Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cross Cultural Extravaganza to Support Literacy in Afghanistan

Fighting Illiteracy in Afghanistan is No Laughing Matter to Torontonians

Or Is It?

Centuries-Old Folk Hero Stars in Benefit Multicultural Laugh-Fest to Provide Books for Needy Afghan Children

TORONTO (Oct. 1, 2010) -- Mulla Nasrudin, the centuries-old star of countless jokes in Afghanistan and other countries throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, will be the guest of honor at a zany cross-cultural extravaganza in Toronto to benefit needy children in Afghanistan. Afghans so love the Mulla's wacky wit that they claim him as their native son. But so do many other Middle Eastern, Central Asian and other cultures.

Actually, nobody really knows who Nasrudin was or if he ever existed. But that's not stopping the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange (ICE) from celebrating his birthday on Nov. 13, 2010 from 7:30 to 10:30 pm at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church 214 Wright Ave., Toronto. Canada's finest musicians, jokesters, dancers and storytellers will perform at this madcap multinational mirth fest featuring Georgian, Afghan, Arabic, and Jewish cultures.

The program will feature:

Drew the Dramatic Fool
George Sawa . Suzanne Meyers Sawa
Rhythm of the Nile Dance Co. and Artistic Director Nada El Masriya
Shalva Makharashvili . Andrea Kuzmich . Reid Robins of Zari
Eric Stein . Ray Dillard
Dan Yashinsky . Aubrey Davis . Sandra Carpenter-Davis
Anyone wishing to tell a Mulla tale!

Tickets $25 Family $45
Order Online: By Phone: 416-537-2006 Or Email:

Can't attend? Why not give the gift of literacy? For under $1 you can provide a book for an Afghan child.  Visit:

For more information:

For Press Release:

For more about Nasrudin:

Follow the Mulla on Facebook &

ICE ( is an all-volunteer Canadian charity that addresses family literacy and promotes
understanding between cultures. So far, it has donated over 46,000 books to seventy Canadian non-profit literacy groups serving needy children Canada-wide. This year ICE is beginning a new initiative in Afghanistan, where literacy rates are among the lowest in the world. Its aim is to provide as many Afghan children as possible with their very own books. For at least 95% of them, these will certainly be the first books they own -- and may well be tales that their grandparents recognize from their own childhood. We hope that repatriating these stories in book form will be a comforting bridge to literacy and a legacy for young Afghans and their future.

Proceeds from the Toronto fundraiser will provide beautifully illustrated Dari-Pashto versions of traditional oral tales from Afghanistan and Central Asia, collected and adapted for children by Afghan author Idries Shah ( These delightful multi-functional "Teaching Stories" stimulate insight, flexibility and other higher-order thinking skills. They help children and adults alike better understand themselves and their world. Similarly Nasrudin's outrageous multi-dimensional tales have provoked laughter and thought in young and old throughout the East for centuries ( On November 13, Torontonians will have a rare opportunity to share the same jokes and help some needy Afghan children learn to read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Book Cart Parade? What Better Way to Celebrate Books and Literacy?

Today I had the great honor to present at the 3rd annual Mississauga Literary Festival. It was a great event, overflowing with families enjoying the displays, the entertainment (which included authors such as Jennifer Maruno, Nicholas Boving and Judy Fong Bates) and a parade.

Since the event was sponsored by the Mississauga Library System, the parade was not your ordinary celebs-waving-from-convertibles parade. Instead, it featured that ubiquitous and beloved shelvers' vehicle: The library cart.

And who could have imagined what fun could be had with that humble four-wheeled metal workhouse?

I apologize for the quality of the pictures - I was being jostled on all sides by eager fans! But I hope these images will inspire librarians eveerywhere to get creative too.

These costumed "pushers" brought their carts around the centre to the general amusement of the crowd.

This one's decorated with 1000 cranes...
Every branch in the Missisauga Library System entered a cart in the parade. I don't know if there was a prize for the best effort, but it would have been hard to choose...
More "pushers" - these of the book variety....
This cart was decorated by a youth group of Manga fans!

If this Alice in Wonderland themed cart appears blurry, it's only because it was already disappearing down a rabbit hole...and into a good book!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Update on the Air Lift: News Release




L.A.-based non-profit serving SoCal’s most impoverished school libraries partners with Canadian children’s author, Helaine Becker, to put books on Bunche Elementary’s empty shelves

Los Angeles – As part of their ongoing commitment to strengthen inner-city school libraries throughout Los Angeles and beyond, Access Books has joined forces with a team of Canadian authors to help Ralph Bunche Elementary (16223 Haskins Lane, Carson, CA 90746-1092) on October 2, 2010 at 9 a.m. One of 25 elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District (CUSD), Bunche is in desperate need of books for its 450 students.

Access Books, “Air Lift to L.A.” and a team of volunteers from Bunche will spend October 2nd revitalizing the library by painting murals and cataloging brand new books. In addition to the books, Access Books will provide a reading rug, rocking chair and sofa to create a warm and inviting environment for students. Five authors from Canada will be on hand for the event and to give fun and exciting presentations to the students.

The participating authors are:

Rob Weston, author of Silver Birch award winner Zorgamazoo

Kari-Lynn Winters, author of Chocolate Lily award-winner Jeffrey and the Sloth

Jill Murray, YA author of Rhythm and Blues and Break on Through

Wendy Kitts, Freelance Writer, Book Reviewer, and author of a soon-to-be published picture book from Nimbus Press

Helaine Becker, author of more than 40 books for children including Silver Birch award winners Boredom Blasters and Secret Agent Y.O.U.
Sadly, only 48 percent of Bunche’s students are scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in English & Language Arts on the California Standards Test. Research has shown that the best predictor of how well a child will learn to read is the number of books to which he or she has access, but 61 percent of economically disadvantaged children don’t have age-appropriate books at home. The students of Bunche Elementary fit this profile: 90 percent live at or below the poverty line. According to a 2009 report from the Jumpstart Foundation, communities ranking high in achievement tests share a common denominator: an abundance of books in their libraries.

California's Department of Education recommends 28 library books per student, according to the February 2010 draft of its School Library Standards. Bunche, however, has a mere three books per student. Therefore, Access Books has set a goal: Collect at least 5,000 books for Bunche’s library and classrooms. Many of these will be brand new, popular fiction titles – books that have been carefully selected to get students excited about reading.

Access Books’ partner for this endeavor, “Air Lift to L.A.,” grew wings after Canadian children’s author Helaine Becker visited a Long Beach elementary school and saw the empty shelves. Shocked and saddened, she rallied her Canadian colleagues and started a book drive. “The conditions [in Los Angeles] are on par with the worst of the Third World countries,” she writes on the “Air Lift to L.A.” Facebook page. “Actually, they are worse, because in much of the Third World, people are doing their best to raise their standards, while in Los Angeles, conditions have deteriorated abysmally in the last ten years.”

Bunche has just moved its campus library into a new, larger space to afford room for growth, but unfortunately, many of the shelves are bare. The library assistant nicknamed the library “The Dream Shop,” but with so few books, its dreams have yet to be realized.

California ranks last in the nation in funding for school libraries, spending less than one dollar per child. Although the 2011 federal budget proposal includes a $400 billion investment in education, there’s no mention of federal funds specifically geared toward school libraries. According to Sandra Barnett, head of the American School Library Association, “the budget is proposing to take away the last access to literacy for these kids in high-poverty areas.” The American School Library research data clearly shows that students with access to school libraries and good books score higher in state reading scores and are more interested in reading.

“I think the big issue is that we really need to make reading part of school and make reading fun and interesting,” said Rebecca Constantino, P.h.D., the founder and executive director of Access Books. “And that starts with having a good library.”

About ACCESS BOOKS: Access Books provides quality, high-interest books to Southern California's most impoverished school libraries. Since 1999, they have donated more than a million books to school and community libraries in the greater Los Angeles area. Access Books has been featured in USA Today, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and School Library Journal among many other media outlets. Access Books’ founder, Rebecca Constantino, is a recipient of Oprah’s “Use Your Life” award. She has published over 100 articles and a book in the areas of literacy development, equity in education, urban school and cultural perspectives of language acquisition.

Give a Child a Book, She’ll be Happy

Give a Child a Library, She’ll be Literate

P.O. Box 64951, Los Angeles, CA 90064



Because: Science!