Wednesday, September 21, 2011

International Day of Peace

Today, September 21, is the day declared by the UN as International Day of Peace. For families and teachers interested in multiculturalism, this is a great day to observe all the ways people around the world are similar, and can come together in the name of peace. Our hopes and dreams for a peaceful world are present all year long, of course. Still, observing International Day of Peace gives us an opportunity to reflect on what being a citizen of the world means, and to celebrate our unique cultures and ways of life.

For preschoolers, there are some fantastic picture books that add to any International Day of Peace unit or celebration. I especially love Karen Katz's Can You Say Peace?. Katz's folk-art inspired illustrations are lively and colorful, a feast for the eyes and the imagination. Each spread features a different nation and teaches how to say peace in that country's language.  One page reads "May lives in China. / May says he ping (hey ping)." May's family is shown on the banks of a river, watching boats go by and gazing at the beautiful mountains. May herself is depicted in a colorful kimono, with rosy cheeks and shiny black hair, and the peace she speaks of is reflected in her sweet smile. Can You Say Peace? is one even the youngest toddler can appreciate.

Todd Parr is well known as an author and illustrator whose picture books represent diversity in all its forms. Parr isn't afraid of color and it shows -- if you've ever seen one of his books you know that his seemingly simple illustrations are set off by a bold palette of primary shades, perfect for drawing the eye. In The Peace Book, Parr not only includes his customary multicultural perspective, he also defines peace in a variety of interesting, thought-provoking ways. Peace is not only "planting a tree", it is also "reading all different kinds of books". The latter might not spring immediately to mind when you think of peace, but the tolerance that suggestion affirms is, at its very core, the definition of peace between peoples. I love that "peace is being who you are", whether that's a green-skinned mohawk-wearer, or a blue-skinned lady with a huge bouffant. Hooray!

Peace is not just a feeling, it's an experience for all the senses -- or so is the message underlying What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky. If you are looking for a way to underscore the point that people of the world all experience the same feelings and desires, this title is a good choice. Bright, simple illustrations accompany a number of ways that peace can be sensed, felt, tasted, touched. Peace smells like "a bouquet of flowers in a happy family's living room" but also "pizza with onions and sausage" (and what kiddo can't relate to that?). While this choice might be too simple for older kids, it would fit nicely with other books about peace as a grouping for preschool age and younger.

International Day of Peace goes far beyond the reaches of our living room -- but that's where we'll be starting, with a selection of picture books like these that help us appreciate difference and celebrate the common dream of peace for all peoples.

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