Sarah Pirtle and the Discovery Center

An Outbreak of Peace

The book.     The history.    The programs.    The discoveries.

This book for all ages is an invitation to speak in your strongest voice. It tells the story of Cassie and her friends asking their town to vote to declare an outbreak of peace.

This novel received the Olive Branch Award for outstanding book of the year on world peace.

How to order:  Send $15 sale price (list price $18.99) plus $10 priority postage and handling to:

Sarah Pirtle, 63 Main Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370.
Email Sarah at
or phone (413) 625-2355.

It is also available on Amazon.

The Book

What do we hold with care?

“When you care about the world, you can feel kind of alone,”  says fourteen-year-old Cassie. 

Cassie and Zack are kindred spirits who reach for new possibilities when it’s easy to give up hope. When Cassie’s world shatters after a family tragedy, she and Zack create a peace group along with other teens that can face hard truths and handle friendship challenges. They address military recruitment in their school, intervene against racial slurs, and learn resilience from a famous potter in town who was born in a Japanese American internment camp. Along the way, they build a dream for their small town. Will the townspeople say yes when they ask them to vote to declare an outbreak of peace?

Told in the voice of fourteen-year-old Cassie, this is a coming-of-age story of the 1980’s, now back in print. It was inspired by an actual group of two dozen teenagers who persevered for four years drawing art in a peace group in western Massachusetts. As illustrator Amanda Cohen puts it, “This is the perfect time for the book to return.”

After the book received the Olive Branch Award in 1988, Studs Terkel said in an hour-long NPR interview with the author, “This book is a natural for both young people and adults.” Suspenseful themes are artfully woven into a compelling story for all generations.

How does one voice join with other voices to build a culture of peace?

The story focuses on the coming-of-age of a thirteen-year-old girl as she asks her small New England town to declare an outbreak of peace. A key theme of the book is expanding understanding of peace and unlearning racism. The main characters are Polish-American, African-American, Puerto Rican, and Japanese American.

Readers learn about the Internment Camps during WWII, the bombing of Hiroshima, and most of all about the complexities of human interactions. Although it is written as a young adult novel, it has had a strong impact on adults as well. Studs Terkel said in an hour-long interview: “This book is a natural for both young people and adults.”

Two dozen young people illustrated the book and were involved in shaping it. Young illustrators were given contracts and were paid for their work. At our press conference, the young people fielded questions and took turns accepting a question from a student and then a question from an adult so that voices from all ages could be heard. When the award was given in New York City, illustrator Amanda Cohen came up to the podium with Sarah and they accepted it together on behalf of the whole group.

“Sarah Pirtle’s novel for young readers is an inspiring book that communicates the message that there is something young people can do to make a statement about peace on a personal level. It is a realistic book with believable adult characters whose concerns, whether they favor or oppose ‘an outbreak of peace’ are taken seriously. But it is Sarah Pirtle’s sensitivity to young people and their feelings that simply shines through.” 
 — from the citation for the Olive Branch Award

“Thank you for being brave enough and centered enough to write An Outbreak of Peace. My opinion? Incredible! I can’t believe you did it – I can’t believe it could be done. And, you remembered what it was like to be fourteen.” 
 — Anne Williamson, Forbes Library, Northampton

Los Angeles Times Book Review:
“Too often youth in this society feel great despair, hopelessness and cynicism. An Outbreak of Peace offers hope and good ideas for how to do something to promote peace.”
  Jackie Goldberg

The History

The illustrators in 1986.

Learn here about how drawings for peace by two dozen young people led to an award-winning book.

Amanda Cohen, Lucas Scott Miller, and Heather McGuirk — the three main illustrators — are engaged today in bringing out the second edition and are available to take part in online programs along with Sarah.

Misha Collins — actor, poet, and humanitarian — was one of the two dozen young illustrators when he was in elementary school. He’s in the front row, on the right, next to his brother Sasha.

View the PowerPoint here.

The Programs

An Outbreak of Peace programs are offered both in-person and online.
These are individualized for classrooms, libraries, houses of worship, and community centers.

Programs can include songs, PowerPoint, sample peace-building activities, the history of how young people created the illustrations, as well as a reading of passages in the book.

Along with a time for questions, each person is encouraged to think about what declaring an outbreak of peace would mean to them.

This poem introduces the program.

When you wake up in the morning,
declare an outbreak of peace.
However you say it,
Whatever it means to you declare it.

Outbreak of hope,
Outbreak of not going back to sleep
Of not falling into denial and cynicism.

Outbreak of enough food for all.
Outbreak of safety to be who you are.
Outbreak of changing white supremacy,
Outbreak of the earth cherished.

Make your own declaration.
What is it you wish for?

With your own very wish
you are already moving in that direction.
Outbreak of everyone rolling up their sleeves.

What we do matters.
We know we can’t do it alone,
but right now it is easy to believe
we are unimportant and powerless.

Yes, we are tiny. Yes, who can know
In what way our actions make a difference,
but that’s the wonder of this. They all do.

So if we see ourselves as one body,
if we stretch ourselves to imagine all the others,
then we have become a mighty force.

What is it you already do?
And if there is more you want to do
What’s a next step?

The Discoveries

As you think about declaring an outbreak of peace, what does it mean to you?

People have shared what comes up for them:

“Webs” by Amanda Cohen.

An outbreak of peace means remembering we are part of the web of life.

An outbreak of peace means not accepting fear, division, and hatred, but leading with dialogue and the search for understanding

An outbreak of peace means opening to unknown and unexpected help arriving. 

Make your own declaration.
Set an intention in the morning.
Do an action for peace and justice.
Or gather in a group.
Know that your contribution matters.

Send photos and descriptions to be included in a blog to


The artist of the cover is Cathy Weaver Taylor.
Book and cover design by Maureen Moore, the Booksmyth
Artist of the web: Amanda Cohen

Books by Sarah Pirtle