Caren Stelson



for all

A Call to Action

What is peace?

What kind of per­son do I want to be?

Pursue answers to these questions.

These were the last words Sachiko Yasui shared with me for our book before I sent in my man­u­script to edi­tor Carol Hinz at Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group. Sachiko’s words also have been ring­ing in my ears ever since I wrote them down.

What is peace? What kind of per­son do I want to be? These ques­tions are a call to action. One action I’ve tak­en is to join the board of direc­tors of World Citizen, a Minnesota non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes peace edu­ca­tion and inter­na­tion­al peace sites. World Citizen helps any community—schools, busi­ness­es, places of wor­ship, parks, even homes become inten­tion­al and com­mit­ted places to prac­tice Five Peace Actions:

  • Seek pace with­in your­self and others
  • Reach out in service.
  • Protect the environment
  • Promote inter­cul­tur­al understanding
  • Be a respon­si­ble cit­i­zen of the world.

This January 2017, I was invit­ed to do a read­ing of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story at Red Balloon Children’s Bookshop, a well-known and respect­ed book store in Saint Paul, MN—and an inter­na­tion­al peace site. A wood­en peace pole with a mes­sage of peace writ­ten in six lan­guages stands in front of the book­shop. What if we com­bined a read­ing of Sachiko with a cer­e­mo­ny to reded­i­cate Red Balloon as a peace site? World Citizen mem­bers could come to help cel­e­brate. Bookstore own­er Holly Weinkauf and events and mar­ket­ing man­ag­er Angela Whited agreed.

Red Balloon own­er Holly Weinkauf, Sachiko author Caren Stelson, and orig­i­nal Red Balloon own­er, Carol Erdahl.

On the Saturday of the read­ing, an audi­ence gath­ered at the Red Balloon. I shared Sachiko’s atom­ic bomb sur­vival sto­ry, her words of peace, and my own jour­ney writ­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry. Afterward, we sang peace songs as we walked out­side, car­ry­ing strings of origa­mi cranes. In the chilly air, Holly spoke to us:

Beside the Peace Pole, Red Balloon Bookshoip own­er Holly Weinkauf reded­i­cat­ed the store as an inter­na­tion­al peace site.

When [for­mer own­ers] Carol [Erdahl] and Michele [Cromer-Poire] ded­i­cat­ed the Red Balloon as a peace site, they did so in part as a response to local events hap­pen­ing at the time. They felt that becom­ing a peace site was a way to make con­crete some­thing they were already doing, cre­at­ing paths to peace through books.

Today we are reded­i­cat­ing Red Balloon as a peace site in part as a response to cur­rent events, in response to harm­ful words that have been spo­ken by pub­lic offi­cials, and in response to our cur­rent cli­mate of hos­til­i­ty and tensions.

As Carol and Michele knew in 1998, being a peace site is a nat­ur­al fit for a kids’ book­store. Through books, kids can walk through worlds that some­times reflect their own expe­ri­ences and val­i­date their real­i­ty. Through books they also walk through worlds where the expe­ri­ences are very dif­fer­ent, and that helps give our kids dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and broad­er per­spec­tives. Through books, we all gain more empa­thy and under­stand­ing for each other.

Holly is right. We all need to gain more empa­thy and more under­stand­ing for each other.

In our unsta­ble world, we can­not under­state the pow­er of books to bring peace.

At the Red Balloon Bookshop’s Peace Pole, left to right, Keiko Kawakami (Caren’s  Japanese inter­preter), Danielle Carnito (Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group book design­er for Sachiko), Caren Stelson (author of Sachiko), Carol Hinz (Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group edi­tor for Sachiko)

Link: Red Balloon Bookshop’s month­ly E‑Booklist/ Jan 2017, Issue I: Books about peace

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