Big Book: Pages for Peace
Kids Can Make a Difference
Bookmakers & Dreamers Peace Club
Groton Dunstable Regional School District
Edited by Stacey Billings Chilcoat
In 2004, a small group of 5th-grade students and one enthusiastic middle school teacher, Betsy Sawyer, started a weekly after-school writing club at the Groton Dunstable Middle School in Groton, Massachusetts. Over the course of that first year, the club set their sights on creating a record-breaking giant book to carry the message of peace to the hearts and minds of children worldwide. Here is their story:
In the fall of 2004, our newly formed “Bookmakers & Dreamers Club” wanted to do something really “big.” We decided to create the largest book in the world! Although our club leader and middle school teacher Mrs. Sawyer was on board with the idea, she secretly thought it would never happen. We convinced her to let us try to break the big book record in the Guinness Book of World Records. Mrs. Sawyer challenged us to come up with a topic that was big enough for this “big” project. During our planning discussions, we shared our thoughts and fears and that led us to consider the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. With guidance from Mrs. Sawyer, we chose world peace as our topic. At the time, we had no idea about how truly enormous this topic was and what lessons we would learn along the way.
We became very excited with the theme of “Peace,” and began a letter-writing campaign. We sent hundreds of letters to our families, friends, community leaders, dignitaries, educators, Nobel Laureates, veterans, artists, writers, musicians, politicians, and other students worldwide asking them to respond to five questions:
- What is world peace?
- Will there ever be world peace?
- Where do you see the world in 20 years?
- What have you done to help create peace in your lifetime?
- What can KIDS do to help create a more peaceful world?
Letters began pouring in. As we took turns reading them out loud to the club, we discussed the various perspectives and life experiences that the writers shared. To our surprise, many notable people responded. We’ve received letters from Nobel Peace Prize winners, such as former President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. We’ve heard from local and national politicians, such as Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, and from celebrities and sports figures, like Tony Hawk. We’ve heard from many organizations, such as Amnesty International. We’ve received letters from firefighters, veterans, teachers, artists, parents and grandparents, neighbors, and friends.
We learned that world peace does not just mean an end to all wars. In order to achieve world peace, people must be given the chance to live their lives with dignity and security. We discovered five consistent messages that came from people in all walks of life. In order to end conflict and violence, people need: healthy food, adequate housing, education, health care, and meaningful jobs. We also learned that many conflicts in the world are related to ethnic and religious intolerance.
In these letters, people suggested we travel and learn about cultures different from our own. People advised us to become educated about conflicts that exist around the world. They encouraged us to get involved to help end poverty and hunger. Through the creation of Big Book, Pages for Peace, the peace club members hope to spread these important messages to people all over the world.
“I believe that children all over the world want the same things and it is their future at stake. Their voices are clear and their desires are powerful; they can help adults see the mistakes made and they will work toward solutions to world peace.”
—from the letter of a parent volunteer
What started as an after-school writing club for a few students grew into a huge project spanning 12 years and involving the entire community. Our club membership started with just seven 5th-graders and has grown to an average of 50 active club members in the Groton Dunstable Middle School each year as well as approximately 300 Peace Club alumni ages 14 to 23 years old. The scope of the club itself has also grown far beyond a simple writing project. We have invited speakers from different organizations to attend our club meetings and teach us what peace means to them. One of our most memorable speakers included the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. These people, who lost family members during the attacks of 9/11, taught us that violence only leads to more violence.
The club has taken many field trips to learn about all of the parts involved in the construction of the book. A book as large as ours cannot be printed on paper or bound by a normal book binder. The club took a field trip to EFI Vutek in Meredith, New Hampshire, to see the machines they create to print large-scale posters on Tyvek paper. We visited Unigraphics in Woburn, Massachusetts, to see the operation of a Vutek machine and learn about the mechanics involved in printing, binding, storing, and moving our book. We have taken several field trips to the University of Massachusetts in Lowell and have worked closely with the UMASS Lowell Department of Engineering in an effort to create the display stand and a robotic page turner. We met several times with award-winning book designer Joan Paley of North Scituate, Massachusetts, who taught us about book design, layout, and publishing, while volunteering hundreds of hours to help our club with the enormous task of creating a book.
The members of our club have been invited to a number of speaking engagements to spread the word about our Big Book, from rotary club meetings to local television special interest stories. In 2008, our club members presented our project at the United Nations International Day of Peace Student Conference in New York City, where we were joined by 600 students from all over the United States and spoke to students from Liberia, Afghanistan, and Sudan via satellite. We have traveled to peace museums, honored 911 First Responders, volunteered with food banks, met with UN ambassadors, and held many fundraising events and activities in support of the Big Book. The educational opportunities have been endless.
While another record-setting book has now surpassed us for the Guinness World Record, there has never been a peace book of this size created. Big Book: Pages for Peace is 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide when closed and contains 1,074 pages filled with thousands of letters, artwork, songs, and poems. This enormous book will be shared with the world both in its physical form and through digital media. The Big Book has already been displayed at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and at the United Nations in New York City, New York. And we continue to look for opportunities to spread our message of peace.
The Bookmakers and Dreamers Peace Club members blieve that if we learn to resolve our own conflicts more peacefully, we will continue to grow as peacemakers. With the physical Big Book now complete, we continue to be involved in peacemaking, learning about peace and experiencing the world with an open mind. We will be open to the diverse views of people everywhere. We will be tolerant of differences and diplomatic in resolving conflicts. Our leader Betsy Sawyer helped us to believe in ourselves as peacemakers and in peacemaking as a way of life. Her vision of a peaceful world continues to serve as our guide, not only for the Big Book but also for our future.
“This project transformed my life and hopefully has made a significant difference in many of my students’ lives as well. After reading the varied responses in the hundreds of letters we received and sorting through the mass of artwork, music, and photos, I began to see the world through a new lens. There is hope in this big book, little bits and pieces of hope, bound together into a massive volume of ideas.”—Betsy Sawyer
You can help spread our message of peace. Write us a letter. Tell others about our project. Make a financial contribution. Help us to share this project of hope and love. Our bookmaking has not come to a close, because Big Book will continue to grow, with letters and other submissions becoming part of a digital book in the future. Our dream is that Big Book: Pages for Peace will touch many hearts as it travels around the world and the hundreds of messages it carries will make a difference to people everywhere . . . one letter (or page) at a time.
For more information, visit our website at: www.pagesforpeace.org