Posts Tagged ‘Seattle’

Stories without words?

dancersI tell stories with words.

Words are the thing I moosh and goosh and smoosh around as potters smoosh clay…the things I shape and eventually–oh! I love that part–polish and smooth.

Words make us feel things.

Think things.

Words bubble in our blood and brains.

When I was in Seattle last weekend speaking at the Ethiopian Community Center about Open Hearts Big Dreams and Ethiopia Reads ( I watched these dancers and thought about the ways we tell stories without words.

I thought that again when I got home and watched this book trailer about a book by a fellow VCMFA faculty member.

young artistAnd as I got ready for the second Seattle event, an auction and dinner, with art donated by Stephanie Schlatter who creates opportunities for kids in Ethiopia to put color to paper for the first time.

In some ways, Stephanie is lucky.

When we work on book opportunities around the world, we have to think about what language the story is written in.   Someone may be able to look at the cover of one of my Lanie books and know it’s about a girl and plants and bugs and butterflies…but to feel much of anything, that person has to be able to decode black squiggles on a white page.

Or maybe a screen.

And unless those squiggles make a sound in that person’s brain…a sound that makes sense…even decoding is no good.

Reading starts in a deep down place where kids get a chance to notice shapes on paper and get to feel a jolt of communication even with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.  Look at Stephanie’s page and see if that jolt doesn’t happen for you.

Seattle dancersHere’s hoping for lives full of telling

and dancing

and miming

and reading

and painting

and potting

and sharing

the stories of our special spots on this earth.


And here’s to teams in Seattle and Grand Rapids and Grand Forks and other places that are volunteering so much time to spread the ripples.



“And…” (people keep asking me)

“What was Seattle like??”

Adjectives fail me.

First of all, the dinner was sold out, which so rarely happens in my world.  Ellenore, the organizer, had set a goal of 100, but 170 people bought tickets.  Bidding on auction items was brisk and cheerful.  The room was full of dancing and poetry and Ethiopians and Americans who care about reading and art and kids and, well, about Ellenore and her family.

People give to people.

One of the zingy things about being a volunteer for Ethiopia Reads has been meeting fellow volunteers.

In Ethiopia, I notice that people still seem to be on a default setting that one’s life will get better if a patron comes along to bestow good things.  After all, Ethiopia had a society for centuries much like the medieval societies we study in school…and I’ll bet the serfs in Europe never sat around the fire chatting about how they could pool their money and ideas and skills to make things better.

We talk about America being the land where the individual can succeed.  In some ways, as many emigrant families will tell you, it still is that way (for a lot of individuals)–because some of the systems that squash people around the world are a little less entrenched, here, than they are in a place like, say, Ethiopia.

Most of us in America don’t live in villages, for example, where our families have lived for so many generations that the patterns and antagonisms and frustrations are entrenched and seem hard to ever overcome or change.  Class and ethnic tensions certainly are real in America, but we still have more wiggle room than in a lot of places around the world.

It’s true that a lot of individuals in places like Ethiopia are longing to come to America even now when things are relatively tough here.

People everywhere are pretty determined to make their children’s lives better.

But that story about America as the place where individuals pull themselves up by their bootstraps?  My research for Bicycle Madness, featuring the real-life reformer Frances Willard (who learned to ride a bike in her fifties with her skirts down to her ankles to show what women could do), convinced me that America is the place where a lot of people really GOT IT that ordinary human beings can put their resources together to make things better.

The power of ordinary people working together.

Frances Willard and the other reformers in the late 1800s were determined to make America live up to its rhetoric.  Children were working in factories.  (Their little fingers were helpful for many of the machines.)  Women had no way to support themselves and their families if men let them down (taking themselves and their wages off to the saloon, for instance).  Frances Willard and other writers and speakers and photographers worked together to spread the stories and images of suffering, struggling people–and they brought change.

Ordinary people holding hands can bring change.

That’s what Seattle was about.

The event was held in the Norwest African American museum–a place that fit it delightfully well.

Ellenore and her team of volunteers had gathered lots of cool stuff for the auction.  People donated those things.  People bought those things…and other people just raised the paddle to make donations.  (Ethiopia Reads board member Frew Tibebu won the stay in the apartment in Paris and I can’t wait to hear what the trip is like for his family.)

The totals aren’t in, yet, but I know the event met and exceeded Ellenore’s goal of $25,000 to bring reading to the mercato school and community around it.

Reading is one of the ways to share the power tools of the world.

When Stephanie, who just did her own fundraiser for art in the school, visited Ethiopia this month, the kids used themselves as the canvas for one project.  My brother and I, in our brief talk at the event, paired some of Stephanie’s photos with the words of a teacher who traveled with my brother last summer.

The mercato school captured our hearts.

Each little face drawing your eyes.

Look at me.

See me.

Saying, “I am significant.”

What makes someone like Ellenore brave enough to believe she can make up a fundraiser auction?

What makes her determined enough to give up most of her own pre-Christmas preparation time to put in the time to something like this event?

What made artist Yadesa Bojia contribute his hours and two paintings to spread joy in the mercato neighborhood where he grew up?

What makes all the volunteers of this world believe that they should give up the time they could be spending with their families and businesses and hobbies and instead believe they can help spread clean water and food and health care and education in places where those are precious and rare?

It’s baffling.

And powerful.

And sweet.

Author teacher road warriors hang on for the ride

Home!  Next up: Seattle and several interesting events including this one, organized by an energetic new Ethiopia Reads volunteer.

Who: families – kids are welcome! Jane Kurtz, children’s author WACAP staff What: Book sale/signing Opportunity to meet with other parents and learn about the needs of Ethiopian children Why: To raise awareness and funds for programs serving orphaned and vulnerable children in Ethiopia When: Sunday, March 6, 2011, from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Where: WACAP Main Office, 315 South 2nd Street, Renton, Wash. 98057 Cost: The event is free; donations are welcomed and encouraged.

So!  I left Kansas with snow on the ground and flew to gorgeous, lush Indonesia for three amazing author visits, flew back to Kansas (okay, Missouri) to find snow STILL on the ground, flew to Wisconsin for another amazing author visit but even more snow, finally got home last night.  I would feel all heroic and road-warrior-ish except that my dad was doing this kind of traveling and speaking into his 80s, including getting to where he was going via reindeer-pulled vehicles in Siberia. 

I guess I’ll just settle for saying it’s great to be home for a few days…and, hey, y’all who admire and support Ethiopia Reads and/or kids and/or books for kids and/or road warriors and their ilk, come see me in Renton on Sunday–or in California next month where another two events are being set up by volunteers (

What got better while I was on this trip?

–My novel.  (I kept going on revision and even got some new ideas…thrilldom!)

–My sprained foot.

(When I limped home from Houston and thought ahead to the Indonesia trip, I thought it was going to be impossible to keep going, but it wasn’t, even though the air travel made my foot swell up and get uncomfortable.)

What got worse while I was on my long trip?

–My attitude toward the Sky Team.  (Korean Airlines was lovely, as cramped and uncomfortable international travel goes, and I do like those powder blue planes and the view out the window during our loooong layover, but I made a mistake that prevented me from getting ANY frequent flyer miles, and I’m cross that no one would work with me–a loyal Delta flyer–to un-do my goof and make it right.)

–My novel.

(Things always get worse before they get better, so some chapters are an utter mess right now.  I kept writing, though, including while I was sitting in this van and slowly, creepingly making my way through sprawling, snorting, swirling Jakarta traffic.)

–My new haircut.

(Hair grows.)

Now I have two days to get caught up on many, many things + lean on a baby cold + put new updating-the-Lanie-story pictures into my Power Point presentations.

I’m buoyed by those making a difference with orangutans (go, go, Pasir Ridge International School) and Ethiopia Reads (go, go, library planters) and monarch butterflies (go, go St. Joe Elementary School).

For that matter, go, go, all of us author-teacher-speaker road warriors who spread the passion for reading and writing and sharing books.