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


Some mornings are like this.

I want a good night’s sleep before a big Seattle event that is bringing together children’s book authors (and their books), adoption parents and Ethiopian-Americans to create a literacy project in a school sandwiched between an intensely busy market and warehouse district and a desperately poor residential area of Addis Ababa.  Dana Roskey writes, “Thousands live in a shanty-town of tiny houses made of sheets of corrugated iron, sharing unsanitary community toilets. Most of our families live on less than $20/month, supported by fathers doing day labors, or by single mothers who bake bread or do laundry for a living. Some families are homeless. Some parents and a few of the children have AIDS. Most of the children are malnourished when they arrive.”

I want to be asleep right now.

Instead, there’s just enough nervousness around all the details of the event that my brain is chugging away at 4 in the morning.

As I stared into the darkness, I thought about this photo and that mother.


When I was a young mother, I worried.  Sure, we had the time and money to take our kids camping–and my memories of what that did for them and for us are a big part of why I gave my Lanie character such a longing to go camping.

But I remember one camping trip where my husband found some berries he was sure would be fine to eat–and I carefully didn’t eat any in case I had to end up driving everyone out of the wilderness to a hospital to save their lives from the poison berries.

(They were fine.  I missed out on some great berries.)

I loved camping when I was a kid.

In Ethiopia, we camped by waterfalls and lakes where flamingoes filled up the sky and by a lazy brown river where my dad swam around a bend and came face-to-face (as he always told the story) with a water buffalo.

I worried every time he told that story.

Sometimes I show this picture of my niece and her son on a Kurtz family camping trip and say, “It was more fun to be the kid camping than to be the mom camping.”

Part of that lack of fun was how much work it is to prepare and how much work it is to take care of kids far from home and how much work it is to clean up everything after you’re done.  My dad invented some pretty good systems for all of that (partly so he could coax my mom to go camping).

She was the one in our family, as Lanie would say, with the inside genes.

But it’s not just the work.  When we camped in Ethiopia, my mom would gasp when we got too close to the edge of a cliff, and we would laugh and tell her she was being silly.

As soon as I had kids, I knew that stomach-swooping sensation that comes from watching someone you love standing close to the edge of, oh, say the Grand Canyon.

And here in the U.S. we usually have railings around places like that where families gather to see the beauties of the earth.

What is it like to be a mom in a place where really it’s impossible to protect your daughter from danger?

Dana writes that what the staff of the mercato school is proudest of “is simply that the children have a safe place to be. When most of these children start their first school year, they are stunted, glum, and lethargic. After a few months, they are smiling and playing, and they have recovered some body weight.”

Thanks to some vibrant volunteers, the kids also have art in their lives.  One wrote this week about doing art with kids who were working with color paint for the very first time.  Another group of kids experimented with using themselves as the canvas.  Stephanie writes that art has the power to change lives and spread smiles.

Now that the Tesfa Foundation ( and Ethiopia Reads ( are collaborating, those kids will also feel the power of reading and writing and stories of hope and determination.  The world is full of true and invented stories of hope and determination.  They can make us strong.

That’s what the Seattle event is all about.  Making books and reading and writing stories possible for a worried mother’s daughter.

Now I have grandkids to worry about.

Who decided children should be so teeny and helpless when they come into this world?  How can we even stand all the dangers they might face?

All I can cling to is the words of this season…that the light comes into the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Amazing goodness and strength bubble everywhere, too, right along with worry and pain.

Seattle will be the latest proof of that.

2 thoughts on “Proof”

  1. If you had been there, you would have been completely weepy! It was a room packed with Ethiopian and American families, raising money for a school that is a sweet, shiny bit of hope on some dangerous streets. So much goodness rippling out.


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