REFORMA: “A book is a companion that will bring you light and comfort.”

REFORMA: “A book is a companion that will bring you light and comfort.”

IBBY Honduras GirlsMy article was first opublished by  The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature

The group Reforma, an American Library Association affiliate, and IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, have, at their core, the driving belief that every child has the right to read.


Three Pirate Tree reviewers, Nancy Bo Flood, Lyn Miller-Lachmann and I spoke at the recent IBBY regional conference in New York City. Among our colleagues was Oralia Garza de Cortes, past president of Reforma, who has been working on a Reforma project with Patsy Aldano to bring books to Central American children who crossed the border into Texas, fleeing violence in their home countries.   They have been held at detention centers and later given support by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas, the town to which Garcia and Aldano traveled.  I want to share the story we learned from Oralia Garcia de Cortes and Patsy Aldano.

IBBY Reforma Bookcard          Reforma received a grant from IBBY’s  “Children in Crisis” project to purchase Spanish-language books for child refugees.  The parents of the children had paid “coyotes” to guide them across the border. Aldano said about the children, “These are refugees. They will die if they stay where they live.” And when the children arrived at the Texas border, they told the guards they wanted asylum so that they might petition to gain refugee status. They are mostly from Honduras, the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, Reforma reports, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

IBBY Pat Mora

Each of the books donated to the children in detention held a book plate with the words, “A book is a companion that will bring you light and comfort.” 186,233 children have crossed into Texas since 2009.   The detention centers have since released many children, some with their mothers. And many keep coming. When children leave detention they have very few resources, and Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley has been instrumental in providing basic supplies. Reforma and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grand Valley are organizations in extreme need of donations and resources. Reforma offers this link to see more about the project and to make a donation.

For children making their way on buses traveling in search of family members in the U.S.,  Reforma has created a library card to travel. It says, “Please welcome these children to your library.”

Barry Lopez knows this story.  He wrote these words in his classic book, Crow and Weasel: “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”


“The whole human race is tribal,” says Susan Cooper. “Authors have to be brave.”

“The whole human race is tribal,” says Susan Cooper. “Authors have to be brave.”

Dark is RisingThe IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People)  regional conference in New York City was a call to action.  IBBY is a grand, activist organization marching, bearing the best of the world’s literature created for children. Reforma is an American Library Association affiliate organization that received a grant from IBBY’s  “Children in Crisis” project to provide books to child refugees fleeing violence in Latin America. The children surrender themselves at the Texas border. Patsy Aldano and Oralia Garza de Cortez told us about  their visit to bring books to a detention center where the children are held and where they told the officials that children need books. “A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.”

Cuban-American writer Margarita Engle, through her years of writing and at the conference. made a plea for dual language books so that her books and others’ books can be read by people separated by politics and history. “So many children have families divided by history.”

On my panel with Nancy Bo Flood and Lyn Miller-Lachmann – Nancy has named us the “War Panel” – we made the case for the power of literature to bring a child’s experience of war into the light. The books  allow readers to step across cultures and are testament to the dignity and agency of the children and families who survive.

And Susan Cooper, author of the classic The Dark is Rising Sequence, shaped by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis with whom she studied at Oxford, asked, “Will we ever affect the hostility children inherit from their parents?”  She said we writers must try. “Our job as writers is to step out of ourselves.” She said, “The whole human race is tribal. We must have cross-cultural communication.  Don’t let your fear stop you.”

I had such long, wonderful years as a passionate reader of  high fantasy with Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials being the absolute high.  Children’s books historian Leonard Marcus – who was at IBBY, of course –  wrote somewhere that fantasy doesn’t solve the world’s problems, but when you re-enter the world, you see the problems with new eyes and new perspectives.  Which is always the power of a book, inviting us at all our ages to enter our imaginations. Leonard’s consistent theme: “There are no good books that are only for children.”

May You See the Rabbit in the Moon and know it’s the Beginning of the World

May You See the Rabbit in the Moon and know it’s the Beginning of the World

IMG_1792This photo captures an event that happened on a fall night in Kittery, Maine.  It has already become one of my all-time favorite events. The people gathered with me are my neighbors who came to hear me read from Either the Beginning or the End of the World at the Rice Library. I met a family for the first time,  and they had adopted their Cambodian daughter. Now their daughter is  a young woman and she wants to study nursing and help her countrymen. I had brought tiny rabbit-in-the-moon charms that relate to the quest of Sofie in my novel to see the rabbit when she looks up at the moon. When she was a young child, her Cambodian mom Rabbit2told her look, look,  see the rabbit in the moon!  I was glad I had the charm to give the young woman from Cambodia and enough for us all.  The charm also relates to a Cambodian folk tale  in which the rabbit represents immortality.  So we all left with our small rabbit in the moon charms, and I had a better sense that this is the beginning of the world.

Either the Beginning or the End of the World