Great Peacemakers – Book Review

Great Peacemakers: True Stories from Around the World
Ken Beller and Heather Chase
LTS Press

Reviewed by Jen Karsbaek for Reader Views 07/08

Go in Peace
4.5 Stars

From the publisher’s book description:

“Whether you are a parent seeking positive roles models for your children, an educator looking for thought-provoking material for your students, or someone simply wanting an uplifting read, then Great Peacemakers is sure to meet your needs and inspire the peacemaker in you.”

We live in a world of violence. From war, to domestic abuse, to drive-by-shootings, to verbal abuse, many people make the choice to commit violence each and every day. This same violence is witnessed by children, day in and day out. In such a world, how can a child make good decisions regarding violence? Obviously parents and teachers can explain the need for resisting violent behavior, they can even live out those examples. Sometimes, however, these examples are not enough, children need to be exposed to numerous positive role models, people who made the choice to act out peace every day, particularly people whose success in life is rooted in their non-violent choices.

“Great Peacemakers” is an attempt to provide children with non-violent role models. The book is divided into five sections with four biographies per section. Each section is meant to represent a different avenue of peacemaking: choosing nonviolence; living peace; honoring diversity; valuing all life; and caring for the planet.

As a former teacher in a very violent neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, I picked up this book with the purpose of evaluating how well chosen the role models were. In particular, I was looking to see if there were people, other than Martin Luther King, Jr., with whom my former students – or any high-risk students – were likely to identify. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity I encountered in “Great Peacemakers.” I had been terribly afraid that I would discover a book with 18 men of European descent (mostly American), with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi thrown in for good measure. There was a bias towards men and people of European descent, but Beller and Chase were clearly intentional about diversity, which makes this book endlessly more helpful as a teaching aide. I would have appreciated if they had included a few more women – 14 of the 20 people profiled were men – but in keeping track of how many stories came from each continent, I found the numbers to be largely well balanced.

This book should be used with caution with younger children – the writing level is too high for most second graders to read on their own, for instance – but it could definitely be a valuable tool in the classroom or with one’s own child. If you are going to use this book with elementary-aged children, I would recommend reading the stories before hand and perhaps doing a little extra research on the topics discussed, because they are likely to evoke questions. With older children, or just for an uplifting read when the world seems dark, you can’t miss with “Great Peacemakers.”

Buy this book on Amazon.

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