How to Make Christine Happy, One Book At A TIme

    The morning did not look promising. I spent another sleepless night at, perhaps ironically, a sleep study clinic. I was allegedly asleep long enough for my brain waves to convey that information to the technicians who were graphing the bigger-fish-eating-smaller-ones waves of the REM, leg-kicking and forgetting to breathe that is my nightly repose. You might think that after a night like that I would be happy to see daylight, but I was suspended in a groggy apres sleep-clinic funk.  

        I dropped by Village books, my local Indy bookstore and favorite landmark in Bellingham, to pick up Rolf Potts'  Marco Polo Didn't Go There and say hi to my friend, Cindi. The phone rang after she answered, Cindi sounded very excited. Screaming. Jumping up and down. When she finished she rang Dee, the owner.
      "I just got off the phone with the Whatcom Middle School PTA  president," she said.

      WMS is housed in a hundred year-old building. Was housed. It burned to the ground in early November.  The teachers  and their classes have found temporary shelter around the city, but  for resources they were on their own. VB has posted the teachers' wish lists and been collecting donated books at the store.

        Cindi continued. "They just received a check for $3,000 for classroom books. They want us to have it all. But they want the books by the end of the day."

       By then I was waving wildly at Cindi. Pick me! Pick me! The clerks were swamped and $3,000 would mean selecting hundreds of books. Then I was tracking down Dee, persuading her that I was a reliable, competent volunteer for the job. 

     Shopping isn't a big part of my life, but books and education are.

    Thanks to Dee Robinson and an anonymous benefactor, I enjoyed the privilege of  selecting books for the school. I spent five blissful hours with my favorite middle grade and young adult authors and made the acquaintance of many new ones.  First we filled the requests of  the displaced teachers who were trying to reconstruct their classroom curricula. That only used two-thirds of the money, so we improvised.  Newer Printz  and Newbery winners, reference books, fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, fantasy and classics all piled onto a groaning cart.  

      I have not felt so delighted and satisfied since we dropped off our 500-book library in the mangrove swamps of the River Gambia.  Then, as now, I imagined the delight of a child or adult discovering a new world inside each book, igniting passions, setting off a life-changing chain of knowledge and education.  

     Now that I understand the years that go into creating a book, the care and craft, frustration and elation and passion of those who write them, I feel even more gratitude that they chose to be writers. 

     Tomorrow, Avery is packing up the school supplies that she collects every  year for our friends in the village of Kau-Ur,  Gambia, who shared their village with us six years ago. Kids there often have to leave school because they don't have the $100 in annual school fees. Some day when they're grown up, though, a kid from Kau-Ur may meet a kid from Bellingham at a conference or college or  while collaborating on a project that benefits humankind. They will have each begun their paths with books.

     Thank you, those of you who write books and those who love them. Thank you to teachers and especially those who soldier on in difficult circumstances, whether a burned school or an overcrowded village classroom. Thank you, students who continue to care and learn, one book at a time.



I had this wonderful mental picture of you, like a child in a candy store, picking out books, re-visiting old favorites (your and your children's) and delighting in the thought that someone else will think this book is special or that book was written just for me...