8 Aug 2012

The Science of Finding Stories

Camel Library in Mongolia's Gobi Desert
    “Where do you get your ideas?” is a question many writers face. I once heard Lois Lowry answer that one with “If I knew that I would go there.”
The fact is that writers need to keep their eyes, ears and minds open for ideas at all times, whether you write poems, fiction or science. You never know where or when an idea will pop up that may eventually blossom into a full fledged story, a poem or piece of informational writing. But no matter how interesting the fact may be, fact is that a writer needs to be the one to spot the story inside it. How do you see a story in a crater, in lichen? That’s what science writers do, whether it is natural science or social science.

    About eight years ago, I read an article in a newspaper about the National Library Service in Kenya, Africa. They were concerned about children in outlying desert villages. These children of wandering herders, whose families congregate in remote desert areas, had no access to books. The roads in this part of Kenya were often impassable. The only way to bring a heavy load into this hinterland, was by camel. Thus, the Kenyan Library camel train was born.

    Upon reading the article, I realized that I had never lived in a place without a library. Many children around the world, however, do not have such access to books. I started to do research, mostly through the internet, to find out how else in the world children get library books. I didn’t know at the time that my research would lead to a book.
    A man in Azerbaijan told me enthusiastically, via email, how a blue truck loaded with books makes its way to children in war torn areas. The children live in poverty and the truck full of books brings a bit of happiness. “For us,” said the librarian who travels with the truck, “the mobile library is as important as air or water!”
    Children in Thailand receive books even in remote jungle villages. An elephant library delivers books, learning aids and medicine.
    The volunteers and librarians who work with the mobile libraries around the world were keen to share their success stories. Somehow they managed to find or borrow a camera and I started receiving envelops full of wonderful photos: beaming children’s faces in Papua New Guinea, pictures of a bicycle loaded with books in Peru, a boat library in Indonesia.
    My book MY LIBRARIAN IS A CAMEL was published by Boyds Mills Press. Little did I know that it would lead to many more heartwarming stories and incredible travel opportunities for me. I was invited to Pakistan to work with teachers and students. In Lahore I saw the very mobile library about which I had written. Then I was asked to speak about the book at the IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People) Congress in Macau, China. Here I met Dashdondog, a man from Mongolia with whom I had been emailing for several years. He had come to the Congress to receive the Asahi Award for his amazing mobile library project in the Gobi Desert.
    I was privileged to speak at International Schools in Malaysia and Indonesia. I visited a mobile library on the island of Java. All of the stories I heard from teachers, librarians and children about their different schools led to a book. MY SCHOOL IN THE RAIN FOREST was also published by Boyds Mills Press. It features unusual schools in Afghanistan, India, Scotland, Australia and many other countries. Both books have led to many schools ‘adopting’ a mobile library where books are desperately needed, including a Mayan village in Mexico: http://www.booksformayans.org
    The books have even led to a global book mark exchange between children in over 18 countries. This social science activity is available to you if you are a teacher. If you are interested in
• having students make bookmarks and sending them to children in another country or
• if you would like to help a school or library in need of supplies, please email me: margriet@margrietruurs.com

Global Bookmark Exchange

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