Happy New Year! One mouse year must equal 10 human years, because a year and a half after opening our first shop, Big Brother Mouse is growing like a teenager. We've outgrown two shops, and this month we moved into our third location. (The Visit Us page tells how to find us.)
We've expanded our website, with some interesting biographies of the staff, and several FAQS pages. We hope you'll take a few minutes to browse. If you find any bad links or pages that don't seem to look right, please let us know so we can fix them for the next person.
We now have an outlet for our books in Savannakhet, in southern Laos: The Lingocom Center, across from Lao Foreign Exchange Bank (Banque Commercial Exterior du Lao) on the main commercial street. We hope to have arrangements soon in one or two other cities.
A year ago, we ran about three book parties a month. During the first week of March, a team went to the Nambak district north of Luang Prabang and did 12 events in six days! Sone, Yuphin, Linda, Sengdao, and our newest staffer, Phetsamone, came back from this intensive schedule still full of energy. As donations come in, we'll need to grow, and this gave us some confidence and experience.
After a publishing hiatus late last year, while we moved offices and put new attention into fundraising, the presses are rolling again. Three books have been printed recently, six more are at press, five more are moving through the government approval process, and a half-dozen more are in the final stages of preparation. One new title that's already entertaining kids here is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
We met cyclists and the owner of Far and Away Cycling as they pedalled through town a few months ago. They loved what Big Brother Mouse is doing and took some books to villages. In May, they worked with the Canadian Embassy Officer's Club to organize a fundraising silent auction in Washington, DC, which raised enough to sponsor two books, and a book party in a very large village. Thank you! For cyclists out there, Laos has some beautiful (though not often flat) and little-trafficked roads. Whether with a group such as Far and Away, or independently, we hope you'll discover them for yourself soon.
It's school vacation time here, so we cannot do book parties in most villages. We've been using the time to produce more books. Four new books have gone to press in the past month, including Fun With Fruit, illustrated by our two youngest artists yet, ages 10 and 16. We also sent to press four "economy" books. These are reprints of previous books, in a smaller size, and at a much smaller price. There are no existing channels for widely distributing books in Laos. We're going to experiment and see if, with a low price, these can get into local markets through the distribution channels for things like soap and toothpaste.
Last year we set up "mini-libraries" in over a hundred village schools. With schools closed for the summer, teachers in some villages, teachers have taken the books to their homes so kids can still have access to them. In other villages, there will be no book access during the summer.
So this month we're trying out a new idea: "Junior Librarians." We've found a group of young people in a four villages who are interested in reading more. They've selected one person as the "junior librarian" who will keep some books in their home. We plan to try this in eight villages, see how it works, and how it can be improved as a way to quickly and inexpensively increase access to books.
Many of you asked if we were affecting by the flooding of the Mekong. Our offices in both Vientiane and Luang Prabang escaped, but homes and shops along the Nam Khan river road in Luang Prabang, shown here, were not so lucky.
Thank you to the Global Fund for Children and the Bengier Foundation, whose grants this year will allow us to publish 6 more books. A private grant from another foundation will sponsor 74 rural book parties in the 2008-09 school year.
Schools began reopening in August, and in the first week of September, we're already back in the villages with our book parties.
We've posted a wish list on www.Amazon.com; look us up as "Big Brother Mouse" if you'd like to send a book our way. These are books we need for research or office use, or inspire a young person here to try writing something similar. Used editions and paperbacks are fine.
Last year, as we developed the book party as a way to get books into rural Lao villages, we usually went to villages accessed by road. By many Lao villages are far from roads. This year, we've begun developing ways to reach those more distant villages. From 27 Sept. to 4 Oct., Big Brother Mouse held 12 book parties along the Nam Khan river. (That's the smaller river that flows into the Mekong at Luang Prabang.) Here, the boatmen navigated through a tricky stretch of river while the BBM staff carried the books past the rapids by land.
A big addition to the staff: We're continuing to look for the best ways to get books into rural Lao villages. This month we got help from our newest staff member: Boom-Boom. (Yes, she has a heavy step. More importantly, "Boom" means "book" in Lao.) Boom-Boom helped us on a trip taking books to villages in Sainyabuli Province, which are not on a road or a river. She was excited to learn that she'll also be featured in a book that we're preparing:
The Little Elephant That Could. Thank you to Elefantasia and the U.S. Embassy for help and support with this trip.
Archived News from 2006-2007.
Clinton Global Initiative: Khamla was among some 300 "heads of state, CEOs, heads of NGOs... and other prominent individuals" invited to the first Asian meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Hong Kong. The invitation alone was a welcome recognition that someone well-placed thinks we're doing a good job. In addition, Big Brother Mouse was selected as one of three projects in Asia to get special attention at the opening plenary session, including an introduction by former president Bill Clinton. The certificate recognizes us as part of the CGI community, "seeking to implement innovative solutions designed to produce tangible results that will positively change lives."
Hmong Life: We also celebrated, although with fewer neckties, publication of the Hmong Life Coloring Book. Two years ago, Gikong began work on this, drawing pictures of the ceremonies, customs, and daily life of his culture. Translations and other factors delayed publication, but already many visitors have singled it out as a book they want to take home. We played games, enjoyed Hmong and Lao music, and enjoyed good food at Khoun and Khone's Guesthouse and Resort, in the countryside just outside of Luang Prabang.