By Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Annie Bowler. Flyaway Books, 2021. 40 pages. $18/hardcover; $14/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for ages 3–7.
This bright, cheerful biography of social activist Peace Pilgrim starts with her desire to make the world better and her idea to walk across the United States spreading a message of peace. Kathleen Krull focuses on concrete details that make Peace Pilgrim come alive as a real person and also show the grounded, practical side of following a radical leading. We learn how Peace Pilgrim prepared for her pilgrimage, how she spent days and nights along the way, how she interacted with people she met, and how long she persisted in following her leading. We see her talking to a classroom full of children, sleeping on the front seat of a fire engine, and wearing out 29 pairs of sneakers. Annie Bowler’s illustrations perfectly complement the upbeat tone of the story with light, fresh colors; charming details; and friendly expressions on the faces of a diverse array of people.
Although Krull certainly shows that Peace Pilgrim’s life required lots of hard work and persistence, this biography is entirely upbeat, focusing on Peace Pilgrim’s friendships, her pleasure in nature, and all the people and places she encountered. I confess to being somewhat ambivalent about the call to “give up everything,” and I appreciate in this biography that decision is not presented as martyrdom but as a joyful choice undertaken from forward-facing love rather than backward-looking guilt.
The book is written for a secular audience, not using, for example, Peace Pilgrim’s own words about God. Certainly the story is easily tied to the Quaker language of divine leadings and looking for that of God in everyone. It also would work well in discussions of the Quaker testimonies of peace and simplicity. It could spark discussion of grand attention-grabbing activism as well as small, everyday interactions being part of a larger way of life. At the back of the book is a page of additional information about Peace Pilgrim, which is appropriate not just for the children in its target audience but for older children or multigenerational groups as well. The simple text and bright pictures could be shared remotely by meetings that are not meeting in person.
Anne Nydam is a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting. A former middle school art teacher, she now works as an author and artist.