AUTHOR SHARES LOVE OF READING
Jane Kurtz inherited a love of reading from her parents and grandparents, and she has passed it on, not only to her children—and now grandchildren—but also to people she doesn’t even know.
Kurtz, a writer, has done it through her children’s books, many of them set in Ethiopia, where she grew up. She has also shared her passion through Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit effort to get books to, and create libraries in, the East African nation.
And on April 3, she urged a Bluffton University audience to follow her lead. "Do not forget the power of just sharing a book with a little kid," she said at the Bluffton Forum commemorating The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center’s 25th year on campus.
Born in Portland, Ore.—and now living there again—Kurtz moved to Maji, Ethiopia, with her family when she was 2 years old. It was "a strange and disorienting experience" for her missionary parents, she recalled. But for her, she added, Ethiopia was "a magical place" where, with no television and "outside genes," she was often outdoors exploring African nature.
For her "inside genes," Kurtz credited her mother. "My mom changed our lives," she noted, referring to her sisters and brother, "by turning us into readers and into writers."
Thinking about that in later years turned her thoughts to Ethiopian children who learn to read "but never hold a book," she said. In the last 15 years, she and her brother, Chris, among others, have done something about that through Ethiopia Reads.
Churches and schools that are active in the program collect gently used books and send them to Hesston, Kan., where they’re stored until starting the journey to Africa, Kurtz explained. Shipments to Ethiopia also include books written in residents’ local languages, said the author, who holds a master’s degree from the University of North Dakota and taught there for 10 years.
Once the flow of books started, organizers had to establish places for children to read them, she pointed out. "Some of our libraries are pulled by donkeys," she said, continuing that the animals pull carts full of books and stop under trees where readers gather.
Her goals have included planting a library in every region of the country. The only targeted site not reached so far is Harar, an ancient walled city "with so many stories to be told and so few books," Kurtz said.
As of this year, her brother has begun training Ethiopian teachers about "sharing the love and passion for a book" with students, the author added. "Kids everywhere want the opportunity to read books," which help them see they have the power to tell their own stories, she maintained.
"Stories make us strong," said Kurtz, noting that the stories told by her father, a Presbyterian pastor, helped open up the world to her. "Think about passing it on."
That’s what Bluffton’s Lion and Lamb center has done for 25 years with art, as well as literature, aimed at promoting peace and justice, cultural understanding and nonviolent responses to conflict, especially among children.
"If we’re going to have peace in the world, I think it includes sharing our stories and books," said Kurtz, also the creator of Lanie, a character in the popular American Girl series.
While on the Bluffton campus, she also discussed her books with a group in Musselman Library, and met with education students and local teachers to talk about incorporating multicultural literature in the classroom. She then spent the following day with children in kindergarten through fifth grade at Bluffton Elementary School.
More information about her books is available online.
Bluffton public relations, 4/5/12