Aubrey Davis is the Canadian author of such popular books as Bagels from Benny, Bone Button Borscht and The Enormous Potato. As a storyteller, he knows what makes a good story work and how spellbinding folktales can be.
Aubrey learned about storytelling when he traveled across Europe and North Africa as a young man. Here he discovered traditional Teaching-Stories collected by the Afghan writer and educator, Idries Shah.
“These bottomless tales provoked, puzzled, and delighted me. They helped me to look at things in fresh, new ways,” he says. Aubrey began to tell these stories in nursing homes, in schools, at festivals, in libraries, and in jails. He taught language to special needs students through stories while they taught him how to tell simple, clear and dramatic tales. For 40 years he’s told traditional stories to people of all ages across North America.
“One day I was invited to tell a Chanukah story to a young audience. I couldn’t find one I liked, so I wrote Bone Button Borscht. The children loved it and so did the publisher, Kids Can Press.” Aubrey went on to write more award-winning books.
Aubrey’s admiration of traditional tales, led him to Hoopoe Books, a US non-profit publisher of traditional Teaching-Stories from Central Asia and the Middle East, almost all collected and written by Idries Shah. Hoopoe’s goal is to publish books that not only entertain but also help children and young adults understand themselves and their world.
The illustrated stories have been commended by educators for their ability to foster thinking skills and perception. Hoopoe books are based on the ancient world of oral and written storytelling from a time before societies had formal schools, when stories were the way in which everyone learned universal lessons of tolerance and appreciation of all cultures.
Through these stories, children of today develop an understanding of the universality of hopes and dreams and an appreciation of the diverse ways in which they are expressed.
With the help of volunteers like Aubrey Davis, Hoopoe’s book donation programs provide millions of books to underserved children in the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Children in Pakistan enjoy the tales published by Hoopoe books thanks to Alif Laila. Alif Laila means “Thousand and one nights” in Urdu. This very effective literacy program operates in Lahore, Pakistan. Its basic objective is to bring solutions to Pakistan’s educational problems within the given socio-economic constraints, and to find strategically effective paths to 100% literacy and educational modernization. Alif Laila has been bringing the magic of books and literature to children for the past thirty-six years. It has developed interactive learning aids for Early Childhood Education as well as free resources which benefit everyone. Alif Laila operates after school hobby clubs which are unique, one-of-a-kind resource centres engaging young girls, giving them direction towards a future career in the field of electronics, photography, arts, crafts, and computers. Founder Basarat Kazim says, “We are keen to form connections between children globally so that peace and tolerance stand a chance.”
To date, Alif Laila has served over 3 million children in Pakistan, set up over 7000 libraries since 1978 and donated over 1.5 million books to children. As if involvement in these activities isn’t enough to keep him busy, Aubrey Davis also helped create, and now serves on the Board of The Institute for Cross-cultural Exchange (ICE). This Canadian not-for-profit literacy organization’s mandate is to promote children’s literacy and cross-cultural education, at home and abroad. Their website subtitles states “Helping at-risk children read and own their first new books.”
So far, the Calgary-based organization has donated over a quarter million books to needy children in Canada and Afghanistan, helping them read and discover what they share and can learn from other peoples.
ICE’s literacy focus grew from a survey conducted in 2004, which indicated that Canadian literacy programs for disadvantaged children suffer from a severe and ongoing shortage of high-quality books. Current requests from Canadian partners reveal a need for at least 50,000 books annually. In just fifteen years, ICE has donated more than 250,000 books to children free of charge, within Canada as well as to children in Afghanistan and Mexico.
One of the recipients of books through ICE is the Immigrant Welcome Centre of North Vancouver Island. Books have gone to children in the North West Territories and beyond.
Thousands of Afghan children will receive Hoopoe books in their first language (Uzbeki, Hazaragi, Munji, Turkmeni, Nuristani, Sawji, Pashaie and Shughni) thanks to an International Development Grant to ICE from Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Tourism. And thanks to a donation from the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, 4800 Afghan children in Panjshir Province received their own copies of Hoopoe Books to read and cherish with their families. The books were printed by Dr. Farid Bazger of Khatiz Organization for Rehabilitation, and distributed by Afghan partners. It is through these inter-cultural exchanges that ICE, and Aubrey Davis, are working toward creating a stronger, more tolerant world.
Find out more details here:
Alif Laila: aliflaila.org.pk
Hoopoe Books: hoopoebooks.com
Aubrey Davis: aubreydavis.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian is a Camel, a book about how books are brought to children around the world.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.