Monday, August 31, 2009

Peaceful Heroes

By Jonah Winter and illustrated by Sean Addy

Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2009

$17.99, ages 9-12

If you ever feel like G.I. Joe or Iron Man too narrowly define your child's ideas of what makes a hero, you'll be delighted to read Winter's compelling anthology of 14 of the greatest peacemakers to ever live.

In this counterbalance to modern day violence, Winter summarizes the lives of remarkable religious and political leaders and ordinary people who challenged injustice without ever raising a fist or weapon.

Author of the acclaimed Frida and Diego, Winter begins with three of the most revered heroes of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and summarizes the stands they took and the passive ways they resisted injustice. Winter never gets into the violence of their deaths, as if to say to readers: it is the life they led and the causes they fought that define their lives -- not the horrific actions of others.

Winter then explores the contributions of lesser known heroes. Among them, Holland's Corrie ten Boom, who hid Jewish people fleeing from the Nazis; Islam's Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who resisted British rule in India and became, in Winter's words, "the greatest proof in recent history that Islam can promote peace"; Paul Rusesabagina, who turned his hotel in Rwanda into a haven for the persecuted Tutsis; and William Feehan, a 71-year-old New York City firefighter who lost his life trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center after it was bombed in 2001.

There is a gentle power to Winter's text and Sean Addy's portraits. Winter writes as if he's just a chair away, talking directly to your child, while Addy juxtaposes the humanity of the heroes with the tension of their circumstances in collages that evoke hope even as they suggest danger.

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