If Wishes Were Books…

Today’s guest post comes from Yvette Couser – a writer, a childrens’ librarian, and an all-together good egg.

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A few weeks ago, I came across a wonderful charity opportunity wrapped up in a writing contest. Sponsored by the Book Wish Foundation, the contest called for a 500 word essay written in response to a story in an anthology. The prize was a critique of the first 50 pages of the winner’s YA or children’s novel. 

The anthology, What You Wish For, contains work from some of the most successful and beloved authors of our time. Each author has donated their work, with proceeds going toward building libraries in refugee camps in Eastern Chad. The essays should describe how the wishes in one of six designated stories explained the wishes of the Darfuri refugees in Eastern Chad.

I knew nothing of Darfur, or Chad. But the chance to have a shot at a critique of my NaNoWriMo novel was too irresistible.  I had four days to complete my mission, but three of those days were already filled with work and church and laundry and of course driving all the way to the next town to get the book.

Look – let me be honest.

When I started this project that Friday, it was all about me and getting a shot at a critique. As I read the collection, part of my brain was already fantasizing about my book deal. But by Tuesday night’s deadline, my thinking had expanded. Yes, I had accomplished what I wanted – my essays were written, polished and submitted. But you can’t cram four days’ worth of research into your brain and not have it ooze out a bit and touch your heart.

I’m fortunate that my life allows me to choose to clean or write or whatever with my free time. So this post can’t just be about me and my struggle to enter a contest during the last eligible weekend. There will be other contests and besides, I can submit a manuscript on my own steam.

Let me tell you about wishes.

The folks behind the Book Wish Foundation are raising money to build libraries because it’s what the refugees wished for. Once their basic needs of shelter, food, water, and firewood are met, they voiced a desire for books and education; fundraisers called these “soft needs.” Supporters believe that if libraries exist for a generation of refugee children where they can learn about corruption and goodness and things that are both ugly and beautiful, that these children will be less likely to be recruited as child soldiers. They can be educated about their country. They can join the “good guys” and help bring their region out of dark times and return to normalcy.

This blew my mind; I’m a librarian in a time in the US when libraries are under fire. We hold conferences to teach each other new lingo to stay relevant. We argue amongst ourselves whether our services are “essential” or “enriching” and we argue about mission statements and we argue with the town government that holds our budget. All while we try to do our jobs, getting our patrons what they wish for.

I loved that these experienced fundraisers admitted that libraries are “soft needs” – crucial and vital, but soft. And honestly, I’m still chewing on that bold statement.

Anyway.  I’m feeding my book wish til March 1, when winners will be announced. I’m also feeding my wish for a time when we all stop squabbling about the relevance of libraries in the electronic age. We just don’t see how much of a need the “soft need” is until we see people who have to live without it.

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About the author:

Yvette Burnham Couser, Head of Children’s Services at the Merrimack Public Library (NH), holds an MLS from Indiana University and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In her life before she was a wife and mother of four, she lived in NYC, writing, buying expensive shoes, and working for a literary agent. Her one-act play, Everywoman: A Modern Morality Play, was published by Baker’s Plays, Boston in 1994.

Yvette blogs about reading and writing YA fiction at Book Covers http://mybookcovers.wordpress.com/

7 thoughts on “If Wishes Were Books…

  1. What a wonderful post, and what an important subject. I wouldn’t have thought that libraries were a soft need. They provide so much more than books.
    I’m glad these people will have access to books though, and I hope it helps them.

  2. If you have ever read a book like “The History of Reading” by Alberto Manguel, it’s easy to understand books are NOT soft needs at all. Manguel follows the 4,000 year history from the perspective of a reader and there are many references to how books have changed the world. Consider our own history – it was illegal to teach slaves how to read. Why? Because ignorance is a way to hold people back, to make them vulnerable. A smart slave was a dangerous slave.
    This is true across all cultures in every nation. Books are power, salvation, comfort. They provide happiness to people, even the midst of dire stress and crisis, especially for children for whom storytelling is an essential part of growth.
    And so on and so forth…

  3. My kindergartener son had his 3-month endocrinology check-up last Friday (he has Type 1 diabetes), and it was a very proud moment for this mama (and screenwriter) when the social worker asked us what he watches on TV and our answer was, We don’t have a TV; her next question was, Do you go to the library? And his answer was, Yes, and I have my own library card. Sure, he spends a lot of time playing kid-safe computer games and watching kid-safe videos, but he loves his days — and those would be half of an entire Saturday, til they lock the doors — at the LA public library, the main downtown branch.

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