From The Book Shelf: Peace

Each month I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise, and a passion for creating joyful readers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do.

What is Peace?

Ask a child to close their eyes and imagine what peace means. You will get a “sense” of the depth of their understanding about this concept, which many people around the world strive for on a daily basis (excerpts from What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky).

  • “Peace looks like a cat and a dog curled up together in a basket.” (Maxson, age 10)
  • “Peace tastes like sweet, definitely not sour.” (Jewel, age 8)
  • “Peace feels like a lot of fun, because you know you are safe.” (Kimberly, age 9)
  • “Peace sounds like birds chirping on a spring day.” (Alexis, age 11)
  • “Peace smells like pizza with onions and sausage that just came out of the oven.” (Claire, age 8)

Promoting Peace

International Peace Day is a day set aside for all humanity to move beyond their differences and contribute to building a culture of peace. What if you promoted peace every day in your home, your neighborhood, and your school? There are so many ways you can create a more peaceful world. To get you started:

  1. Speak kindly
  2. Laugh readily
  3. Work cheerfully
  4. Smile freely
  5. Forgive quickly

“Peace begins with a smile.” 
~ Mother Teresa 

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story

This multi-award-winning picture book by Sandra Moore is based on actual events that occurred almost 400 years ago. The story is cleverly told from the perspective of a little bonsai tree the author nicknamed “Miyajima,” after the Japanese island where it was born. “In 1625, when Japan was a land of samurai and castles, I was a tiny pine seedling. A man called Itaro Yamaki picked me from the forest where I grew and took me home with him.” Itaro cared for the white pine for 50 years; shaping it into a beautiful bonsai tree. The bonsai made its home in Hiroshima for centuries. In 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima; the first bomb exploded just two miles from the Yamaki home. Astonishingly, the Yamaki home and the 350-year-old bonsai which sat on a bench behind a wall survived the horrific bombing. In 1976, as part of a special Bicentennial gift and gesture of friendship between Japan and America (two countries that had been enemies during WWII), the Yamaki family donated the beloved bonsai to the United States. It stands today in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. and is affectionately referred to as the “Yamaki pine,” in honor of the devoted family that lovingly trimmed and pruned it through the years, and which was deemed the “Peace Tree” by the Arboretum staff.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Jeanette Winte tells the true story of environmentalist Wangari Maathi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to world peace through the Green Belt Movement in her home country in Africa. As a young girl, Wangari excelled in school, and earned a scholarship to attend college in the United States. After earning a master’s degree in biological sciences, she returned to her homeland and was saddened to see that the former lush landscape had been drastically altered. The deforestation efforts had left the ground dry, barren, and stripped of the trees she loved as a child. She knew that if something was not done, soon all the trees would be gone, and so would clean water and firewood for cooking. Wangari rolled up her sleeves and began making a change right in her own backyard by planting nine seedlings in 1977. Her passion, drive, and determination to promote change began a movement, and one by one, local women began planting indigenous seedlings, too. By 2004, more than 30 million trees had been planted by members of her Green Belt Movement in Kenya alone and in time, it had spread to 30 other African countries, and beyond. In African tradition, a tree is a symbol of peace. After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari planted a Nandi flame tree at the base of Mount Kenya.

“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process, heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.”

~ Wangari Maathai


Science and Art

The word “Bon-sai” is a Japanese term which, literally translated, means, “planted in a shallow container.” This art form has been around for over a thousand years. The goal is to create artistically a “miniaturized, but realistic, representation of nature in the form of a tree that is pruned and typically shaped to keep under 4 feet in height.” ( Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants—any tree species can be used to grow a bonsai, although trees with a woody trunk and smaller leaves or needles are easier to design (e.g. juniper, maple).

Make a Potato Bonsai:

  1. Collect supplies—a sprouted potato (no leaves yet), pea gravel, potting soil, a shallow container with drainage holes (a margarine tub works great), and scissors.
  2. Decide which side of the potato from which you want to grow your bonsai and lay the potato with that side facing up. Fill the container with potting soil about ¼-way up the potato. Then use pea gravel to fill the container up to the ½-way mark on the potato. Add water and place in a sunny window.
  3. In 1–3 weeks, leaves will begin to grow. Discard leaves that grow beneath the gravel line and keep the leaves that grow from the part of the potato above the soil. You can begin to trim the leaves at this time. Go slowly and do not cut too much off at first. Continue to water it once a week and have fun shaping and pruning your very own bonsai! (com)


An after-school club in Massachusetts worked for 10 years to create the biggest book in the world on the topic of peace. The book is 10′ x 12′ and boasts a huge collection of photos, letters, artwork, and even songs in response to questions about ways to achieve world peace. They received replies from children, teachers, veterans, soldiers, religious leaders, and even such Nobel Laureates as Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter, and the Dalai Lama. You can see photos of the Big Book Pages for Peace at

In like fashion, create your own “peace collection.” Ask family, friends, and others in your community for their opinions about peace. Add your own thoughts, feelings, artwork, poems, etc. to design a unique work of art, book (a spiral notebook works great), computer generated product, or some other creation. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What is peace?
  • What is the most peaceful place you know? Why?
  • What would it take for the world to be more peaceful?
  • What image comes to mind when you think of peace?