Jane Kurtz: The Power of Books

EthiopiaReadsGuest posts

There is something extraordinarily compelling about seeing ourselves in the pages of a book. When I was a kid, I fell in love with The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes because the main character’s name was Jane and she was full of misadventures. Just like me.

How lucky was I that my mom had read an article by a librarian— “100 Best Books for Children”– and had bought and packed as many as she could afford on her way to Ethiopia?

One great reason to read is that we see our inner lives more vividly as we imagine ourselves into the skin of story characters. Another great reason to read is that we see outside of ourselves. When I read or write a book, I’m immersed in a world that isn’t my own. So I wasn’t surprised to hear of the delight of a Monmouth College student who decided for her senior project she wanted to create two books for the Odyssey II team to carry to Ethiopia.

And I wasn’t surprised that a visionary librarian in Kansas—a fellow volunteer for Ethiopia Reads—worked with her “Ishi Bunch” to write and illustrate a story for the team to take.

Ethiopia has around 80 languages. In Maji, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood, I heard several of them every day. Back then, the law was that school had to be conducted in Amharic. The local language of Deezee was never even written until linguists recently developed an alphabet system. Now a few people around Maji can read and write in their mother tongue. So the Odyssey II team took three books to Maji for experimentation. One was created by Ethiopia Reads board member Leah Oliver in Denver using photos of Ethiopian-American kids living there.

The other two were created by Daphne, the Monmouth College student. A team of thirteen year-olds near Maji tackled the translation.

Like a lot of global travelers, this main character ended up with three names. She’s known as Henrietta in the U.S. and Oolbe in Maji and Helena in Addis Ababa. These kids from the Ethiopia Reads Gebeta Library brainstormed an ending to her stories.

Exploring beginning, middle and end is one of the key ways to start thinking like a writer.