Yesterday, I was extremely privileged to be invited to a special book launch event at the Der Hammarskjold Library Auditorium at the United Nations in New York City. The program was co-sponsored by the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and the Book Wish Foundation.
The event was to launch What You Wish For, a book of short stories and poems written by some of the bestselling and most highly honored young adult authors. What really makes this book special is not only all of its contributors, or the fact that they contributed their work for free, but that ALL proceeds from the sale of this book will be sent directly to fund the founding of libraries in the camps in Eastern Chad housing displaced refugees from Darfur.
The program began with moving presentations by Udo Janz, Director of UNHCR (far left), and Grainne O'Hara, UNHCR Senior Policy Advisor (far right), who discussed her experiences while in Darfur in 2003-2005. Then John Prendergast, Co-Founder of the Enough Project, (second in from the left) who has also created a sister schools project that connects students in the US and in the Darfur refugee camps via Skype. Lastly, Mohamed Yahya, Co-Founder of Damanga and an actual survivor of the war in Darfur, thanked everyone for caring enough to come to an event that will support the future of his people.
During this presentation time, Udo Janz explained that while ofttimes other funds from the UN are devoted primarily to security, food, and medicine in the camps (considered life-saving necessities), the money from What You Wish For can only be used for the libraries. Many of these camps do not even have schools, let alone a library to help the refugees develop literacy skills. Every dime from selling copies of this book will go to this "secondary" concern in the camps...one that I feel is eminently important!
As I mentioned, there are some fabulous contributors to this book! R.L. Stine, Meg Cabot, Cornelia Funke, Alexander McCall Smith, Jeanne DuPrau, John Green, Ann Martin, and more. During the second half of yesterday's book launch, I was lucky enough to be able to hear from many of these authors about their decision to contribute to this important book.
(R.L. Stine and Ann M. Martin have a pre-event tete-a-tete.)
(R.L. Stine sitting front and center onstage)
(The author panel - from left to right - Marilyn Nelson, Karen Hesse, Sofia Quintero, R.L. Stine, Nate Powell, Ann M. Martin, Jeanne DuPrau, and via Skype, Cornelia Funke and Meg Cabot.)
Each author discussed their contributions to the book, why they feel that this type of organization is important world-wide, and their writing in general. Here are some snippets of what they discussed:
Cornelia Funke-Fantasy gives her a more accessible way of talking about some of the harder things in life. Many kids read stories that have difficult themes when their own lives are not great.
Meg Cabot-Reading often takes you to another world. Fun books can often help you work through your toughest problems.
Jeanne DuPrau-Libraries are a wonderfully quiet place to reflect. "Libraries have been huge in my life."
Karen Hesse-Her contribution to the book developed when she challenged herself to write a picture book a week or a novel a month...what she ended up with was the short story that appears in What You Wish For.
Ann M. Martin-Her Ann Martin foundation helped to support a library in Ghana by providing books and funding. Now she works with Lisa Libraries to help repair damaged libraries.
Marilyn Nelson-"We're ridiculous." Humor helps to remind us all who we are in relation to the world.
Nate Powell-Comics are actually 1 to 2 decades "ahead" in foreign countries (esp. Japan and France) from where they are in the US. They can be a definitive gateway to literacy around the world.
Sofia Quintero-She "grew up under hip-hop," in a time period when young people were able to create something out of nothing. They used their bodies to make social impact. "Young people are not the future, they are the PRESENT." "They can be a part of saving themselves." Libraries are sacred and open to everybody, often safe even when nowhere else seems to be... "books are the building blocks of creating a safe place to go in your own head."
R.L. Stine-"Safe" scary books allow kids to explore things that scare them when they are in a safe place.
They all agreed later during the question period that YA literature may seem dark, but that the darkness shows the moments of hope and light in our lives in a much brighter way. Reading these books allows teens to meet the darkness in a safe place. These are themes that can be recognized the world over...
If you want, you can see the entire event here:
It's about two hours long, and I don't expect anyone to watch it in it's entirety, but if you want to see the information about Darfur, that's in the first hour. If you want to see the authors, that picks up at the second hour. The question and answer section with about half an hour left, and if you want to see me ask a question (*squee!), I'm at about 1:36:00.
Overall, I have to say that this was one of the best author events I've been to to date. I truly believe that this book is worth talking about and asking if you will think about buying a copy because the money goes to such a fantastic cause. So, if you are interested in getting a copy and helping to build libraries in Darfur refugee camps, check it out here.