30 Nov 2021 Changing the world through children
By Susan Peterson
“We bake our bread with love … for family, for friends, for peace.” It is the perfect refrain for the season, and it can be found in Twylla Alexander’s book, ”The Power of Bread.”
This Conway author and her husband, Drew, are well-traveled, having worked in schools on four continents. It was in 2004, while teaching second grade in Cairo, Egypt, that she initially got the idea for writing a children’s book, based on a true experience that happened between two children in her class.
In the story, Khalil is a Palestinian boy and Leah is an Israeli girl. Both are new to their class and regard each other as “enemy.” It is during the school’s Breads of the World Festival that the bread works its magic, helping the two to overcome their differences and find similarities.
Twylla penned her first draft in 2010, but the book took many years to evolve into the publication it is today. Initially, the story was much longer as she tried to capture the complex subjects of prejudice and unity in a book for young children (approximate ages 4-9). After receiving helpful critiques at writing conferences in New York City, Twylla decided to let the book “set” while she worked on other writing projects, including a blog, articles for a Downtown NYC magazine, and a series of poetry.
In 2017 she published “Labyrinth Journeys: 50 States, 51 Stories,” which involved two years of travel to visit a labyrinth and its creator in each state. Following its publication, Twylla decided to return to “The Power of Bread.”
Taking the critical comments to heart, she cut the text by half, introduced Khalil and Leah’s grandmothers, and added the repeating refrain. James Matthews of Little Rock, who edited both books, put Twylla in touch with illustrator Madeleine Robinson, an award-winning graphic design senior at UALR.
Twylla admits to being “wowed” when she saw Madeleine’s sample sketches. Due to COVID-19, the two worked only online for nearly a year, perfecting the tone of the watercolor illustrations to match the Middle Eastern setting and checking to be sure the text was culturally correct.
She hopes the book will be used as a springboard to discuss prejudice, anger, and cultural differences. “It’s all about finding common ground, making connections,” Twylla said. “That’s especially important for children as they develop values and attitudes from a very early age.”
“The Power of Bread” is now connecting Twylla with her readers via Zoom book club meetings, school visits, and in-person events. She has even connected with a rabbi in Jerusalem who established a program for Palestinian and Israeli youth and a woman in Ireland who bakes Bread for Peace.
The book is dedicated to Twylla’s seven grandchildren “and to children everywhere, the world’s best hope for peace.”
More information about Twylla and her journey in search of peaceful connections can be found at twyllaalexander.com. Her books may be purchased directly from online retailers and independent booksellers.