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

Pencils of Ethiopia, Minneapolis, California, ND unite

Lanie, my most recent character to waltz into the world, yearns to travel to Indonesia where her best friend is getting a chance to hold orangutan babies.  Eventually, Lanie discovers the small animals and other joys of her own back yard. 

I just DID travel to Indonesia (still holding the memory of this tree in my mind: it spreads over a good part of the courtyard in one of the schools where I spoke) but am thinking of March as the month to discover the joys of my own back yard.  This is a chunk o time when my mind is traveling but–except for a hop down to visit Jonathan and Hiwot and their kids later this month–I’m mostly sitting on my couch visiting the fictional worlds created by my VCMFA students, while my undermind chews on the fictional world in my own novel.

I pretty much write wherever I am.  Last week, I was leading a spirituality-through-writing retreat for women who go to this church and get to look out at these trees every Sunday.

Wowee magnificence.

I gleaned details for my work-in-progress (affectionately known as a wip when my author friends and I are talking about such things) while I was sitting in church gazing out at those trees–and while I was sitting in the retreat center the day before with St. Joseph of Peace beaming down upon me from one angle and a mossy tree glowing from another.

I also glean details and write when I’m sitting in airplane seats and in van seats and in hotel rooms where the views are completely and utterly bland and boring.  The landscape of the mind brings us rich texture and comfort and joy no matter what’s going on outside. 

Of course, sometimes being able to travel in my mind is a hard, sad thing.  Watching the earthquake devastation in Japan zings me back to my author visits to Tokyo last year.  I find myself traveling mentally over the miles and wondering about what’s happening with the places, the people, the schools, the–okay–giant spider I became fascinated with while I was there.  People are already telling their stories.  Have you noticed?  Sometimes it’s the only thing for the pain.

Next month will be back to travel times for me and almost all of my travel will be about the journeys of the mind that reading is right now bringing to the children of Ethiopia.  In Seattle, this astonishingly wonderful family just raised money to plant a library in the Ethiopian city where the charming daughter of the family was born.  They are a force to be reckoned with–and their efforts will fling thousands of starfish into the immense dazzling lap of the ocean…in this case known as a library.

Want to know about libraries being planted in Ethiopia for kids who have no public library and have had no school library before Ethiopia Reads existed?  That’s great…because that’s what I will be traveling and talking about a LOT during April. 

April 2, I get a chance to talk to anyone who will hear me in Minneapolis–as part of the luncheon and celebration of the Kerlan award, which I’m honored to have been given this year (for my contributions to children’s literature and the Kerlan collection).  Hoping to look out at many faces of people who live in the upper Midwest and love Ethiopia, children, books, and libraries (like the family that planted the school library for these readers). Reservations are due in March:

In mid-April, I’ll be in California, both in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles, thinking about rural Ethiopian schools and what it takes to plant not just a library but a very first chance at school for children in remote parts of the country.  I’ll take part in a Room to Read workshop about emerging literacy and talk in a Bay Area library and help an adoptive mom with her determined quest to bring a school to the area of Ethiopia where her children were born.  You can find details and tickets for her event on the Ethiopia Reads website.

At the end of April, I’ll be back in Grand Forks, ND, where financial support for Ethiopia Reads first gathered steam and shape, thanks to some brave readers at First Presbyterian Church there, who were pretty sure we could do a kind of pay-back and pay-forward after all the help we received after the flood and also that there was SOMETHING we could do to get books into the hands of kids   (  I’ll speak and sign books at a district Rotary convention.  Rotary, with its literacy emphasis, has been another bold supporter.  Rotary helped us plant a big ol’ chunk of libraries, mostly in Awassa, Ethiopia, home of this young reader.

Can you remember your first book?

Can you remember your first library card?

Can you remember your first pencil?

Can you remember someone who listened to your story and brought you healing?

Join hands and I’ll see you on the journey.

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