When I wrote the children's book, The Power of Bread in 2021, I prefaced it with a map* of the Middle East and zeroed in on a small section of land – Israel and Palestine. Since the story is about two second graders attending school in Cairo, one from Israel and the other from Palestine, I wanted young readers to know where those unfamiliar-sounding places were located. Unfamiliar then, but all too familiar now, even to the ears of children.
(In case the text on the page is difficult to read, it states:
Israel and Palestine are in the Middle East. People who live there have disagreed, even fought, over the same land for hundreds of years. Even today, many Palestinians and Israelis don't get along and consider each other enemies. Others work together for peaceful ways to live side by side.
The book is based on a true story that happened when Drew and I were working at Cairo American College (a pre-K through grade 12 school) in Egypt. Among my multi-cultural class of second graders were Khalil from Palestine and Leah from Israel. (Not their real names) From the first day they entered the classroom, they referred to the other as "enemy."
Enemy, really? I was stunned. These were 8-year-olds! How could 8-year-olds consider someone they'd never met, never even spoken to, an enemy? I wasn't naive, but rather unbelieving. I know that prejudice and hatred – just as tolerance and peace – are taught early in a child's life through word, example, an eye roll here, a derogatory shake of the head there.
In the case of Kahlil and Leah, they had experienced fear and conflict first-hand, which only heightened their distrust of the Other, regardless of whether or not they had actually met their new classmate. Such prejudgement has rarely hit me with such force...and never from children. That year, as their teacher, prompted me to write The Power of Bread.
It grew out of my desire to create a child-centered story which might lead to conversations about prejudice and discovering similarities, in spite of differences. Foremost, of course, I wanted children to enjoy the story and begin to develop their own ideas and questions. So, I added two wise grandmothers and a touch of magic ~ or perhaps, a teacher's transformative power of compassion.
In light of the current Israeli-Hamas war, my wish is that The Power of Bread, more than ever, will be a voice of hope, peaceful coexistence and ultimately...friendship.
May we all remember that within each of us lies the power of peace.
All proceeds from The Power of Bread go to the Little Learners Child Development Center at Our House in Little Rock, Arkansas. Our House is an extraordinary place – a community – that serves the working homeless and their families of Central Arkansas.
In the Power of Bread's dedication, I write that children are the world's best hope for peace –and that means children everywhere – whether in the Middle East or Arkansas, USA.
May all our children begin their lives in atmoshperes of acceptance and diversity and grow into adults who pass the peace onto their children.
(The Power of Bread can be ordered through an independent bookseller, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)
I ask that you forward this blog posting to at least one other person as a way for the book's message of peace to spread. Thank you!
*Map layout by James Matthews, editor; book illustrations by Madeleine Robinson.