Guest Post: Annette LeBox on the Inspiration behind Peace is an Offering

417649Annette LeBox is an environmental activist and award-winning author of four picture books and two YA novels. As a founding member and director of the Pitt Polder Preservation Society, she was a major stakeholder in the conservation of two British Columbia Regional Parks: Blaney Bog and Codd Wetlands.

Her picture book, Salmon Creek, was awarded the British Columbia Book prize for illustrated literature in 2002. Circle of Cranes, a YA novel, was recently released by Dial Books, Penguin U.S. Formerly from Ontario, Annette lives in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, Michael Sather.(source)

 

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I wrote ‘Peace Is An Offering’ a day or two after witnessing the plane crashes into the twin towers on September 11. I was trying to take in the horror of what was happening before my eyes, the images shown on T.V. over and over as a continuous loop, as if we, the viewers needed more time and more repeats, to believe what we were seeing.

I sensed immediately that the world had changed forever, and that the collapse of the twin towers was the beginning of something, not the end, and those acts of terrorism would have a ripple effect, that the waves of 9/11 would send a tsunami of such magnitude that no one could predict what lay ahead, except the certainty of war. And like a mutating cancer, it would spawn other wars.

I remember sitting at my desk weeping, afraid for what lay ahead of us, the march to militarism, a repeat of the ancient need of humans to obliterate one another on a grand scale. I knew that the world-wide geo-political battle had already begun and that countries in similar camps would forge alliances. And in the aftermath, women and children would sustain the most casualties.

I thought of the children I taught at school, their quiet innocence. How best to console them in the face of impending war? On the school playground, conflict seemed an easier game to practice than peace: hit, punch, throw, backstab, gossip. War games in miniature. The gentle kids often bullied or tagged as weak.

I wrote ‘Peace’ as a consolation to children who may have experienced violence in their home, school or neighbourhood and to those unfortunate children who lived in conflict zones.

I imagined each line of the text accompanied by an image showing how children could experience peace in small practical ways — by offering a muffin or peach.

A few weeks after 9/11, I sent the manuscript to several New York City editors. Their responses were eerily similar. The political landscape was in flux, the timing wrong. I put the manuscript in a drawer and forgot about it until 2012, when I was cleaning out my filing cabinet. I reread the poem and on impulse, I sent it to my agent, Steven Chudney, who initially felt that the text would be too difficult to illustrate.

Shortly after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in December of 2012, Steven came across my manuscript in the slush pile, reread it and changed his mind.
He sent it to my editor at the time, Heather Alexander at Dial Books For Young Readers, who quickly accepted it and selected the amazing Stephanie Graegin, an illustrator from Brooklyn, to render the delicate pencil and water colour drawings.

Graegin’s sensitive depiction of the text matched my intent perfectly. Of all the picture book manuscripts I have written, both published and unpublished, ‘Peace’ is closest to my heart.

The poem is like a letter to myself, a reminder to myself that it doesn’t take much to make a difference in the world, that peace can be found in a gesture, a smile, or simply the light streaming through the trees. And that kindness and compassion is in all of us, we just have to reach for it.

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