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


This reader brought a book with him to the Boston coffee shop where he was planning to have a cup of hot chocolate with me while his mom and I talked.  I’d just done an author visit in his school.  I’d talked about the power of words.  Reading them.  Writing them.  Listening to them.

I’d talked about growing up in Ethiopia and now getting to see kids reading in Ethiopia, thanks to my volunteer work with Ethiopia Reads (  His school, Haggerty, had raised $502.00 to donate to Ethiopia Reads as part of their “peace begins with me” assembly.

“I brought my favorite book,” he said.  “Could you give it to kids in Ethiopia?”

He speaks for hundreds of us who love our books and National Geographic magazines and who long to share them with young readers in Ethiopia who are fiercely hungry for reading material.

But easier said–as the saying goes–than done.

Getting those books to Ethiopia involves pallets and tractors and forks lifts and storage units.

Moving day may land on a Kansas afternoon when the temperatures are in the 90s.

It takes getting bids and juggling possibilities and finding organizations that are willing to let someone else use their equipment–because they’ve (amazingly) caught a tiny bit of the dream.

It takes (no exaggeration) years of time and hours and hours given by volunteers, mailing and sorting and sifting and hauling and lugging and packing books into boxes.

Once those boxes reach Stan and LeAnn Clark, they have to go into storage in Kansas until all the other





pieces of the puzzle are moved into place…every bit of moving and shoving and manipulating done by volunteers and a few over-worked, idealistic staff people in places like Denver and Atlanta and Minneapolis.

It takes a driver like Craig.

He pulled up with his semi and viewed all the pallets with a certain amount of skepticism.

LeAnn and Stan assured him everything had been weighed, but he still was sure they had too many books.

He was pretty sure that after he left the storage area, he’d be back.

LeAnn was equally sure she had it right.

She’s managed these shipments before.

She knows what it’s like to manage a classroom full of squirmy third graders…

…what it’s like to be the president of an organization like Kansas Reading Association…

and she wasn’t letting anything tangle-up this day so long in the making.

She’d be the first to say she can’t do her volunteer work without the help of lots of other people.

This student from Ethiopia, studying at Hesston College, represents a long


long line of people who touched these books and pallets and boxes to get them to this point.  She represents the faith of Kansas Reading Association who listened to LeAnn’s dream and helped with the very first container she shipped.

LeAnn would be the first to say







getting books to Ethiopia

without Stan.  He’s the one who understands the equipment.  He’s the one whose co-worker showed up to help lift and lug and haul in the 90+ heat.

Was it exhausting?






Did Craig have to come back and unload some of the books?


And this month, LeAnn and a bunch of other volunteers will be traveling to Ethiopia.  They probably won’t get to see this particular container get unpacked on the other side…

But they will get to see the children whose lives will be changed by the chance to read a book.

And they’ll get to talk with and listen to the educators who will be in charge of putting those books into the hands of the children.

And they’ll get to think, with the Ethiopia Reads staff, about how to keep going.

How to work harder and smarter on this project.

How we can do our humble best to be good teammates in the big push to make literacy a posibility everywhere in the world–where families want the very best for their kids and where countries are going to need thoughtful, resourceful problem-solvers for the coming years.

Good, deep education will give those kids a lot of power to figure out how to solve problems.

One thing I love to see in my travels is the way kids in this country–who also need to be thoughtful, resourceful problem-solvers–come to recognize their power, too, through the Ethiopia Reads projects they do.

Every container seems to represent an impossible task.

Setback after setback.

And then?

Triumph.  New libraries.  New stories sent whirling on their way.




4 thoughts on “Triumph!”

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