Book parties make literacy fun in Lao villages
Most children in Laos have never seen a book, other than a textbook – and textbooks don't make literacy fun. There's no system for getting books into rural villages, some of which involve a day or two of travel from the nearest road. That's why Big Brother Mouse invented book parties. Here's what we do at a typical 3-hour party.
The parties are run by our staff. Usually four young people go to the village. If things have to be carried, it may take five or six. This party, at Ban Naa, involved three hours on the road, an hour by boat, and 90 minutes of hiking. Staff members are typically age 16 to 22, and come from similar villages, so they quickly connect with the children.
Talking about books
First, we talk about books. Khamla is too busy running Big Brother Mouse to be at most events, but he went to the first book parties, then trained others. Here he discusses the Frog, Alligator, Buffalo, the alphabet book he wrote. Later today, students will each pick a letter, write a humorous sentence about something starting with that letter, then draw a picture. For many, it will be the first creative writing they've ever done.
Tha Thao was 16 when he won our first art contest, and since then he's illustrated five books for Big Brother Mouse. Here, he gives a simple art lesson. For older students, we have a different lesson, showing examples of how to create expressions on characters. Then there's some drawing time, which is always popular. Everyone loves to draw, but rural children often do not even have pencils. Afterward, they get to keep the pencil and a few sheets of paper.
Outdoor games provide a change-of-pace at each book party. Sonesulilat, who plans these, wrote our book Game Time, describing both traditional games and new games he has invented. In the game show, a team of three has to pick up a cardboard tube, using some strings that they must manipulate together, then race back to the finish.
A song about books
Sonesulilat also wrote a song about books, which he and Sipoubon teach, and which is sung with great relish. Sonesulilat, who was just 17 years old when this photo was taken, is one of the young people whose innate creativity, energy, intelligence, and goodwill have had a chance to flourish at Big Brother Mouse. Singing is followed by refreshments.
Literacy is officially defined as the ability to read; but for literacy to be meaningful, books and reading need to be incorporated into daily life. Your first grade teacher probably read stories aloud to the class. Later, perhaps a teacher read a chapter a day after lunch, from a longer book. We're encouraging that custom here in Laos, although first, of course, the teachers need books that can be read. Our booklet The Joy of Reading provides advice for them about how to make reading-aloud a fun event for all concerned.
Choosing your first book
Choosing your first book is a big decision! We briefly describe the books we've brought, then each child can choose a book that they will own. This becomes an object of real pride, and when we've revisited villages months later, many children are carrying their book with them.
At the end of the 3-hour party, we leave 80 more books. Some schools have a library. In others, we leave books with the teacher, as a "Swap Box". Later, children can trade their book for a different one. Essentially it's a mini-library, making books available without the record-keeping and overhead requirements of a library. Some kids get so attached to their first book that they aren't willing to trade it, so we also encourage them to read together at each other's homes. The teacher, or teachers, also get a gift.
Using books in schools
Textbooks are available in many schools. But it's a new experience for teachers to have other books that students are eager to read. Often they don't know what to do with such books.
We're working with organizations that provide teacher training to address this. We're also talking with Education Department officials about providing short workshops on use of supplemental reading. Some schools, after getting our books, also provide a time and place where the students can read books in the school.
Will you sponsor a book party and mini-library?
Just $250-$400 U.S. is all it takes. What better gift could there be for a book-lover than a book party sponsored in their name? Please see the Donations page for details about how to make a payment. We'll send back a report and photos after the event. (If you're not visiting Luang Prabang, then donations received during the summer will be used after the schools re-open in September.)
Are you coming to Luang Prabang? Please read about attending a book party.
Please read about requesting a book party in a specific village if that's what you wish to do.