By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
The library in La Crucecita is so small that many people pass by without realizing it exists. After school, many children actually line up to enter the diminutive reading room. The librarian there is passionate about outreach to Huatulco’s children and increasing their literacy.
Last year we realized that even though children flock to the library and the librarian is devoted, the library’s collection of books for children was dismal. Our children had more books in their bedrooms than were available for all of Huatulco’s children in the La Crucecita library. The few books for children that we found were dated and in bad physical condition, smelling musty.
What a contrast with the library in our US home town, Ashland, Oregon. Ashland has an entire library building for children, which not only makes numerous books available but also provides many opportunities for reading and learning about the arts, sponsored by community volunteers, the municipal government, and private organizations including the Ashland-based Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
We decided to bring Ashland’s love of literature in support of Huatulco’s children who are hungry to read. In conversation with Carole Reedy, The Eye contributor who started the library in San Agustinillo (on the coast about 20 miles west of Huatulco) we came up with the idea of a “Bring-A-Book Breakfast”…inviting people to our Ashland home for breakfast and asking them to bring a children’s book in Spanish for the library in Huatulco.
After returning to Ashland last spring, the first place we visited was the independent bookstore, Bloomsbury. We explained the need in Huatulco and the Bring-A-Book Breakfast idea to our friend Anita Isser, who is in charge of the extensive children’s book section. Anita loved the idea and volunteered to put together a list of books in Spanish for school-age children, from which invitees could select contributions. Knowing that people enjoy paging through books before choosing one to buy, Anita immediately ordered a variety of selections.
Once we knew that the bookstore was set to offer a selection of children’s books in Spanish, we sent out invitations for an early breakfast at our home to about forty of our book-loving friends – explaining the need for books for Huatulco’s children. We directed them to Bloomsbury if they wanted advice or an easy way to select books. Many people responded, “great idea, can’t come but we’ll drop off a book.” Others asked if they could send us a check instead of a book, but we preferred to get them involved by asking them to buy a book that we would pick up. And a number of the good-hearted, laid-back Ashlanders who avoid formalities didn’t respond but just showed up for the breakfast with a book or two in hand.
Even before the breakfast, books started arriving at our doorstep with enthusiastic messages about how the particular book was selected. Some folks delivered favorite childhood books that had been translated into Spanish. Others provided books on a favorite topic such as astronomy. Others were selected for their wonderful graphics. And our friend George couldn’t resist selecting the Spanish version of “Curious George.” Throughout the selection process, Anita kept track and steered people to books on the list that had not yet been purchased, so there were no duplicates.
The actual Bring-A-Book-Breakfast was terrific. Many of the people who attended were very knowledgeable about other efforts to increase literacy world-wide, or deeply connected to a community in Mexico, or both. So rather than being just another social occasion, the conversation centered around projects devoted to providing developmental support to children with few resources. Guests were more involved in learning from each other than in focusing on the good food.
After the breakfast, guests and non-guests alike dropped off more books. After checking the titles of the donations, we realized that one age group lacking contributions were teens. So we checked Anita’s list and personally purchased some for that group. In the end, we had enough books to fill a large carton.
We shipped the books down via DHL to assure safe and timely arrival – a bit pricey but worth saving our backs from trying to lug them down ourselves. We marked the box inside and out with messages in English and Spanish, “not for sale” and “donation for the library in Huatulco”, and the package cleared customs without a hitch. At the library we explained that the books were a donation and involved no obligation on anyone’s part – other than to make sure they were shelved and accessible to the children.
Cristina the librarian told us she had just returned from a training session in Oaxaca for librarians to learn methods for conducting outreach to children and encouraging them to read. She said, “I learned the methods, but I had very few books. Now I have the methods and the books.” Some of the books were bilingual (English/Spanish), which she noted and said would also be very helpful to her. Because paper and bookbinding are expensive in Mexico, it is more difficult to find library-quality books in Spanish in Mexico than in the United States.
We’d like to encourage other people who spend part of the year north of the border to consider a similar mini-project. The effort we needed to provide was minimal and the satisfaction of supporting Huatulco’s children, maximal. If you don’t want to involve other people, just toss a few Spanish language books in your luggage the next time you travel down to Huatulco. Learn how to say “this is a donation” in Spanish, and bring the books to the library in Crucecita – one block north and one block east of the plaza, on Guarumbo Street. Your contribution will be appreciated by the community – especially the children.