The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

donkey love

Would YOU be able to resist this donkey?

It was giving me donkey love as I got to talk with fourth and fifth graders at Abernethy School in Portland, Oregon on Friday.   We discussed vivid details, the ways that words make us feel, and how I crafted Lanie’s feelings and experiences when I was writing her stories.  And this donkey looked on, reminding us of our humble efforts to let written words work their magic for kids in Ethiopia via

My brother’s third grade class at Abernethy were his work team to make this charmer.  Apparently its head had to be ripped off at one point and replaced.  Chris also gave me a few other juicy details of the project.  “Some of us glued ourselves to the floor and walked out of the art room with gluey pieces of paper stuck to our heels,” he reports.

I was struck by how smart, thoughtful, and well-read the students are in Abernethy School–and how much they appreciate their books.  One boy told me he has bins of books he’s already read and probably won’t read again and that he might be able to bring them to school this week for the “Bring a Book, Buy a Book” project that will raise money for the containers of books that need to sail their way to Ethiopia.  Next week, kids will get to buy each other’s books (a buck a book), and the money will go to Ethiopia Reads…and the buyers will have a new reading experience, too.

Teachers and parents jumped into the fun last week.  I can tell this is a school that cares.  Some of the proceeds of the annual book fair will go to help Fregenet School ( expand their library outreach to one Addis Ababa neighborhood.  This year Chris also ran a marathon in the drenching rain to help Tafesse with his efforts–and I love to see his new school community in Portland gathering around him.

Kids and teachers have posted signs and pictures all over the school to help everyone understand their garden project (perfect connection for the Lanie books) and that there’s a hunger for books in Ethiopia.  The young person who posted this sign on a locker also had some advice related to the donkey in the art room.  That donkey will be traveling all around school this week, classroom to classroom, to help drum up enthusiasm for the idea that families can make more room on their own shelves as they bring gently used books to school.  It’s a pratical recycling-with-heart project that is also being done in Grand Forks, ND schools this week.

Whether books arrive in a cart pulled by a donkey or in a room staffed by a librarian or some other way, they thrill us and comfort us and give us dreams.  Chris and I had the best time sharing the stories behind our own books this week…and helping spread book love a little bit further in this world.  One of the great things to see is how those efforts help all of us feel happier and braver and more powerful, too.

Small efforts.

Big impact.

Big feelings for the fun and satisfaction of it all.

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