Every once in a while, a package will arrive at my door that I wasn’t anticipating. After a brief bit of head scratching, I realize that it must be from a friend, relative, reader, or patron who supports Clark Lake Park Little Free Library.
It is always very exciting to open these packages. It feels like it’s my birthday, even though I know that the gift is not really for me as much as it is for a child in my community. The satisfaction I receive from providing books to people who might not otherwise get to read them is gift enough on my end.
Once I’ve placed these books in the little free library, I have to trust that they will ultimately reach the hands of someone who really needs them. Perhaps these books will be returned to me later, for yet another child to enjoy, or these books will be so loved that they will be kept and read over and over again. Perhaps they will get passed down to a younger sibling in time, or they will be placed in some other little free library somewhere else in the world, to be enjoyed by yet another child. It’s like sending out a message in a bottle that says, “Sail on a sea of books!” without knowing for sure who will read it.
Oh, and true confession: I tend to read these books before sending them on their magical and mysterious journeys. I love children’s books. I love their positive messages and their amazing artwork.
My most recent package contained two very special books indeed. I couldn’t be more grateful to the friend who sent them to me. I can’t wait to put them out in the library! And these two books really resonated with me. I highly recommend them.
The first is Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o. This author is a wonderful Kenyan actress that you may have seen in 12 Years a Slave. She received the Academy Award for best supporting actress for that one. She was also in Black Panther, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Us.
As talented as she is as an actress, she also writes an amazing story. It’s about a young girl named Sulwe who feels like she doesn’t fit in. In her case, this is because her skin is so much darker than that of her family or schoolmates. But this delightful story, which is beautifully illustrated by Vashti Harrison, goes on to take Sulwe on a wonderful journey that reveals just how beautiful she truly is, inside and out.
This book brought tears to my eyes. As an autistic person, I know what it is like to feel like you don’t fit in. I know how lonely and painful it is to feel that way. This book was a balm to my soul. So if you know a child who is struggling with her, his, or their differences, whatever they may be, please get this book and read it to them, over and over again.
The second book is The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. It’s a true story that will restore your faith in humanity while also being valuable resource for preparing children for the real world. It’s a book that will help you discuss some harsh realities with your children in age-appropriate ways.
It’s the story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a man who loves his country, and watches in despair as it is all but destroyed by war. But he refuses to leave Aleppo, even though so many have been forced to do so, because it is his home. Although he may feel helpless about what is happening to Syria, he decides to do what he can.
As the city is increasingly deserted, he notices the hundreds of cats that people have had to leave behind, and he decides to care for them. He creates a sanctuary, and people all over the world send money to help feed them. After that, he starts rescuing even more animals. Next he builds a playground for the children of Aleppo. Then he digs a well to provide people with water.
Alaa is a man who sees overwhelming tragedy and injustice and violence all around him, and he can’t do anything about much of it, but he still does what he can. And by doing what he can, he discovers that he can do even more than he imagined. That is a message that every child needs to hear.
I highly recommend this book. And if you choose not to purchase it, you can still be a force for good by supporting Alaa in all his good works. Go to his website and contribute what you can. It will help more than you imagine.
This unexpected package containing these two wonderful books, like so many packages that have arrived before it, has reinforced my belief in the power of books to educate, inform, comfort and inspire. Every book broadens your horizons. Every story allows you to view the world in a new way. The more information you have, the more you can think critically and draw your own conclusions about what you should value. There is no downside to reading.
If you would like to put a smile on the face of a child in my community, please visit my Children’s Books for Clark Lake Park Little Free Library wish list on Amazon.com, and do what you can. I love to know who sends me such packages, but you can remain anonymous if you prefer. Either way, on behalf of children learning to love books, I thank you for your support.