children’s book clubs

A Tale of One Hill and One Valley

This year, upon returning to New Beginnings Family Academy with 3,000 books to contribute to their summer reading program, I had the opportunity to reflect on the amazing journey I have traveled as co-founder, and now President of the Wonderland BookSavers Inc.

As a young and creative child, reading provided a window into thousands of fantastical worlds unbound by logic, physics, or everyday problems. This love of reading inspired my friends and I to take the modest first step of what would later become one of the important decisions of our lives: We started a book club.

I was only 8 at the time, and although reading exciting and compelling books such as Linda Sue Park’s, “A Single Shard,” with my three closest friends was wonderful, we felt like it wasn’t enough. With the passion we possessed for reading, we knew we had to do more, we wanted to live some of the values these stories engendered.  As it turned out, “A Single Shard,” would contain a quote that came to define our journey, “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.” If we had imagined then that within the following decade our book club would become a fully registered 501c3 international charity, donating over 825,000 books and thousands of other supplies to impoverished children and adults throughout the world, I’m certain we never would have embarked upon such an impossible-sounding journey. Starting with, as Linda Sue Park writes, “One hill,” we began slowly, gradually picking up speed.

Walking into our local library, at age 8, I never could have imagined how the boxes of books that lay at my feet would change my life entirely, “What are they doing on the floor?” I asked. The librarian responded, “These books are out of circulation, as nobody has checked them out in a long time. They are going to be shredded into pulp and sent to a newspaper.” I was horrified. How could these books, or any books, deserve to be shredded? I begged to take them home with me, where I could find them a new home.

I soon found a charter school, New Beginnings Family Academy, that was requesting books. Together, my team and I wheeled in a large donation, 685 beautiful children’s books. We brought our books to the school library, where we saw one empty shelf after another. We knew our books would be well appreciated. We were given a tour of the school; the school children, our age, swarmed around us. They were as excited to meet us as were to meet them!  This was the first of many moments to come where I truly recognized how my love of books could literally introduce me to new worlds around me. 

That day, Wonderland BookSavers: Inspired by Literature was born. We set a goal of donating 1,500 books. With 685 books already donated, and our tagline, “Inspired by Literature,” we felt invincible. Over the coming months we would reach our goal multiple times. We hosted book drives at schools, churches, and libraries, giving speeches to hundreds of people at a time. Although the crowd before me and the sound of my own voice booming through the auditoriums often filled me with trepidation, I knew that if I could simply inspire my audience, I could make a real change in someone’s life.

The results were astounding, and with each barrier passed we found that we became more confident in ourselves, understood our mission more clearly and as the Wonderland BookSavers grew and matured, and began connecting with children and communities around the world, so too, we were maturing, becoming more confident and more knowledgeable both about the power of literacy and the power of friendship. 

Today, as truly as we are touching and impacting the lives of others, equally, others from across the globe are impacting our lives.  The Wonderland BookSavers and our team are growing up together.

We remain so grateful to all who have joined us along the way. Thank you!

Winter Book Boxing

Our team gathered to box the numerous books and supplies that we have been collecting over the past several months. 

It was a fun, chilly few hours in the garage. 

We have more than 250 boxes packed, labeled and ready for shipment. 

We still have dozens of boxes of books left to prepare for shipping, and are anticipating another few hundred more that are scheduled to arrive at our garage soon.

We will continue collecting and boxing throughout the winter.

We hope to be able to deliver books to our shipping partners this spring.

Our next target destinations are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Somaliland.  

Greetings from our garage! We can’t wait for children to receive our books!

Thank You Pawling Library! By Sebastian

During this season of reflecting on our blessings, we can’t help but think about our friends at the Pawling Library in Pawling, NY. The Friends of Pawling Library have been a true and constant blessing to the work of Wonderland BookSavers, and particularly Library Trustee Karen Franco and her husband Juan Franco, who have been generously and consistently donating and delivering hundreds of boxes of books every year to Wonderland since 2018.

A few years ago, I contacted Pawling Library about their annual book sale, hoping they would consider donating any remaindered books from their sale to WBS. The Friends of Pawling Library were not only willing to donate their leftover books, but Ms. Franco suggested continuing their support throughout the year! The Francos deliver boxes of beautiful childrens’ and young adults’ books into my family’s garage, even when we’re not there!  We come home and boxes of books have miraculously appeared to be sorted and distributed around the world, to children in need.

Books from The Pawling Library have thus far been delivered to Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Kenya in Africa, as well as the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Reservations in South Dakota. Last year, when the Kyamaganda Community Development Organization in Uganda requested Bibles for their staff members that go out to the different villages they serve, the Francos came to the rescue, somehow procuring 45 used and remaindered bibles nearly overnight!

Several months later, this message came from Willy Bukenya who leads that organization: “With smiling heart and happy face, I am happy to inform you that your donated 52 boxes of books, learning materials and sports and games equipment have arrived today in Uganda and at Kyamaganda Community Development Organization.  My team was happy too with the Bibles which will strengthen the spiritual nature of our project staff!”

In Mr. Bukenya’s perfect words, with smiling hearts and happy faces, we deeply thank The Friends of the Pawling Library for their ceaseless support and generosity in helping us bring books to children and communities in need. Their tireless help and support has been a great blessing to this organization, and we hope to continue our partnership for years to come.

Thank you Pawling Library! We Love you! PS Thank you for writing my name on every box, here you can see the very boxes you donated, in Uganda, with Sebastian written across the top!

Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe

This summer we packed up 15,000 books for shipment to Africa.

It took our whole team days to prepare the books, and several hours to load the truck.

Even our new puppy, Legend hopped up to help us!

On loading day, our friend and partner, Mark from US-Africa Children’s Fellowship, met us in our garage.

We had to weigh every box and fill out the Bill of Lading.

Finally we were done! But for Mark, the adventure was just beginning!

Mark traveled to Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, unloading boxes of books in every country!

All our boxes of books finding new homes on a new continent, and so many happy faces! Mark is our hero too!

 

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

ZappRx Partnership Brings Books to New Horizons in Africa

Our community partner, Zoe Barry, Founder and CEO of ZappRx,, recently traveled to Uganda and Rwanda.

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Kampala, a large city in Uganda

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Roadside market, Rwanda

Zoe traveled light, with only 33 pounds of allowable packed luggage, she made the most of it, img_7565

packing paperback stories, coloring books and crayons

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for distribution to children throughout her trip.

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Note: Cautionary tales promoting chastity are posted on the closed shutters when this “dialy” school is done for the day.

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Young girl in foreground is balancing a machete on her head. Obviously more coordinated than most US toddlers!

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Armed guards accompanied Zoe and her companion as they delivered books.

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Everyone loves to see themselves!

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Zoe, delivering books to members of the Batwa Pygmy Tribe.

Ahh…Africa…

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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.

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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.”

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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

Aid for Ecuador

by Brooks Morgan

In the summer of 2013, Wonderland BookSavers read A Long Walk for Water, by Linda Sue Park.

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This amazing book is a fictionalized account of the real-life story of a young boy, Salva, who is caught in the cross fire of the civil war in the Sudan. His happy childhood becomes a nightmare. As he matures to adolescence, Salva comes to realize that the search for clean water is a major cause of so much violence and unhappiness in his homeland.   As an adult, Salva traveled back to the Sudan, bringing the gift of clean water to his friends and enemies alike, thereby hoping to also bring the gift of peace to the warring villages.

 

The Wonderland BookSavers, being inspired by literature, recognized immediately the importance of clean water, not just in the Sudan, but also across many countries in the developing world. We decided to have a lemonade-stand style stand to raise funds and awareness. At the opening of a local public park, we hosted a Water 4 Water stand. We sold bottles of water for $2.00, and raised $150.00.

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We used this money to purchase 3 simple water purifiers. We gave these to a teenage friend who was traveling to Ecuador. Each water purifier was placed in a separate village, allowing for clean water for 3 villages!

 

This past April another teenage friend was traveling to Ecuador for a mission trip to Monte Sinai, located in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He asked for donations of T-shirts to share with the children in the Rostro de Cristo orphanage. As soon as we heard this request, we knew the Wonderland BookSavers could again step up to help children in Ecuador.

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Within a few days we were able to gather over 100 T-shirts. Reid and I washed and folded all the shirts. We were very happy to think of other children enjoying all our cheerful shirts!

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Unfortunately, just as our friend was visiting Ecuador, an enormous earthquake occurred! Our friend was safe, but sadly, many others were injured. Currently the Ecuadorian government is trying to encourage travelers to reconsider Ecuador as a viable vacation destination. The earthquake not only cost many people their lives but has also done great economic damage to the country.

Our prayers are with the beautiful people of Ecuador.

My Maine Summer Reading: The Sign of the Beaver, report by Reid

The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare, is one of many books that I read this summer. The first 3 chapters were not the greatest, but after that I could not stop reading. It took me one day to read this 130 page book and 1 hour to write this, I wrote everything myself without any help!

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The main character, Matt, was left alone, by his father, to guard the new log house they had built in the woods. Matt’s father had to bring back his sister and his mother and Matt had to stay and guard the log house because that was their only place to live. Matt is left with his father’s gun to use for protection and hunting. But a stranger came and Matt was nice and let him stay in the cabin, the stranger’s name was Ben. When Matt woke up Ben had stolen Matt’s gun. The loss of his gun meant that Matt had to begin figuring out how to take care of himself in the wilderness.

 

Hunger finally drives Matt to raid a bee’s nest in the hope of finding honey. Matt stuck his hand into the beehive and the bees swarmed. Matt ran and dove into a lake, trying to save himself. He got many stings, fainted and woke up to find two unusual people standing in front of him. He got a better look, and discovered they were Indians!

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Matt learns that the familiar looking stranger, Ben, could not be trusted, but the unfamiliar and frightening Indians save his life. Matt trusted the Indians and wanted them to help him. One of the Indians is a boy of the same age as Matt, Attean. Attean’s grandfather arranges for Attean to help Matt in exchange for teaching Attean to read. However, Attean is very disdainful of Matt, because Attean was forced to go to the reading lessons by his grandfather. Every day he had to bring Matt meat, or some honey or just something to help Matt survive. Attean also didn’t like Matt because Attean thought that white men were dumb and also were taking the Indian’s land. Matt wanted Attean to be friends with him, after a little while Matt’s wish came true!

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One day Matt and Attean are almost attacked by a bear. Together they manage to save themselves and kill the bear. Matt is surprised to see that Attean says a prayer to the soul of every animal that they hunt and kill for food, including the bear. Attean explains that he wants to tell God that he meant no harm, and the bear could have killed them, so they killed the bear.

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Matt longed to be able to do something that would help Attean. One day he got the chance. Attean has a beloved but mangy dog that can’t hunt or do anything but follow Attean around. Another tribe in the woods used metal traps to catch animals. Attean’s dog became trapped in one and Matt tried to save it. Matt tried to open the trap, but the dog didn’t really know Matt so it growled. Matt left and got Attean’s sister because Attean was hunting. Attean’s sister put a blanket over the dog and distracted the dog while Matt opened the trap. After that the dog loved Matt and Matt wondered if the dog actually had memory of Matt saving him. Through their experiences with one another, Matt and Attean became like brothers, even Attean’s grandmother and tribe began to accept Matt.

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I liked this book because it was about surviving in the wild and instead of just surviving in the wild Matt also made friends with the Indians. I really liked the end because I thought Matt’s father and his family would never come back but they did! Sadly the new baby died on the way, it only lived 5 days.

 

I learned many things from this book. If I get lost in the woods without anything but my clothes I would remember the things Attean taught Matt. For example, I could try to make a shelter, I could try to make a knife and hunt for food or I can find a pointy stick, go to a pond, and then try to catch a fish. I also learned to respect nature and the souls of animals. Attean believed that the animals could understand him when he spoke to them. Most importantly, I learned one must establish a relationship with someone before you can tell if you can trust him and if they are worthy of being your friend, or brother.

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.