MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature & Book Review of “The Peace Bell”

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I am happy to say that I am part of the amazing group of folks that will be participating in the first Multicultural Children’s Book day on January 27, 2014! A collaborative effort to discover, promote, share and celebrate multicultural children’s books by over sixty bloggers will be giving voice to the countless books that too often go unnoticed.

Last week I received The Peace Bell by Margi Preus in the mail. It was a little book, but as I soon discovered it held a big and powerful message.  As I read it I realized it was based on true events. My first thought was whether or not my first graders would get the gist of this delicate story since it is set in Japan during World War II.  So, prior to reading the story we looked at images of maps, discussed where Japan was in relation to the United States and images of Japanese children and families.

holt, peace bellThe story begins with a grandmother, Yuko, telling her granddaughter and friend, who is visiting from America, the significance of the celebration that they were attending; the return of the “peace bell”.  Yuko recalls her childhood during World War II in Japan when life was not abundant or free from worry. She narrates that as a little girl she would look forward to the bell being rung in the temple during the new year and that it’s vibration would be maintained deep in her heart.  But with the turmoil of war not only were many luxuries cast away, so was the bell.  The bell was taken down and melted for scrap metal for the war efforts.  The feeling of loss is beautifully illustrated by Hideko Takahashi.  Many years later, Yuko goes with hurried anticipation to the celebration of the returned bell that was found and returned by Americans to her hometown in Japan as a gesture of peace and friendship.

After we read the story twice, my first graders generated a list of words to describe these two polar opposite ways of being: peace and war. I was very surprised at how articulate they were in expressing their understanding of these abstract concepts. The following day we read the story for the third time and I asked the students to write whatever they wanted to share. Many of them made a connection with the grandmother in the story saying that their grandmother lives with them at home and helps take care of them.  We also discussed ways to be more peaceful.  My favorite response was, “We can hold hands.”  Well said.

peace:war chart

My favorite part is when the grandma got married because I like kimonos.

My favorite part is when the grandma got married because I like kimonos.

Lastly, I would like to thank Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book /Audrey Press and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom who teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event. If you would like to participate or find more resources please visit:  Multicultural Children’s Book Day. We are hoping that parents, teachers, librarians and bookstores will help bring awareness and more diversity in the books that children are exposed to.  Mrs. Fernandez, our wonderful school librarian has graciously offered to read The Peace Bell to the classes that will be visiting her in the library next week.

I learned war destroys buildings and lives. It takes peace away.

I learned war destroys buildings and lives. It takes peace away.

And to the sponsors who have made this endeavor possible, Thank you!

Wisdom Tales Press
Lee & Low Books
Chronicle Books
Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha  (@grandadmasbaha)

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson