At Book Expo in 2011, I learned several surprizing facts: recent BISG stats revealed that indie bookstores are faring better than large chains in the US; literary fiction is making a come-back, while adult non-fiction struggles. And, refugees from Darfur who live in camps in Eastern Chad wish for books. This last revelation didn't come from BISG, but from a gracious, petite woman I met at another seminar. Afterwards, we found ourselves heading to the cafeteria for one of the Javitz Center's over-priced sandwiches, speaking about the organization that she and her son founded, The Book Wish Foundation. Their mission is to build libraries in Chad's 12 refugees camps.
"I've never thought of refugees wanting books," I told her. "I imagine that their lives would revolve around food and medicine." But I've never been to such a camp, and Lorraine has. She told me that, for many refugees, books represent education and the means to a better life, as well as an opportunity to heal and grow, to imagine, to be entertained. It then occured to me that my own childhood was filled with stories and books, and my life would have been unthinkably different without them. I suspect the same is true for anyone reading this blog.
I immediately offered to send books to the camps. Lorraine thanked me, but told me that such shipments are typically intercepted by the government in these African states. Books must be accessible from within the country's borders.
In order to help Book Wish raise funds to build libraries, the Penguin Young Readers Group just published an anthology of short stories and poems by renowned, bestselling writers. What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur weaves stories and poems with photographs from the camps, blending many dreams and wishes into one rich volume.
On Monday evening, October 17, Books of Wonder in New York will host a signing at which seven of these authors will read. This event is free and open to the public. Come by if you can and if not, check out this incredible book whenever possible. Buy it as a gift that keeps giving, as each purchase benefits the literacy and education of Darfuris. The stories, by writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Meg Cabot, and Ann M. Martin, and the poems, drawings and photographs keep giving, too.