Logo of Big Brother Mouse, publishing books in Laos

Big Brother Mouse's diary

The year 2011 brought "The Mouse Experience," an opportunity for young Laotians to experience new ways of learning. And teacher workshops, and 8-page books.

Reading room volunteers at a workshop in Nan district

December 2011

Thanks to support from the U.S. Embassy, we have been able to make repeated visits to 8 villages in rural Nan district. In each village we held a book party at the rural school, and helped to set up a reading room in the home of a volunteer, then went back 4 times to bring more books, hold workshops, and provide training. We have some enthusiastic people helping to make books available in the district, but they have no experience with such things. We offer suggestions, but we don't always know what will work best, so we also watch and listen.

The district governor kindly let us use the government meeting hall for a workshop in December. Here, some of the volunteers try a system that allows everyone to record each book they've read, and what they think of it, with the goal of prompting others to take an interest in the same book.

Big Brother Mouse team playing Charades, at the Mouse Experience

December 2011

Young people in developed countries get a wide range of experiences that everyone takes for granted. Playing board games. Reading for pleasure. Watching movies. Expressing their opinion in a group discussion about something of significance. Taking fun day trips to the countryside, if they live in the city, or vice-versa. Flying off to Paris for a week. Experimenting with science kits. Solving puzzles of many sorts. Learning to speak in public.

Young people here get little or none of that. Typically they go to school, and take notes as the teacher reads or lectures. Then, if they live at home, they help with work in the field; if they've moved away for school, they go off to their job.

The Mouse Experience is a week when our staff gets an opportunity for other experiences, such as those mentioned above. (The trip to Paris isn't in our budget, but we're happy to hear from sponsors.) Here, Ae and Vanali are playing charades, one of a dozen activities, games, and trips we offered during a week-long break for the book party teams. Our Photo Album has more pictures from this Mouse Experience.

Teachers practice read-aloud skills with Big Brother Mouse, at a workshop organized by Save the Children

November 2011

From the beginning, we've wanted to hold teacher training workshops. Today's Lao teachers never saw books like ours when they were children. They have no experience using fun, lively books in their classroom work. But first, we had to focus on creating such books.

This year, we've made teacher training our #1 priority. Save the Children, an international organization that works in Laos, graciously invited us to a teacher workshop in Phontong district, and added an extra day to the schedule so we could share ideas about using books in class. Here, teachers practice effective techniques for reading aloud.

Middle school and high school students learn about books at a Big Brother Mouse book party

October 2011

We've held book parties at 95% of the primary schools in Luang Prabang province. For the other 5%, we tried to go but encountered washed-out roads, had transportation difficulties, or there were unexpected school closings; we'll try again. Thanks to a grant from Planet Wheeler, this year we're also going to all 61 of the high schools (grades 6 to 12) in the province.

Only a minority of Lao children continue school after 5th grade. Those who do are highly motivated. They often move away from home and live with relatives in a town that has a high school. They're eager to learn; now, they've got good books that will help them and challenge them.

High schools are much bigger than primary schools. Typical enrollments are from 250 to 2,000 students. We've developed new activities that are exciting for students of this age. A quiz game is fun, and highlights the interesting content of the books we're presenting to the school.

August 2011

Which country in ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) formerly had a flag with a picture of a three-headed elephant? How long is a giant sea squid? Those questions were joined by nearly a hundred other questions for a fundraiser at Vientiane College on 6 August.

People often ask how they can help Big Brother Mouse. Hannah McDonald-Moniz and Alex Godfrey, who teach at the college, did just what we suggested: They held a trivia-contest. Everyone had fun, and they raised in some $3,000 to help us publish new books. Thank you, Hannah and Alex, and all those who attended.

The new translation of New Improved Buffalo, in Tetun language, in East Timor

July 2011

Biblioteka Ermera, which is working to improve literacy and education in East Timor, liked New, Improved Buffalo enough that they asked if they could translate and publish it there. Their Tetun language edition just came off press. In this photo, translator Ilda de Jesus Martins and library coordinator Jonas ho Nia Karau hold up both the original and the East Timor editions. New, Improved Buffalo has also been published in Cambodia, in both Khmer and French. When possible, we're happy to give permission to organizations such as Biblioteka Ermera to reprint our books.

A buffalo, turning a sugar-cane press

June 2011

This buffalo is turning two giant, hand-carved wooden gears. Sugar cane is pressed between the spools at the bottom, to form a juice, which is boiled down to make sugar of a golden brown color. (The Lao word for brown is "sugar".) This is one of many scenes of Lao life captured by our photographer Si, documenting every aspect of life in Laos. We plan a continuing series of books, drawing from the thousands of photos we've already collected, and the many more we expect to get. The first title will be Beautiful Luang Prabang. This photography project has been made possible by a grant from the travel company Butterfield and Robinson. Thank you!

A numbers game improves math skills

May 2011

Number skills are as valuable as reading skills. In 'Number Bingo,' players take turns rolling 3 dice. They combine the numbers using common arithmetic signs, to make a new number, which they can cover up. The first play to cover 4 numbers in a row. Here, at a staff workshop, we experiment with a method of teaching this, using oversize dice and teams, rather than individual players. This will go into a book of educational games that we're preparing, and we may sometimes play it at school book parties, or in village events.

Visone and her book

March 2011

Our first 8-page books, announced last July, have come off press. These very short, simple books feature bright illustrations, simple words, and lots of repetition. Even the youngest readers discover that "I can read a book!" Moreover, new writers discover that "I can write a book!" Three young members of our staff, Visone, Jan, and La, have become published authors by writing one of these books. This photo shows Visone with her book, The Crab Flexes its Muscles.

A book party at a Lao high schoolIn the year ahead, thanks to Planet Wheeler in Australia, we'll hold a book party and deliver books to all 61 high schools in Luang Prabang province. (This includes what in some countries would be called "middle schools"; we're reaching students in grades 6 to 12.) Books are new enough to most people in Laos that all these students enjoy fairy tales. We also have an growing number of nonfiction titles that are highly popular, with subjects ranging from women's health to wonders of the world, from geography to World War II.

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