’s lonely feelings as a new student and her fright when the class bully verbally attacks her on her way home from school. A girl in a yellow dress watches from a distance then finds kindness and courage to reach out to Vanessa in friendship. It’s a small gesture, but one that multiplies. Eventually an entire community of happy friends accompany Vanessa on her way to school the next morning. The mantra, “more together than alone” rescues Vanessa and strengthens the compassion of the community of kids.

A Map into the World

A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim (Carolrhoda Books), is a touching story of Paj Ntaub, a sensitive young Hmong girl whose family moves into a new home in a new neighborhood in their newly adopted country. Across the street are Bob and Ruth, an older couple who sit on a bench and wave hello. Summer turns to fall. Paj Ntaub’s home fills with the liveliness of baby twin brothers and Paj Ntaub’s own growing up. Winter comes. Sadly, neighbor Ruth dies. Then spring arrives. Without Ruth, Bob sits on the bench by himself. Paj Ntaub senses Bob’s loneliness. With her bucket of chalk, Paj Ntaub draws pictures of her year on the sidewalk and an arrow pointing to her house. The chalk drawings are an invitation, “a map into the world,” a way for Bob to reconnect after loss. The mantra echoes again: “More together than alone.”

Caren: Going Deeper

More Together Than Alone

I shared Mark Nepo’s book titled More Together Than Alone with Ellie. Nepo’s book is a collection of stories that lift up moments across history and cultures when human beings came together in creativity, empathy, collaboration, and enlightenment.

To contrast cultural moments, Nepo first introduces two fictional tribes: The “Go Away” tribe believes in strict laws, clear borders, and loyalty. The “Go Aways” meet the stranger and says, “You’re different, go away.” The other is the “Come Teach Me” tribe. This tribe is willing to cross borders, build bridges, and welcome the stranger. Wisely, Nepo reminds us that “we are born into both tribes and can move from one to the other, depending on the level of our fear.”

Nebo compares the “noise level” of fear and violence and acts of kindness. Fear and violence are loud, disruptive, disturbing, and can blind us like a sandstorm. Acts of compassion and kindness are quiet and often go unacknowledged. More Together Than Alone lifts up quiet, historical times of enlightenment for adults. I Walk with Vanessa and A Map Into the World offer the same message to children.

Listen to Mark Nepo speak about More Together Than Alone.

Ellie: Action Steps

Often children are natural boundary crossers, willing to reach out to one another. How do we lose that unencumbered audacity as adults? We can practice together as we cross boundaries to better understand ourselves, cross interpersonal boundaries to better know the person next to us, and cross systemic boundaries to better know people who are different from us. The work is not easy, nor comfortable. It takes practice, a willingness to be open, a desire to be a member of the “Come Teach Me” tribe.” Each step, no matter the effort, takes us closer to understanding that we are “more together than alone.”

  • Ask yourself where are the boundaries in your school or community? What and who are you taught not to see?
  • Walk around your school or community and see something new.
  • Make a point to talk to a neighbor or someone new at your school.
  • Put yourself in a situation where you are interacting with someone who the world has called “the other.”
  • Invite a partner to come on this journey with you.

Knowing Your Past to Make Peace

  • February 12, 2020

Welcome to Peace-ology. We are two children’s authors teaming up to review children’s books with peace in mind. 

Ellie: The other day, I looked over the shoulder of my five-year-old to see what he was drawing. There was the Ireland flag on the left, the Norway flag on the right, and he was finishing the United States flag in the middle. Simon was born on the day his great grandmother died. He has always been curious about his ancestors. When my spouse’s extended family sings the Norwegian table prayer in harmony, Simon joins in enthusiastically. I love feeding this curiosity of his in part because I believe we need to know where we come from and where we are currently standing to move toward a peaceful future.

Shi-Shi-Etko

In raising peacemakers capable of reconciliation, I have committed to filling our house with books written by and about Native people so my children will know the history of the land we inhabit. One of our current favorites is Shi-Shi-Etko by Nicola L. Campbell. Shi-Shi-Etko (Groundwood Books) tells the story of a girl spending her last four days with her family before being taken away to a residential school. Her extended family fill her mind and heart with memories, knowledge and love so she will not forget where she came from. She visits the woods, the river and the creek, gathering bits of nature to take with her. It is tragic and beautiful. The stunning images pair well with the poetic words, both infusing our hearts.

The book has led to questions about native plants, language, Native people, and our own ancestors. It has fed the curiosity of my children and opened up room to talk about where we came from and where we live. As peacemakers, we must know the history of our land. We must name that residential schools happened, and name how we all lost out because of it. We are challenged to learn our own ancestral histories, celebrate them, and create space for others to do the same.

Bde Maka Ska

Recently the name of a lake by my home was changed from Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska. My mother-in-law drives by it with my boys on her way to drop them off back home. If she ever calls it the old name, my son corrects her. We are slowly creating space for the history and ancient culture of our land to breathe and make us better.

Find other great Native books

Scene on Radio, a podcast out of Duke University, is one of my favorites. I recommend all their work, especially Season 2: Seeing White. Season 4 is about the history of democracy in our country. Episode 1 of Season 4 starts with the Cherokee, and how they were and are arguably more democratic than the Founding Fathers.Jim Bear Jacobs

Jim Bear Jacobs

Caren: Digging Deeper. Ellie, knowing our own history and acknowledging and appreciating the history of others is critical to building peace. I’m reminded of a talk I attended with Jim Bear Jacobs, a Minnesotan, member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, and recognized Twin Cities cultural facilitator. Jim Bear’s mission is dedicated to strengthening relationships between Native and non-Natives by the telling of healing stories (Healing Minnesota Stories) and the compassionate teaching of history. The focus of his talk that November day was Thanksgiving, the holiday’s history and myth making. To begin, Jim Bear introduced himself by acknowledging generations of his ancestors. He knew their names, where they lived, their place within his family and tribe. I wondered how many of us could do the same. We tried, but none of us in the audience had as an extensive family history committed to memory as Jim Bear. The reverence for family history as Jim Bear so clearly modeled challenged each of us to reach back to our own with the same respect. The simple act of reverence and respect brought an audience of individuals into a circle of one.

Ellie and Caren: Questions Toward Action 

Who are the story tellers in your family? What language(s) did your ancestors speak? What words, recipes, practices, folklore or celebrations are part of your own history and place? What words remind you of your childhood or feel like home? What have we discovered about ourselves that we can share with others?

Don’t Sell Picture Books Short! 

Picture books are for all ages. As writers, parents, and teachers, we both have learned so much so quickly by pulling from the nonfiction picture book section of the library. We’ve used picture books in classrooms, not only for young students, but with teenagers, as poetic illustrative models, samples of writing constructs and story structure, or story truths for their literal minds. The pithy nature of picture books can get to the heart of the matter and lead to rich discussions that take us to new places together.

Let us know:

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do. We would like to incorporate your recommendations into upcoming articles, and of course, acknowledge you. Let’s create Peace-ology together. Write to either of us and describe your suggestion. Include your name, contact, and professional or organizational affiliation and send to www.ellieroscher.com or www.carenstelson.com .

We look forward to being on this peace journey together.


Reading Books Through the Lens of Peace

  • January 8, 2020

Welcome to Peace-ology. We are two children’s authors teaming up to review children’s books with peace in mind. Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson, author and educator, peace advocate

Caren: After all our interviews for our book Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, I asked the book’s inspiration, peace educator Sachiko Yasui, if she had any last words she would like to share with children.

Sachiko’s response was to think about this:

What is peace?
What kind of person should I be?
Keep pursuing answers to these questions.

I haven’t stopped thinking about Sachiko’s questions. When I met Ellie, we discovered we ask the same questions when looking for books for kids.

Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher, author and educator, peace advocate

Ellie: I read to my three- and five-year-old children every single day. They memorize lines from books and book characters are the basis for our imaginative play. I also teach peace literacy to teenagers. I am fascinated as a parent and teacher which books spark curiosity in kids and broaden their universe. Which books lead to true exploration around power and reconciliation? Which beautifully show humanities unfolding with a bend toward justice? I am actively on the look-ut for books that inform our imaginations about what kind of healed world is possible.

Caren and Ellie: In our upcoming Peace-ology series, we’ll be on the look-out for peace books we can recommend to you. What is the language of peace? Which stories capture peace in ways that inspire inquiry? How can children’s books help adults and children explore the multi-layers of peace together… because Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the children.”

Peace

Here is the first book we’d like to share to ring in the New Year: Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Weaving the words from the Tao Te Ching, “For there to be peace in the world …” as well as other quotes from world’s peacemakers, children explore a peace journey through Wendy’s exquisitely detailed drawings, inspired by elementary children. Snuggle up and together wend your way from peace in the world to peace in your heart.

What can you do in 2020 to cultivate peace in your body, your family, and your world? Maybe it’s designing a quilt of peace inspired by Wendy’s book, or listening deeply to personal stories of a friend, family member, or a staff member in your school. Or maybe it’s slowing down, adjusting negative self-talk, and helping our children appraise the positive. Our world needs more peace, and it can start with each of us.Peace

illustration copyright Wendy Anderson Halperin, from Peace, Atheneum, 2013

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do.

As we can, we would like to incorporate your recommendations into upcoming articles, and of course, acknowledge you. Let’s make Peace-ology interactive. Write to either of us and describe your suggestion, including your name, contact, and professional or organizational. www.ellieroscher or www.carenstelson.com

Happy New Year to all. We look forward to being on this peace journey together.

About Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson is the author of the award-winning book Sachiko: A Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Story, the picture book A Bowl Full of Peace, and other works for children and young adults. To write Sachiko, Caren traveled to Nagasaki five times to interview Sachiko Yasui and research her extraordinary WWII story of war and peace. Caren has had a long career in education, as a teacher, writer-in-residence, and freelance writer. After receiving her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in 2009, Caren decided it was time to write the stories that needed her attention. After meeting Sachiko Yasui, peace has become one of Caren’s major themes. Caren and her husband Kim have two grown children and one grandson. They split their time between home in Minneapolis and the small town of Lanesboro. Please visit Caren Stelson’s website.

About Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher writes, teaches and speaks about gender, faith, bodies, justice, parenthood and simplicity. Author of Play Like a Girl, How Coffee Saved my Life, and 12 Tiny Things (forthcoming), she is also host of the Unlikely Conversations podcast and editor of the Keeping the Faith series. Ellie’s writing appears in several compilation books, Inscape, Bearings, Embodied Faith, The Thoughtful Christian, Alive Magazine and multiple blogs. She teaches writing at The Loft Literary Center, theology at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and peace literacy at The Global Immersion Project. Ellie holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence in Creative Nonfiction Writing and an MA in Theology from Luther Seminary. She lives in Minneapolis with her spouse and two sons. Please visit Ellie’s website for more information.