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

Hats and giggles and dreams, oh my!

Tea parties–not the political sort–are something that American Girl has managed to bring to a new generation of American girls.  Afternoon tea conjures images of elegance and formality, hats and gloves and sweet conversations over sweet nibbles.  A chance to do something sumptuous and fun with one’s dear friends.  Friends having tea together do not keep glancing at their smart phones or texting.  They stay in the moment and tickle all of their senses and act fancy.  They don’t slurp or chug.  Tiny bites.  Sips.  Perhaps a pinky even in the air.

Families who visit many of the American Girl stores now dotting the country–Chicago, Minneapolis, LA, Boston, Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Dallas–can have tea if they choose.  If you bring a doll to tea, you might be able to borrow a little doll-sized chair so that your doll can sit right up to the table and join in the fun.  Knowing the popularity of these teas, a number of families and organizations around the country now also offer a chance for, say, mothers and daughters to explore tea time.

As soon as Lanie became queen…um…doll of the year, a mom in the Kansas City area invited me to my first such tea party.  She used it as a chance to raise a little money for Ethiopia Reads and give her daughter and her daughter’s friends a chance to dress up and give herself a chance to bring out her pretty things.   During the year of Lanie’s reign, I continued to have tea.   My favorite memories are from the tea parties that also were part of a creative way to help girls in the U.S. get books to girls in Ethiopia.

Around the developing world, reading for fun is often seen as a waste of time.

Children need to read for facts.

Children need to learn about science and math so they can help with the technical and business needs that need to be solved for the country’s future.

Children need to read to be able to pass tests.

Lots of schools and families in the United States once felt that way, too, and some still do.

But brain research shows facts and knowledge that stick are ones that are associated with emotion, with passion, with joy.

Reading can make us curious and kind and hopeful and in love with our lives and our earth and all its quirks and possibilities.

Somewhere along the line, most neighborhoods and communities in the United States caught the dream of libraries.  Last week, the Detroit Public Library organized a tea and–since I’m the famous author of an American Girl book–I got a chance to present the program.  Those girls outdid themselves!  I loved seeing the hats and gloves and other accessories.  Before and after tea, however, I equally loved the opportunity to wander around one of the most grand and lovely libraries I’ve ever been in.

This was clearly a city where people once poured money and passion into a place that would celebrate the learning and dreaming and beauty wrapped in the pages of books.  Any family in Ethiopia would be astonished to learn that children and adults can come to this space and read–read thousands of books–free.  We’re mostly blase about what was once (and in many places still is) an astonishing and bold idea.

Can and will we keep the idea going?

When I first came to live in the U.S. people were singing that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.  Will it be so?

I know times are tough–in Detroit and lots and lots of other places.  Are times tougher than they were for our ancestors who decided to build schools and libraries?

I’m sure glad I’ve had the joy of being alive in a time and place of libraries.

1 thought on “Hats and giggles and dreams, oh my!”

  1. I can’t imagine a world without libraries! Of course, I’m one of the countless little grls who read and dreamed their way through chidhood, identifying with books like Girl of the Limberlost, crying with Beautiful Joe and Little Anne of Canada, and skating with the Dutch twins. My small town, hit by the Depression, was full of these older books–they couldn’t buy new books but the two libraries remained open. I learned teh values of saving, responsibility for teh unfortunates of life, the rights of animals and others as much from identifying with the protagonists problems as I ever did from being preached to in church.

    When I grew up I eventually found my way to children’s librarianship–I don’t know why it took me so long, but it did. I think and hope I helped all kids who used my school libraries to fall in love with reading as well. Once in a while I meet a grown-up child who tells me so.

    Now the trained librarians are on their way out. Too costly they say. I’d love to see the cost of one librarian’s salary compared to
    the cost of purchasing all the required testing programs that don’t teach a thing!
    I may not have learned facts thru the library–we had textbooks for that, and much of the “facts” we learned are constantly being disproved. But the feeling of the places and eras still resonated after many many years. I still learn more history from hisorical fiction, romances, and biographies than I ever did from in school.


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