The Power of Books: Lift a Flap and Enter a Child's Heart
Smith, Henrietta M., American Libraries
Among Emily Dickinson's many poems is one that begins, "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away." That is what happened when a librarian bearing books boarded a river-worn but sturdy boat (perhaps not a frigate, but ...) and traveled "lands away," 300 miles down the Amazon River in Brazil, to share books with young people living in what some would call most-primitive conditions.
How did it all begin? At a social function in April 2006, I heard a pastor who conducts frequent missions to Brazil mention that he was leading a group of people that included a medical team on a 10-day pilgrimage in July. Without really thinking about all the aspects of such a trip, the love of travel had this librarian saying, "Sign me up." I knew I could not qualify for the medical team, but I truly believe in the power of story, so off I went.
The adventure started almost as soon as we landed in Manaus on July 22. After a busy afternoon we boarded a bus, bound for we knew not where. In the dark of night the bus stopped at the end of a lightless street. We disembarked and, like sheep, followed each other down an unpaved slope, guided by the boat's spotlight, which seemed an interminable distance away.
Well-fed and safely aboard our river transport, the J. J. Mesquite, the stalwart troupe settled in for the night. Morning found us docked at the village of Enseada, our first stop along the Amazon River.
At the landing, as if summoned by the Pied Piper, village folk of all ages came from every direction to be served by doctors and dentists. The villagers were well aware that Mother Nature would soon bring a temporary end to this source of help as the Amazon River would soon enter its receding cycle, making it impossible for boats such as ours to moor at the shore's edge.
While the medical team went to work, I reached into my "magic bag" and pulled out material related to Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit.
How culturally bound are we! Peter and company, whose traits are so familiar to English-speaking youngsters, spoke nothing at all to my young Brazilian listeners. It was with amazement that I heard the interpreter transpose Peter and his misbehaving friends into a spiritual lesson on the damning consequences of disobedience to "the word." I returned Peter Rabbit to what had become, for him, my not-so-magic bag.
But then came the unforgettable part. Out of the bag came a slight book--a very slight book--by Chris Inns, Peekaboo Panda and Other Animals: A Lift-the-Flap Book (Kingfisher, 2006). In this area where books are few and far between, the children looked upon an engineered book as if a magician were hidden beneath the folds.
For this English-only traveler, there was endless enjoyment in sharing the book over and over with little ones who patiently waited their turn to climb onto my lap and examine the pages of the book, trying to find each new surprise. The older young folk were just as interested and often helped the little ones see something they might have overlooked. The story never grew old because each child brought his or her own personality to the experience.
At times--even armed with Peekaboo Panda--it was expedient to break the ice with a song. …