Storytime: Peace

There’s lots of ways to look at peace, and when you find it, you know it is sweet fruit indeed. There’s the peaceful repose of a dog sprawled out on the bed . . .

. . . and the kind of peace that connects people and places. I think reading a picture book is always an invitation to slow down, settle in, and rest as you enter another world. As I prepare for launching a new middle grade into the world (THE MINOR MIRACLE, out May 7th), I found reading the following picture books particularly restorative. One inspires us to see connections that bind us together on common ground. Another beckons us to contemplate the beauty of an egg. Though it be fragile or hard to find, peace be with you.

A River of Dust: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon by Jilanne Hoffmann, illustrated by Eugenia Mello

Did you know that dust from the Sahel in Africa travels across the ocean to nourish the soil of the Amazon rain forest? Did you know there was such a thing as cram-cram grass? I love this book for so, so many reasons. The narrator is dust. The illustrations are beautiful. The scope is grand, while using very few words. It begins like this:

“Millions of years ago, no ocean lay between us. You and I were one. And then slowly, slowly, great forces tore us apart, creating seven continents surrounded by vast oceans.”

The language is gorgeous. As the dust travels across the ocean, some of it falls to the sea, but it doesn’t stop until it releases it phosphorus over the Amazon, an essential mineral the trees desperately need to survive. Achieving peace is tied to realizing how connected we all are. When we’re connected, we care. Check out the back matter for lots more interesting information. Do I believe a picture book can get us one step closer to world peace? Yes, I do.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Speaking of world peace, this book. All the world is wide and deep. Yes, it is. We see children and adults working and playing together, as the simple rhyming text takes us around this world, and this day, to beaches, a garden, a farmer’s market, up a tree, to a fountain, a sea, until wind and rain send everyone inside a cozy cafe.

Spreading shadows, setting sun

Crickets, curtains, day is done

A fire takes away the chill

All the world can hold quite still

I want to enter Marla Frazee’s brilliant illustrations, sit around the piano, harp and violin we find on the final spread, and join the party. There’s so much peace and togetherness in this book, and the last words are like a goodnight kiss: All the world is you and me.

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

They had me at the first double page spread (before the copyright or title page) with a gorgeous array of intricately illustrated eggs. There’s the Dogfish egg that looks like a pouch with curly tendrils at the ends, the Red-winged Blackbird’s pale blue egg with black squiggles, and over fifty more. The Lobster egg is tinier than a pencil eraser. The Field Cricket’s looks like a Cheetoh.

When I finally tore myself off that first page and to the text, feeling peaceful from the meditation on all those gorgeous eggs, a giant Black-necked Stilt egg egg rested next to the words, written in script, “An egg is quiet.” Simple, rhyming text goes on to tell us some eggs sit on top of the father’s feet, and some get buried in the sand. Warm. Cozy. Eggs are colorful and shapely, clever and artistic. Some pages have more text, fleshing out the simple rhymes. You can choose to take a moment, be peaceful, learn and linger. When you get to the end, that same Black-necked Stilt egg hatches, and then, “an egg is noisy!” It’s followed by the final double page spread, illustrating all those gorgeous creatures who were waiting in their eggs at the beginning of the story. We often hear peace paired with quiet, as in, “I sure could use some peace and quiet.” May this book get you there.

Frederick by Leo Lionni

This is an oldie and such a goodie. My copy’s white cover has yellowed, and the Caldecott sticker is peeling off at the bottom. I’ve kept it all these years, gone back to its message and cheeky last line . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

All the mice are busy preparing for winter. They work day and night, gathering food, except Frederick, who sits in the sun with his eyes half closed, peacefully basking. His mouse friends ask him why he isn’t working and he says he’s “gathering sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” He’s gathering colors and words, too. Choosing to sit in peace, to be intentional and industrious at something that doesn’t look important, when everyone around you is hurrying and scurrying at Very Important Tasks, can be difficult. But it can be important. Just as important as whatever made the others so busy.

When winter comes and the food is gone and all is gray and cold, Frederick tells the mice to close their eyes, and they do. They settle in, peaceful, as he speaks of the warmth of the sun with its golden glow, the colors of the flowers and the berry bush, and crafts all those words he gathered into a poem. The book’s last lines come to me when I’m writing, whether poetry or children’s books or blog posts or book reviews. There is value in working with words and then sharing them.

“But Frederick,” they said, “you are a poet!”

Frederick blushed, took a bow, and said shyly, “I know it.”

Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger

Reading this book invokes peace. With just one or two sentences per page we watch an old man get ready to bring about the night. “He opens a wooden chest with an endless string of pearls. He lifts the strand, takes one pearl from it, and closes the chest again.” Deliberate. Gentle. Simple. So peaceful.

Grandfather Twilights looks as if he’s made of, well, twilight. It drifts behind him as he walks through the forest, like a kind of cape that envelops everything. He’s like a Slumber superhero, inviting rest and silence.

He holds the pearl in the palm of his hand and goes for a walk. With each step, the pearl gets larger. The leaves whisper and “little birds hush.” The cadence calls you to linger on the “shhhh,” of hush as you flip across wordless double page spreads. The pearl Grandfather Twilights holds has grown by the time he reaches the water, and he gently, “gives the pearl to the silence above the sea.” It rises and becomes the moon, and Grandfather Twilight goes home to bed, setting readers up for a peaceful night’s slumber.

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