Sarah Pirtle and the Discovery Center

An Outbreak of Peace – The History

We had no idea we were creating a book. We were a peace group of ages 7 to 17 that I’d started in 1983 as a way to foster hope. The idea was that we were preparing for an art show showing dreams and possibilities for the future.

It was the 1980’s. Peace centers criss-crossed the country. Locally Traprock Peace Center had begun the Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaign in Western Massachusetts, and it spread nationally. I was peace education coordinator on staff at Traprock, and I worked on another level, teaching students how to listen, cooperate and talk out conflicts.

Our group became very close that first year while we met during school vacations. As our pile of drawings grew, I began to realize my idea of an art exhibit wasn’t enough. Simply by looking at the pictures, someone who hadn’t met the illustrators wouldn’t be able to learn their viewpoints or feel the excitement of knowing how they felt. There had to be more than the pictures. A story needed to be built around them.

One day I sat with a stack of the drawings, and a turning point happened. It was a rare free hour. My son had been born three months early. I spent every day with him in the hospital, but had this one hour of nursing care to take a short break. I said to myself, “If I sit with these drawings, something good is going to happen.”

That’s when I found a mysterious unsigned note in the middle of the stack. It read:

I am drawing for peace in a church in Northampton, MA.
It is early afternoon. I’m drawing because it is a small part
of a large part of a larger part of the Earthly effort for peace.

The voice sounded like a character of a book. I called the core group together and asked them to help shape the character and the story. Amanda Cohen told us she’d written that note. Fiona Kaul-Connolly contributed the name of Cassie for the main character. In this passage in the book Cassie talks about the significance of her name with her art teacher.

I decided to turn my mask into an old, old woman who had seen many wars and was trying to speak out for peace.
“Sounds like Cassandra,” Miss Leamon said when I told her my plan.
“Right. Cassie is short for Cassandra. I know the Greek myth, but I don’t like it. Nobody listened  to her.”
“Well, it’s a different age now. Maybe now people will pay attention. Make a Cassandra who’s heard this time.”

At that time Equity Institute started providing the first unlearning racism trainings in the region. In 1981, Equity came to lead a training for Traprock that changed my life, and I went on to work for them as a trainer. As I wrote the text I kept pushing myself to look through the lens of changing oppression. As I worked on writing, I was called toward a deeper comprehension of racism. I was awakened early morning by one of the characters telling me, “You’re writing about white peace in this book.” I scrapped the whole first draft and dove into more training on racism, more reading, and more awakening. I asked a dozen readers to help me comb the book for passages that were racially problematic so I could change them. And I created ten events in the book that showed people speaking up about racism because I wanted the book to show that racial justice is core to peace-building.

My passion for talking about racism grew, and I made a vow that each time I did a class or concert or spoke about the book, I’d be sure to speak for racial justice. The publisher, New Society Publishers, sent me on a national book tour to do radio and television interviews in Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis, and I had a chance to speak about this in detail, and the choice to develop major characters who are African American, Puerto Rican, and Japanese American.

Lucas Miller who drew many of the illustrations, describes his involvement: “We never imagined that a simple week of drawing pictures about peace would become a far-reaching, four-year project….When the week ended, we felt like a family breaking up…. Later our project had become a genuine professional venture.”

The three core illustrators — Lucas, Amanda, and Heather — joined together June 2022 as the second edition was released, and the power point Amanda created is included on this site.