As in so much of the world, traditional toys in Laos are losing ground to cheap, colorful plastic toys from China. But the traditional toys have many merits: They're cheaper; making them often is an enjoyable parent-child activity; they generally require more active participation from the child and may improve many physical and mental skills; when they break, they can be fixed with local materials and know-how; and when they break too much for that, they won't still be lingering around 100 years from now. Sonesoulilat, who has written several other books, including Game Time! has written a book describing how to make some of the most popular traditional toys.Thanks to a grant from the Global Fund for Children, we will soon publish it.
Thanks to support from the U.S. Embassy and Elefantasia Vientiane, we took books into remote villages that do not have access by road or river. Oh, we should thank Boom-Boom, the book elephant, and her friend, as well. In addition to sponsoring these elephant-based trips, the U.S. Embassy has sponsored home-based reading rooms and school libraries in 8 rural villages.
You might think a 32-page book is short, but for a child who's never seen a book, and whose parents can't read, that can still seem like too much to start with. So we're developing some very short books: 8 pages, with just one short sentence per page. And we're trying to make them as much fun, for children and adults, as the longer books.
It turns out that very short books are a good starting-point not only for new readers, but also for new writers. We had a writing workshop for members of our staff who had no writing experience, and three of them then wrote their first books, which we're now preparing for publiation. They include La with The Hungry Frog and Jan with The Bird Carries His Sister. Then James, who learned desktop publishing and design skills here at Big Brother Mouse, gave them a crisp, appealing look.
School starts soon, in Laos and in many other countries. Would your school or class like to sponsor a book party at a Lao school? We've got some materials to help, including a short picture book you can download, which tells what life is like for a fairly typical child in Laos. Please see our special page for School Classes.
Toot toot! "Toot" is the Lao word for "Ambassador". We've begun read-aloud practices for the many young people who come to Luang Prabang for work or school, but periodically return to their home villages and families. They get tips and practice reading aloud, then when they go to their village, we give them some books to read with children and adults in their village. It doesn't solve the problem of books not being available in most villages, but it's one step in creating the enthusiasm for books that will help as we get to more villages. (Orange robes are not a requirement; on this particular day, we had several novice monks come in for the practice.)
Our book party teams spend a week on the road, typically visiting 2 schools a day. It's satisfying but tiring. This month, they stayed in Luang Prabang for a week of "The Mouse Experience": A variety of activities and new experiences that help them develop both personal skills and work skills, while having fun and learning new things. The week included writing a new song to teach at our book parties; a visit to Kwangsi Waterfall; electronics experiments; animated read-aloud practice; and trying out some educational board games that we'll later teach in villages.
The biggest book we've published so far is also the book that took the longest to translate: Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. There were many challenges in the translation, not just because European terms often had no equivalent in Lao, but also because few people here know enough about World War II to fully understand the context of this important book. But our illustrated history of the war will come off the press soon, and already we're seeing college-age readers absorbed in the diary.
Archived News from 2006-2007.
As we've set up reading rooms in villages, then gone back for visits and training, one thing has become clear: That follow-up is an essential aspect of helping these reading rooms, and the volunteers who run them, to become effective. We've set up more than 100 reading rooms, thanks largely to Planet Wheeler in Australia, and now we're closely looking for the best ways to help them develop.
In December and January we held reading room workshops in Nong Kiao for village volunteers in the Ngoi district. The primary focus was encouraging people to read aloud in their villages, and teaching them techniques for doing so. This young man overcame his considerable initial shyness, and kept his listeners' eager attention when we went to a nearby village for practice.