Author: madelinelangdon

About madelinelangdon

Co-Founder of Wonderland BookSavers

Meeting with Susan Whitcomb to Discuss the Hurricane and Haiti

Last Friday, we met with our long-time community partner, Susy Whitcomb, the Founder and President of Haitian Educational Initiatives. Haitian Educational Initiatives was established as a response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Hurricane Matthew has razed Haiti, and we have been supporting Haitian Educational Initiative’s recovery efforts following the natural disaster.

Headlines about Haiti and Hurricane Matthew from BBC, Reuters, and The Weather Channel

During the 2015-2016 school year, we undertook the task of donating $1,099 worth of Haitian-Creole books to Haiti. Haitian-Creole has only been a written language since 1979, making Haitian-Creole books incredibly rare. First, we held a community event at the Barnum School in Bridgeport to raise awareness. Then, we partnered with the corporate healthcare business ZappRx. We met with the ZappRx PR team in Boston when we donated 2,000 books with ZappRx stickers to the Reach Out and Read program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. In exchange, Zoe Barry, the Founder and CEO of ZappRx donated us funds she won from the contest ONEin3, which is sponsored by the mayor of Boston. One of the initial reasons we decided to transform into a 501(c)3 was so that we could accept these funds and purchase Haitian-Creole books.

Children reading our donated Haitian-Creole books

We sat with Susy to discuss the conditions of the children, their families, their homes, and their schools. Haitian Educational Initiative’s schools in Jacmel and Cayes-Jacmel both sustained damage, and the school in rural Cayes-Jacmel was afflicted with severe flooding. Fortunately, our books were not harmed; proper precautions were exercised to ensure that our books and other school supplies were not damaged by the hurricane. For the most part, the children and their families were safe, but 80% of their crops and livestock were swept away.

Susy affirmed that since the children are equipped with education, during these dire times, the children are actually more apt and able to recover. Unlike their parents, the children can read, and have a breadth of academic knowledge. At school, the children have also learned crafting skills to create goods to sell at the market. These goods range from clothes, to sunglasses made from plastic bottles, to bracelets and jewelry, to pottery, and many other items.


A Haitian bowl made from a special paper mâché technique

Susy showed us pictures of the school in Cayes-Jacmel. In the pictures, rapids of muddy brown water race over the concrete platform of the school. The school in Cayes-Jacmel is open air, and consists of a concrete foundation with posts from which a tarp is draped over to provide shade, or protection from rain. Susy explained that now the school is being excavated from the thick layers of mud and debris.



Flooding in Haiti. Photo credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

While most of the children and families Haitian Educational Initiatives serves were unharmed, a fourteen-year-old boy was injured during the hurricane. Susy explained how the boy, who attends the school in Cayes-Jacmel, was crushed by a tree, breaking both of his legs. He is receiving medical attention, but the medicine in Haiti is not very advanced, and this injury could have severe, lasting effects. We have asked Susy to put us in contact with the boy and his family, and we hope to assist him in any possible way. We are hoping to deliver him some books and other school supplies so he can continue studying while he recovers.

After meeting with Susy, we presented her with a check written by Reid to support the relief Haitian Educational Initiatives is providing. If you wish, you may donate to Haitian Educational Initiatives to provide food, clean water, and the basic living necessities here.


Presenting Susy with relief funds

Additionally, at the end of our meeting, Susy presented us with gifts from the children in Haiti. When we donated the children in Haiti books and school supplies, we also sent poster pals, which are banners with notes of love, drawings, and pictures from us and school children in our area. In return, we received paper mâché figurines and pottery.



We are very grateful for our wonderful friends in Haiti and we will continue to assist them and Haitian Educational Initiatives in every way possible.

Wonderland BookSavers’ 2016 Quote of the Year

Written by Madeline

In August of 2012, Claire, Emma and Brooks Morgan and I read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. The four of us had just recently formed into a book club, and this was the first book we read as a club. We decided to complete a project after each book we read, and we designated a quote-banner as our project for A Single Shard.


Left to right: Claire, Emma, Madeline, and Brooks Morgan work on their “A Single Shard” banners

We chose to emblazon our banners with an inspiring quote from A Single Shard which goes as follows. “Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo. But you must not tell your body. It must think, one hill, one valley, one day at a time. In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

Shard bookcover

It has become our annual tradition to choose an inspiring quote. Our quotes are always from a book our club has read or from an inspirational person we have read about together. Last Friday, we completed our fifth annual quote banner.

This year, we chose a quote from Phillipians 4:13 which reads “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”

We chose this quote since our faith has been instrumental in our charity, both in a sense that it has inspired many of our projects, and because many of our community partners are churches.

After taping the banner down on table so it would not slide as we worked, we began to transcribe the quote onto our banners in pencil, and trace the pencil in marker.

We chose to make the first letter of the quote an illuminated letter, since we learned how to make illuminated letters and manuscripts in preparation for teaching a medieval camp at the beginning of summer.illuminated%22f%22Our banners were enhanced with decorations such as a bookshelf with titles of books we have read together.booksonbanner.jpgOur team and our charity has grown significantly since we made our first quote banner. Each year we have continued this custom, and each year our banners inspire us to new heights. Only a few months after we began our book club in 2012, we had transformed into Wonderland BookSavers, and a few years after founding Wonderland BookSavers, we have transformed into a 501(c)(3), Wonderland BookSavers, Inc.

We look forward to another year of reading and donating books one hill, one valley, and one day at a time!4doingquote

Wonderland BookSavers Brings 1,000 Books to Boston

Written by Madeline

Last December, we traveled to Boston, bringing with us 2,000 books which we donated to the Reach Out and Read program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children.

Pictures from our December donation in Boston

Every time a child visits the hospital, they are able to choose a book to keep and bring home with them.

On August ninth, we trekked back up to Boston with another 1,000 books to replenish the bookshelves at the hospital. When we arrived, we were greeted by community partners Zoe Barry, the founder and CEO of ZappRx; Reach Out and Read coordinator Marika Michelangelo; Anne Carroll from Tufts Floating hospital; and hospital and Reach Out and Read interns.

We unloaded boxes of books from our cars, placed the boxes on dollies, and carted the dollies through the hospital and into the elevators.

When the metal elevator doors opened, we guided the dollies through the hallway, and unloaded some of the boxes into the closet where extra books are kept for the hospital to refill their shelves with. Next, we brought our books over to the same bookshelves we filled last December. Almost all of the 2,000 books we had brought 9 months ago had been selected and taken home by children.

We opened our boxes of books which had already been sorted into three levels: pre-school through third grade, fourth to sixth grade, and middle/high school. We then stocked the books on the shelves in those respective categories and order.

The hospital and Reach Out and Read personnel briefly interviewed and questioned us about our project, and after our discussing our charity, we thanked everyone and departed.


After leaving the hospital, we went to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which is the second presidential library we have visited as a team. We explored the museum and archives.boston9

Our excursion to John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Library concluded our trip to Boston, but we will look forward to bringing more books to Boston in the near future.

Lemonade for Literacy

by Madeline

This past week, Pequot Library held its annual book sale. Pequot Library’s annual book sale has been dubbed the biggest and the best book sale in New England.pequotbooksalesignFor the last four years, Wonderland BookSavers has run a “Lemonade for Literacy” stand during the book sale. The purpose of Lemonade for Literacy is to raise donations to purchase books from Pequot Library’s book sale, and then donate those books. The books we obtained this year via Lemonade for Literacy and Pequot Library’s book sale will be going to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. lemonadestand3To prepare our stand and concessions, we spruced up some of our old signs and banners and created some new signs with recent pictures of our service work so customers could see the children we serve.

Each night, we baked new batches of brownies, cookies, and rice crispy treats. Every morning before we went to the library, we made a new batch of homemade lemonade. We arrived at the library in the late morning each day to settle ourselves and set up our stand. We propped up a piece of plywood as a table on top of wooden crates, and then swept a yellow and white table cloth over our table. Next, we put our cooler filled with our ice cold lemonade to one side of our stand, and we arrayed our baked goods across the rest of the table. lemonadestand1Instead of having fixed prices on our commodities, we had all our goods priced by donation.

We ran our stand from about 11 AM to 4 PM each day of the book sale. We had many customers, but during the slower times of day, we passed time playing Apples to Apples, UNO, and reading books.

On the last day of the book sale, instead of running Lemonade for Literacy, we selected books from inside the expansive white tent, and then used our $212.50 that we raised through our lemonade stand to purchase 1,500 books.lemonadestand10Through our Lemonade for Literacy stand, we were able to benefit our longtime community partner Pequot Library while collecting books to donate to children in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana.


There is no frigate like a book…to take us to the Emily Dickinson Museum

By Madeline

Recently, the team traveled to Amherst, Massachusetts. While we were there, we visited the Emily Dickinson Museum, which is comprised of the Dickinson Homestead and the Evergreens.


The Dickinson Homestead

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830, and died in Amherst on May 15, 1886. Dickinson penned nearly 1,800 poems during her life, including one of our team’s favorite poems, There is no Frigate like a Book.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
We first encountered this poem when we did a poetry section for our book club shortly after our charity’s inception in the fall of 2012. This poem has been an impetus for many of our projects and our ideas, and for us to learn more about this poem and Emily Dickinson was incredibly special.
At the museum, we toured the grounds and gardens and listened to an audio guide which informed us about Emily Dickinson’s personal life. The guide also proffered a plethora of Dickinson’s poems and the contexts in which each poem was written.
It was fascinating to see Emily Dickinson’s home and inspirations for her poems, and we will look forward to exploring more about the iconic poet and her literary creations.

Great Books Camp Experience

Written by Madeline Langdon, Rachel Philips, Alina Peon, Shanoy Clarke, Sarah Smith, and Zara Wilson

The breakdown of pods with Zara Wilson

Pods: or better known here at Great Books as groups of up to eight intelligent and insightful young smiling faces. Each pod typically starts out as a group of timid strangers but they ultimately end up as confidants that guide each other through their intellectual and emotional growth during their stay at Great Books.  

PAs are fearless leaders at camp that keep each pod on track.  They prepare each camper for lecture in the morning by implanting the campers minds with their advanced interpretations of each text that we read together.

Pod life:  Night discussions can turn into debates that only deepen each person’s knowledge and strengthen the bonds.  


The Great Books senior dorm

Hideous Cup of Poetry Competition by Madeline

Every morning after breakfast, we gathered around the Noah Webster statue to hear the daily announcements. After announcements, campers would eagerly raise hands hoping to be called on to recite poems. Reciting poems earned your pod points, and at the end of the week, the pod with the most points got to sign the Hideous Cup of Poetry and be immortalized as a Great Books legend. Recitations varied from Shakespeare excerpts to Hamilton songs to works by prolific poets like Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and many others. The winning pod was the Pointillism Pod with 85 points.

Lectures by Madeline

After announcements and poetry recitations, we walked over to the auditorium and sat with our pods and friends to listen and participate in a lecture led by Ilan Stavans. We discussed the readings we had read with our pods the night before, and we would parse, dissect, and analyze every sentence, aspect and idea of the piece to gain a greater understanding of the presented literature. Our readings were diverse in terms of idea, complexity, writing forms, and when the pieces were written. The theme of this week was “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”, specifically focusing on the correlation between responsibilities and dreams. We started the week off with a short story by Delmore Schwartz, entitled “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”and we transitioned throughout the week to the W.B. Yeats poems, “To a Child dancing in the Wind” and “Sailing to Byzantium”, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, “A Philosophical Satire” by Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “The Threshold” by Cristina Peri Rossi, “Method of Dream Interpretation” by Sigmund Freud, the first chapter of Don Quixote and finishing with Genesis 28:10-22.


at the lecture

Food by Alina

What do Great Books campers eat?

No, not words and chunks of paper.

During our weeks at camp we shared breakfast, lunch and dinner- or should I say teatime because it was a little bit earlier than usual- at the Valentine Hall. There plenty of options from different cereals to bagels, from pizza to various greens, a salad bar, and there was even ice cream, yes toppings included!

But because lectures and classes were very stimulating and at times mentally exhausting, we really needed to stay fueled all day long, so we munched on kind bars and rice rollers in the common area.

Maps by Shanoy

In “Maps with Peter”, we cover facts about maps that no one cares to think about. When looking at a map, no one bothers to question who created the map and how relevant it is. Maps were used in nation-states and empires to legitimize the power of the ruler and to help the powerless remain powerless since they could not locate resources. Now that a larger variety of maps exist, people tend to forget the power a map holds and how it can contribute to a nation.


Arthurian Legends by Alina

“Arthurian Legends” was another literature elective, all about princesses, knights, swords and battles. What intrigued us about the class was the debates we held to see who won the best knight cup (Lancelot or Gawain) and the discussions we had on whether destiny is always true and fair. And when class was all over we always wondered we should pick up our bags or pick up shiny swords instead, but then we woke up from this dream and realized we were not on the battlefield anymore – we were at Amherst College instead.

Bringing Big Ideas to Life by Rachel

“Bringing Big Ideas to Life with Gabe” is a literature elective for the aspiring entrepreneur, or anyone with a big idea to solve a prevalent issue. On the first day, the questions to consider were: what is a problem that you could solve? Is anyone else doing it? If so, how will you do it differently? Who do you need on your team? The next step was a Value Proposition, a short summary of what your benefit your idea has, whom it is for, and how the idea/product solves the problem uniquely from competitors. Campers also created survey questions, to determine how the public would react to their product and what specific aspects were appealing about it. Competitor analysis came next. Campers created charts that compare similar companies/products on the market to their own, and demonstrate what features their own products have that the competitors do not. Overall, even if you don’t ending up starting your own company, this elective does a great job of showing you the creative process behind bringing a big idea to life!

Words Matter by Sarah

Every camper was required to select a different literature elective and my choice was “Words Matter”.  “Words Matter” discusses the many reasons behind why an author uses a specific word and talks about word choice.  This class allows campers to dissect poems, in order to find deeper meanings behind them.  The campers also discuss how the poems sound with different words or translations.  

Shakespeare and film with Zara Wilson

The lights dim. The speakers roar. It’s time to assert yourself into sixteen century Britain.   We begin this literature elective with a brief summary of the play we will watch in film formation.  Then we make elaborate predictions of how the story will be portrayed on screen.  After each scene we discuss how the small details and acting orchestrate and develop the story. We then compare this the same scene of the play in a different version of the movie.  Everyone has different opinions on which versions are the most profound. The point of the class is to see the clashing versions of films and decide what stylistic productions appeal to you so you can make more educated decisions when choosing what you want to watch.

Free Time by Rachel

There are many different activities scheduled into each day at Great Books. “Free time” is a nice hour in the afternoon for campers, since there are plenty of activities to partake in. You could walk into town with friends to get a snack, stop in CVS for some dorm essentials, and just hang out.

The Amherst Book Store is another place in town frequented by campers, looking for more great books to read of course. Field games are another fun free time activity. Campers can be found playing soccer or throwing around a frisbee in the quad between Morrow and Morris Pratt. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when a lifeguard is present, the Amherst pool is open to Great Books for an afternoon swim. Great Books also has access to Amherst’s gym, where campers can spend their free time using gym equipment and machines, lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or biking on an elliptical. And if you’re not feeling any of that and want some down time during this hour, you can hang out in the common area or play indoor games. Jenga is a popular one.

Social Events by Sarah

Every night after pod readings, there are different activities for all campers to participate in.  The events allow the campers to mingle and get to know others outside of their pod.  The evening events ranged from playing games, such as Ring of Fire, to listening to a guest speaker describe their life as an author.  On the first night of camp, Sunday, campers and pod assistants played a game of “Where the West Wind Blows” on the quad, in order to get to know a little about each other.  On Monday night, there was sword fighting in the quad followed by an ice cream social in the common room of the dorm.  Both the game and ice cream allowed campers to get to know each other and those outside of their pods.  Tuesday night, there was a screening of the movie Inception, which tied into the theme of the week, dreams and responsibility. Wednesday night, there was a guest speaker who described the writing process and how her life has changed since her book has been released.  Thursday night, the traditional dance took place which allowed for the intermediate and senior classes to socialize and have a great time together.

Team Wonderland BookSavers Leads Medieval Art Workshop at Pequot Library

By Madeline

Last week, WBS team members Madeline, Claire, Emma and Brooks Morgan led a medieval art workshop at Pequot Library. We examined medieval literature, reflecting especially on the process of creating manuscripts. We also instructed on how to create illuminated manuscripts and write in different cursive styles. Additionally, we read medieval stories and taught Roman Numerals and the medieval calendar system–which operates by recognizing certain days and showing the distance of regular days from the special days to account for time.

During the Middle Ages, manuscripts were one of the few viable ways to preserve information. These books were created by first making parchment. The process of making parchment consisted of first obtaining goat or cow skin. Next, the skin would be soaked in water and lye and cleaned to remove any fibers. The skin would then be stretched to dry, and lastly, the skin would be cut into pieces of parchment. The parchment would then be sewn into gatherings, and the gatherings would be bound into a book. Lastly, clasps would be added to keep the book shut and protect the manuscript. Then, scribes would embark on the lengthy process of copying information into the book, and illuminating certain letters. Lastly, any images would be drawn or painted and the book would be complete.

On the first day, we along with Beth Beaudin, the Special Collections Consultant of Pequot Library, surveyed the process of manuscript making. We also began to teach basic cursive to the children.

Every day we had a snack and recess break, where we played “discus” (frisbee) and “Bubonic Plague” (the game infection, where one person is “it”, and they along with people who have been tagged tag others until only one person is left). We also played “capture the crown”, which was our medieval version of capture the flag.

During the second day we introduced calligraphic cursive styles and how to write in medieval handwriting. The children transcribed poems and also practiced writing their names. We taught the children about the medieval calendar and how to use Roman Numerals. Towards the end of the day, everyone began creating the skeletons for their illuminated letters. We also visited The Birds of America, a book by John James Audubon with a compilation of life-size, chromolithographic American birds.

For the third day, we focused on nobility, coats of arms, and finishing the illuminated letters. Everyone was able to design and create a coat of arms to wear which represented their interests or personality. The zenith of the week was being able to examine a book made in 1190–the oldest book in Pequot Library’s collection. The manuscript was a letter from Pope Gregory on proper behavior and conduct. We also had a guest speaker come and teach about Shakespeare, and we acted out scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Examining the manuscript from 1190



The fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On the final day of camp, everyone made crowns and armor, finished the cursive books which we began on Monday, and reflected on everything learned during the week. The children collected their amassed number of projects, crowns, letters, books and sheets, and we headed out to play our final game of “capture the crown”.


Campers wearing crowns and coats of arms

It was incredible to immerse ourselves and other children in medieval studies, and we will look forward to continuing the medieval theme with the reading program this summer at Pequot Library.




Wonderland BookSavers Donates 15,000 Books to Zimbabwe and Ghana

By Madeline

On Thursday June 9, Team Wonderland BookSavers donated 15,000 books which are currently headed to Zimbabwe and Ghana. Along with the books, we also donated over 100 letters written by the children at the Wetherbee School in Massachusetts. These letters will be going to children in Zimbabwe.

We methodically sorted the books based on whether they were primary or secondary reading level. Then, we packed the sorted books into labeled boxes.

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Our community partner Mark Grashow, the president and co-founder of US Africa Children’s Fellowship, came with a tractor-trailer for us to fill with our books which will be delivered to Africa. When Mark arrived, we began loading our books into his truck.


We carefully arranged the boxes to maximize the space and to ensure that the boxes were secure so the books would be safe.


After we finished laboriously transporting the heavy boxes of books from our palettes in the garage into Mark’s truck, Mark pulled out some pictures from his trips to Africa. He showed us children holding our books, and also recounted some stories of the children’s excitement when they receive our books.

I had the chance to interview Mark:

We are excited for our books to arrive in Zimbabwe and Ghana, and we can’t wait to see pictures and hear more stories about the children receiving our books!



There is no frigate like a book…to take us to Sturbridge Village

Written by Emma and Brooks Morgan

A few weeks ago, Brooks Morgan and I traveled to Massachusetts to visit Sturbridge Village.


Left to right: Brooks Morgan, Junior Wonderland BookSaver Wills, Emma, and Junior Wonderland BookSaver Ella

Sturbridge Village is a reenactment town that contains houses, stores, and villagers that do the jobs that would have been done in the 1830s. There are potters, shoe makers, farmers, tin makers, women gardening, and just people walking through the streets. All of these people are in character and doing their jobs and answering questions so that visitors can see what it would have been like in that time period.

There are also classes for students and we took Wood lore. We walked around the town learning about trees and special properties of these trees. One of our favorites was a tree that had a sap which closes and heals wounds, and we both put the sap on our minor scrapes on our fingers, and to our surprise, it actually did help heal. Our instructor used his knife to cut bark off a section of a tree, and showed us how to make a container to boil water in so that in the rare occasion that we were stuck in the woods alone, we would be able to collect water and prepare food. He used clips made out of sticks that he cut a slot in to hold the whole container together. We were both fascinated by this technique since he literally took a cylinder piece of bark and cut it and folded it into this container.


After our class we walked around the town doing activities. At the school house, we practiced walking on stilts and successfully managed doing about 10 steps.


We had a picnic lunch in the center of the town at the big green grass area, and afterwards went from house to house and shop to shop and going in to see rooms, furniture, and sometimes people inside who would tell us stories and answer questions. We learned a lot on this trip from the very informative people, and definitely enjoyed our trip to Sturbridge Village and look forward to going back.

Written by Emma and Brooks Morgan

Destination Imagination Global Finals Recap

By Madeline

Since September, Team Wonderland BookSavers worked on a Destination Imagination project. The challenge this year was entitled the “Meme Event” and in this challenge we were required to create a meme which promoted our project, collaborate with community partners, and hold a community event. We chose to showcase our Haitian-Creole book donating project, and we created a play to theatrically portray the many different components of our project.

After winning first place at the Connecticut Destination Imagination States contest, we were qualified to compete at the Global Finals competition of Destination Imagination in Knoxville Tennessee. Over 8,000 students from 20 countries convened in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee to vie in the Global Finals contest.


Going to Globals was an incredible, cultural experience. We traded pins with kids from other states and countries, and we attended several parties and events. Our team went to the duct tape ball, where we made and wore duct tape dresses and duct tape tuxedos.


Wearing our duct tape suits and dresses at the duct tape ball

We attended the passport/international party, where we learned about different countries and tasted different foods. We also were able to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Our incredible 2016 Destination Imagination journey ended after the closing ceremony. We placed 25th in our category, and we will look forward to enhancing our project and skills for next year’s competition.

Wonderland BookSavers full Destination Imagination Global Finals performance