In Laos, Bringing Books to Children—Via Elephant

The story of one American expatriate's local publishing company
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2011 2:37 PM CST

(Newser) – In Laos, many children had never seen a book until “Uncle Sasha” came to town. American Sasha Alyson first visited the impoverished country in 2003, and was struck by the lack of books for children. “Many [kids] don't even know what a book is. Sometimes you have to show them how to turn a page,” he tells the Christian Science Monitor. So he created his own publishing company, Big Brother Mouse, in 2006 and, along with two dozen local helpers, he’s been publishing and distributing children’s books in Laos ever since.

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There are original stories, fairy tales, riddles, alphabet books, science books, and local folk tales. Most are written by “Uncle Sasha,” who taught himself the language, or his staff members; more than 30 titles are produced each year. Books sell for $2, but most are sponsored by foreign donors through “book parties,” where books are given to children and then a small library is set up in a village hut. The only problem? How to get all the books to the remote villages where parties are held. Staffers often lug the books on their backs and trek for days by foot, by boat … or by elephant. Fittingly, the elephant is named Boom-Boom, which means “books” in Lao, and she is the subject of one of Big Brother Mouse’s books. (Read more Laos stories.)

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