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  • The Theme of Peace in Children's Literature
  • Francelia Butler (bio)

Since most fiction depends for its plot on conflict and its peaceful resolution, it is not surprising to find conflict and peaceful resolution in children's books. In children's literature, as can be expected, the conflicts tend to be simpler and more direct than in adult novels. Further, because of the prevailing sense on the part of writers for children that books for children should be ethical, serious issues are often made part of the plot, so that children's fiction frequently has to do with peace—on the personal, family, communal, national, or international level and sometimes on several levels in the same story.

Many picture books deal with conflicts and resolution. Among the best known is The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (il. Robert Lawson, 1936) which is still in print. This well-known story concerns a bull, Ferdinand, who simply likes to smell flowers. He has the capacity to fight but he prefers not to. In the bull ring, Ferdinand smells the flowers in the hair of the ladies in the Galeria, sits down and enjoys the fragrance. There is nothing to do but to take him home.

It is not so easy to find a satisfactory solution to conflict in Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book, published nearly 50 years later in 1984. The Yooks and the Zooks quarrel over a petty thing—whether bread should be eaten butter side up or butter side down. (Conflicts generally have small beginnings.) The weapons with which they attack one another over the Wall become more and more sophisticated, until a time comes when both sides have the power to annihilate each other. They are now, as the story ends, at an impasse.

Less well known are the gentle picture books of Martha Alexander, which have to do with mini-wars within the individual. Marty McGee's Space Lab—No Girls Allowed (1981) concerns a conflict explained in the title. Sabrina (1971) tells about a little girl's conflict with her own name. We're in Big Trouble, Blackboard Bear (1980) transfers a boy's Jungian shadow—his propensity to tamper with other people's belongings—to an imaginary bear.

Similar in tone is Janice May Udry's Let's Be Enemies(il. Maurice Sendak, 1961) about two little boys who are enemies until their mutual [End Page 128] need for a friend brings them together, and peace is achieved. Leo Lionni's The Alphabet Tree (1968) demonstrates how letters are as scattered as people after the destruction of the Tower of Babel until they unite to form words, and the words become strong after they unite to form meaning. The book ends with the phrase: "Peace on earth and good will toward all men."

In No Fighting, No Biting by Else Holmelund Minarik (il. Maurice Sendak, 1959), Rosa and Willy fight because they want to be "Number One"—to sit next to their older cousin, Joan. Joan tells them a story about two little alligators who behave as they are behaving and almost get eaten. At the end of the story about the children and the story within a story about the alligators, egos are brought under control and there is peace.

Another cause for a fight is fear. In The Happy Lion and the Bear by Louise Fatio (il. Roger Duvoisin, 1964) the Happy Lion goes to make a friendly call on the newly arrived Bear. The Bear, frightened by his visitor, stands on his hind legs and roars. Mistaking his fear for hostility, the Lion, now also afraid, roars back. The conflict is resolved by an external happening. A little boy who feeds them both, sprains his ankle. The Lion and the Bear team together to bring the boy home.

The story of Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss (1956) is well known. The people on a speck of dust (Who-ville) need protection and a kindly elephant goes to their aid. Monkeys steal the speck of dust and an eagle drops it in a clover field. The evil kangaroos are hostile to the elephant—they pretend they are the emissaries...


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pp. 128-138
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