Folks will ask for it. Sure they will. You sit at a children’s reference desk in a library long enough and eventually somebody is going to ask you for a book on the topic of “peace”. As a librarian, you’re in a pickle. See, you want to give them what they want, and certainly there is no lack of peace-related books for children out there. But since you’re a librarian you want to get your patrons to best of the best. And to be perfectly frank, I’d say that the bulk of peace books for kids out there are dreck. Goopy, icky, sentimental crud. There are exceptions, of course. Books like The Big Book for Peace for example are pretty good without dipping a toe too often in the tempting waters of didacticism. Poetry exists too but as with most things it’s hard to separate the good from the bad. You get a leg up if the art’s extraordinary, though. Now Anna Grossnickle Hines probably ranks as one of the top (maybe THE top) quilt-based illustrators of children’s books on the North American continent. I regularly use her 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe in my Toddler Storytimes. Her art is delightful but I admit to suppressing a small sigh when I saw that she’d created a book of peace poems. Fortunately I was pleased to discover that quite a few of these are pretty good. The poems are far more touch and go than the art, but all in all the collection is strong. And pretty. Did I mention pretty? Pretty.
“O peace, / why are you such / an infrequent guest?” In twenty-eight poems Anna Grossnickle Hines seeks to answer that very question and to come up with solutions to some close-to-home problems that kids face all the time. Set against a backdrop of handmade quilts of her own making, Hines tackles both the big questions and the small. A boy considers what would happen if he frightened away a deer, while another stands nose to nose with his sister until their anger is forgotten and somebody laughs. One poem shows that if you say “peace” over and over again the word turns your lips into a smile. They discuss the domino effect and the role of fear as it relates to violence. Through it all, the quilts capture these poems and reflect them like cloth prisms. Notes at the end of the book list some Peacemakers of the world (everyone from Jimmy Carter to Dorothy Day, and even a couple kids as well) and a section called “Peaceful Connections” discusses the creator’s quilting process.
Most collections of poetry for kids contain some poems that are top notch and others that are so-so. This is just as true for books of different poets as it is for a single poet writing a bunch of poems. Hines is a good poet, but the collection starts off slowly. The poems “Making an Entrance”, “An Invitation” and “Where I Live” all sort of blend together. Once they pass the book perks up. “Links” and “The Stream” are both paired with one of my favorite Hines quilts (ripples of water in a stream / river) and discuss beautiful situations. “Reruns” cleverly dissects the science of anger and the point at which it becomes a choice rather than a response. And then there’s “Soldier Daddy”, one of the few nods to our current ongoing wars, which acknowledges a child’s distress at having a parent with post-traumatic stress disorder.
When it comes to peace, I sometimes wonder if collections like this one make the whole concept too abstract. It’s easy to make peace a word rather than a practical goal. With that in mind Hines knows to include a couple real world examples alongside the metaphorical ones. The poem “Sure Cure” involves a rather clever application for solving the occasional sibling squabble. “What Would You Choose?” allows for a lot of discussion when it displays a situation where a girl chooses to play with a child that she knows has head lice. And “Reruns” offers practical advice for combating personal violence. I much prefer these poems to cutesy ones like “What If” and “Peace: A Recipe” which pop up in books of poetry for kids of all the time. Give me thoughtful over “Rinse well with compassion / Stir in a fair amount of trust” any day of the week.
I cannot even begin to fathom what it would take to make a book like this. The trick is in the layout, really. Hines had to know right from the get go which poems she was going to use and where they were going to go. Then she had to create her quilts with plenty of space in the areas where the poems would slot in. Sometimes there’s one poem for two pages, two poems for two pages, or three poems for two pages. I get the feeling she knew precisely the order the poems would go in as well. After all, “Making an Entrance” the first poem in the book, not only introduces the concept but also includes a full left-hand side page of quilted blaring trumpets. I’m sure a couple pages could be shifted about, but for the most part the book feels as though it was planned to be in this particular order from the very start.
Not a lot of quilters in the picture book business. There’s Hany El Saed Ahmed who worked on Goha the Wise Fool and Shelley Mavor’s books (like Pocketful of Posies) have a quilted aspect to them. Yet for consistency and skill, Hines is the king of the hill. That’s partly because it’s just so doggone hard to do what she does (and that includes writing poetry). When Peaceful Pieces works, combining a great poem with a great piece of art, there’s nothing that can top it. Occasionally, however, the poems don’t live up to their visual accompaniment. Still it’s an original take on something we’ve seen done numerous times before. And since it doesn’t look as if war and violence are going away anytime soon, books of this sort will continue to be sought out time and time again. An original that serves a need.
On shelves now.
Source: Borrowed copy from library for review.
- A Year of Reading
- Poetry for Children
- Waking Brain Cells
- Carol’s Corner
- prose and kahn
- A Picture Book a Day
Other Reviews: Book Advice
- Read about the creation of the quilt here.
- Hear about the work that went into a single page here.
Hear Ms. Hines talk about the book for yourself: