Several years ago I read an article in The Vancouver Sun. It told of how a camel was being used to deliver books to remote areas near Garissa, Kenya. Reading the article made me realize that I had been taking public libraries for granted. What luxury to be able to walk into a large, well stocked library and take books home for free! As a child, I devoured all of the books in my local children’s library in The Netherlands until I was able to start using the adult library. As a mother, I always took my children to public libraries in Canada for story time and Summer Reading Club. Now I live in rural Oregon and have access to a mobile library. Reading about unique mobile libraries like a camel, made me curious: how do children around the world get library books?
I didn’t know at the time that this question would lead to much research and, subsequently, to a new book. My Librarian is a Camel is the result of eight years of searching the Internet, contacting professionals and volunteers around the world via email in hopes of collecting their stories and photos. The process was as exhilarating as it was sometimes frustrating. It has lead to many new friendships and to ongoing support for libraries that need help.
I found a remarkable lady in Lahore, Pakistan—Basarat Kazim—who has been instrumental in obtaining a bus which functions as a mobile library: Alif Laila, or Stories of 1001 Nights, brings books to children around Lahore who would not otherwise have access to books. Basarat Kazim also initiated an inner-city library that is now being used by school children. I was fortunate enough to be invited to work with teachers and students in Lahore and to see, first hand, the impact her library is having. Young women are learning to use computers, children listen to stories, there is space for crafts, and much more. Alif Laila is a bustling, popular place to visit.
Through the Internet and the help of a librarian at the National Library of Mongolia, I made contact with Jambyn Dashdondog. As a Mongolian writer, he has written and preserved many folk tales from his culture. He works tirelessly to bring books and the joy of reading to children in the Gobi Desert. “Books are sweeter than candy,” Dashdondog says with a smile. With the help of a donated van, with camels and wagons, he brings books to nomadic villages. His project received the 2006 IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award.
I discovered donkey libraries, book boats and librarians who bring books to children by bicycle. Boyds Mills Press published My Librarian is a Camel, which has since gone on to win several nominations and awards, including IRA’s Most Notable Book for Global Awareness. The book led to schools in North America adopting library projects. The librarian in Zimbabwe, for instance, told me that villagers are excited when the donkey library arrives in their area. However, they only had twenty-year-old textbooks to offer. Thanks to schools in North America collecting and sending books, they now have colourful picture books and nonfiction books for children.
My local Reading Council has donated many quality books while a local Rotary Club made some funds available to pay for postage. If your school is interested in helping to bring books to others, please send me an email and I will send you a list of addresses.
Another fun project that sprang from the book is a global bookmark exchange. “A BOOK MARKS Our World” has already connected thousands of children in over twenty countries. The rules are simple: send me an email to tell me the number of students participating and their ages. Then have students make handmade bookmarks. They can decorate them any way they like but need to write one sentence about their favourite book. I will send you a contact elsewhere in the world to which you mail your bookmarks. You will receive back enough bookmarks for each of your students.
Books are simply paper and cardboard until readers bring them to life. Using books with students is exciting; it can open their eyes and their hearts to the world around them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of more than 25 books for children. Her next book will be out in Spring 2009: My School is a Chicken Coop, How Children Around the World Go to School.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s March 2009 issue.