World’s largest book about peace on display

Big Book: Pages for PeaceThe Big Book: Pages for Peace exhibit, featuring the world’s largest book about peace, opened July 11 at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough. The exhibit will run through Dec. 31.

The Big Book exhibit has a big goal: to share a profound message of hope and peace and engage young people, teachers, and visitors of all ages in thinking about how to build a more peaceful and sustainable world.

At the heart of the exhibit is the Big Book itself, which measures 10 feet by 20 feet wide when open, with over 1,000 larger than life pages. Visitors can see the book, turn its pages (it takes two people), or use a high speed digital kiosk to visit chapters or individual pages more quickly. Accompanying displays tell the story of the book’s creation and its creators – middle school students from Groton, Massachusetts.

The Big Book: Pages for Peace project was born from the conviction that young people can make a difference in creating a more peaceful world. Under the guidance of a visionary teacher, Betsy Sawyer, eight 5th grade students from the Groton/Dunstable Middle School joined an after school club in 2004 and decided to write letters to veterans, religious leaders, dignitaries, teachers, artists, writers, grandparents, and youth around the world asking questions that included, “What have YOU done to help create a more peaceful world?” and “What can kids do to help create a more peaceful world?”

Over the next 12 years, these students and others who joined them wrote thousands of letters. They received back over 3,000 responses, some from Nobel Laureates such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and President Jimmy Carter, as well as Dr. Helen Caldicott, Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Pete Seeger. The project networked with a diverse and far flung network of correspondents and supporters, from local community members to astronauts, 9/11 first responders, scientists, and people all over the earth. For students it offered an amazing educational experience. As they developed skills in writing and art, and knowledge of world geography, current events, history, the sciences, even math as they calculated the requirements of producing a book that would set a Guinness Book of World Records for the largest book about peace.

But perhaps most profoundly, they learned that peace-making is less about ending war than about caring and ensuring people have access to clean water, food, secure housing, healthy communities, and other essentials – work that is done by many people working in a myriad of different ways.

Others contributed to the project. Children’s book author Joan Paley designed the layout, DuPont contributed paper, UMass/Lowell’s engineering department designed and built a platform which with the book weighs approximately 2,000 pounds. The Fealgood Foundation, Rotary, and others came on board. Adult supporters also formed a board and created Big Book Pages for Peace, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

The book had an impressive debut. It has been on display at the JFK Library in Boston, the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and the Civic Center in Providence – experiences Betsy Sawyer was able to take part in with her students before passing away in 2016.

“This project transformed my life,” Sawyer wrote. “And hopefully it has made a significant difference in many of my students lives as well. After reading the varied responses in the 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.”

For the last few years, the Big Book has been in storage as the Pages for Peace board has developed educational curriculum to share, an exhibit that shares the story of Sawyer, her students, and the book’s creation, and planned a new tour. Making the book accessible to a wide audience and especially educators and students is a priority. The choice of the Mariposa was logical. The Mariposa serves approximately 2,000 students each year through classroom visits to the museum, home school programs, and outreach programs. Betsy Sawyer and her students were annual visitors.

“From the very beginning of the Big Book: Pages for Peace project, the children and supporting adult volunteers have dreamed that this giant art piece was destined to travel to peace museums and spread the thousands of important messages within it page,” said Pages for Peace Board Member Stacey Chilcoat. “Today we have fulfilled our dream with Big Book’s first official museum exhibit at the Mariposa Museum, facilitated by the generosity and support of the museum staff and board. Our founder, Betsy Sawyer, loved this very special peace museum tucked in the hills of southern New Hampshire. Throughout the years, she brought peace club members to visit and learn there. How fitting that this Big Book and its accompanying exhibit begins its journey here at the Mariposa!”

“Sharing the book’s messages of peace with others is the prime mission of our Pages for Peace Foundation, and during the Big Book’s time at Mariposa, the museum staff will be using the book to foster peace education with area school students and local community members,” said Board Member Susan Willcox. “We hope all of our supporters and friends will plan a visit to this beautiful museum in lovely Peterborough to view our first major extended exhibit there. We promise it will be a very memorable experience!”

“We are thrilled to host The Big Book at the Mariposa,” said Mariposa Executive Director Karla Hostetler. “The book’s purpose and message are very much in keeping with the Mariposa’s mission to foster peace and understanding across cultural boundaries. The book is an extraordinary achievement, not only for its size, but for the number of people whose ideas it unites. You can’t help but feel uplifted as you read through the messages – many of them moving and profound – from people young and old, all over the world, who believe peace is possible. It is a powerful work of art and activism, with a message much needed at this time. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, this year, that it is young people who have brought us this message and way to engage anew.”

An educator from the Big Book: Pages for Peace Foundation will be working with the Mariposa through the exhibit’s run, and Hostetler encouraged summer camp directors and teachers interested in visiting the exhibit with groups to contact her. But she added the exhibit has great appeal for families and visitors of every age. “It’s fun to turn the pages,” she said, “and also to create your own message to share.”

For further information, please visit and also The Mariposa Museum is located at 26 Main St. in Peterborough, and is wheelchair accessible. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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