Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 14 Nov 2023

Peace on Earth by Smriti Halls, illustrated by David Litchfield

The theme of peace is always going to be appealing for those of us who believe that it might be possible to live more companionably one day. With wars continuing to rage across the world, it seems important to present children with some hopeful stories about the future. Although adults might try to protect them, they know that there are serious problems, usually in far-away places, and that war can affect ordinary people, including children.

This beautiful book with pictures by David Litchfield, an internationally acclaimed illustrator, focusses on positive messages about how children might play their part in building a more peaceful world.

The front cover sets the mood and signals the power of friendship between a boy and two animals as they sit beneath the stars against a full moon beyond the hills. The tranquil lake in which the wolf dips his bushy tail and the boy dangles his legs, sparkles and shimmers. 

The following three pages are generously suffused with rich colour and atmosphere to the edges with sparse, rhyming text which reads rather like a prayer, embedded in the illustration. The format then changes to section the pages vertically so that the rhythm of the story is slowed down. I particularly liked the pages that show the band of adventurers setting off across the lake in a boat with only the words ‘and plans declared!’ in the left- hand corner. The narrative then continues pictorially, which leaves plenty of spaces for the reader to fill in the gaps. What could they be talking about and why do most of them look really worried?

The atmosphere shifts again when they arrive at the far shore of the lake and we can see that the friends are arguing. The next double page spread is one of my favourites with the depiction of anger growing and glowing between the children. They are standing staring out at us in a landscape full of jagged rocks with the background of a reddening sky with dark clouds, framed by looming trees:

‘And fires rage

and burn within.

They spark and blaze

within our minds …’

The rage escalates to what looks like the beginning of a terrible battle against a frightening backdrop of giant ferocious looking serpents.

I can imagine that children would be inspired to draw their own versions of what serious Anger might look like after looking closely at these pages.

The rhythm changes again to four vertical sections which quietens the mood, three containing the now sullen looking children and the final one showing the animals looking across at them. After this, we return to the whole page format again as the problems, whatever they might be, are resolved. They make the journey back across the lake to the twinkling shore where other people seem to be rejoicing at the beauty of the scene and the three human friends lie down happily together in the flowery meadow with the animals howling at the huge moon and the shooting stars. The final message is that everyone has the responsibility to work towards peace on earth. 

I strongly recommend this stunning picture book with an optimistic theme. Available now from Walker Books, you will be able to get it from your local independent bookshop and if they don’t have it on their bookshelves, they will be happy to order it for you.    

Karen Argent

November 2023