Big Brother Mouse (BBM), a book publishing and literacy program in Luang Prabang, produces children's books in the Lao language to help promote the love of reading and learning in children. The organization was started by a retired American publisher who saw the need for children's books and decided to try to fill the gap himself. The project is taking off and growing.
The stories and designs for the books are co-developed with university students, student artists and teachers to maintain a uniquely Lao look, feel, and sense of humor. The first six books were published in early 2006, with a total of 24 books published by February 2007. Many books are in English and Lao so that students can use the book to improve their English and Lao reading skills simultaneously.
Travelers Giving Back with Big Brother Mouse
One of the organization’s challenges is book distribution to rural villages and schools. BBM has creatively enlisted travelers by offering a program that encourages travelers to purchase books to take with them and distribute on their hikes/treks to and through rural villages. This accomplishes the goal of increasing book distribution to remote areas while allowing travelers to engage with children through something more lasting and productive than candy or toys.
Big Brother Mouse Conversation Hour
In addition to book publishing, BBM also runs a center where travelers can help novice monks and children practice speaking or reading English. When we stopped by, we helped edit some Lao proverbs translated into English for an upcoming book. Translating proverbs and humor from one language and culture to another is surprisingly difficult and time-consuming. So the staff are thankful for any assistance they can get.
Employment and Training
As a by-product of its activities, the program also provides employment to young educated Lao graduates. BBM is run like a business and gives its employees on opportunity to work with people from other countries and provides hands-on training and experience in western business practices. The founder is transferring his knowledge of how to publish books to the Lao staff, so that BBM can eventually become a fully-Lao run operation.
Handing Out Big Brother Mouse Books
We purchased a package of 10 books and took them with us to Nong Khiaw. We noticed a school in the village, so we figured there were some literate kids somewhere who could make use the books. Audrey handed out one of the Lao alphabet books to some children in one of the nearby villages.
Based on their reactions, these kids had never seen a book before. Imagine that. They simply did not know what to make of it, nor what to do with it. She tried to show them how to use the book, flipping the pages. The kids got a kick out of pointing at the pictures and saying the word in Lao. Lots of giggles.
Great Reading in English
Before giving the books away, we enjoyed reading them all ourselves, especially the one entitled “The Cat that Meditated”. The moral of this particular story: don't trust a cat that says it’s a vegetarian (i.e., we can't go against our nature). The moral of another story – the effects of teamwork are bigger than the sum of the parts. When an elephant goes bad and begins to take advantage of the other animals in the forest, they take advantage of their strength in numbers, as the bird plucks out the elephant’s eyes, the fly lays eggs in its eye sockets in order to cause infection and blindness, and the frog plays ventriloquist, tricking the blind elephant into thinking it was headed towards a lake, when it was in fact headed off a cliff towards its death. We don’t see this becoming an American children’s book classic any time soon.
Thank you, John
We thank John Bingham, a volunteer at Big Brother Mouse, for taking time out of a busy day to talk with us about the program and his contribution to this blog entry. His excitement about the program was contagious.
Practical Details – Volunteering with Big Brother Mouse
Contact information: Big Brother Mouse
Follow the mouse: Just follow the wooden signs with a mouse on them to find the office and reading center in Luang Prabang. Smaller offices are located in Vientiane and Luang Namtha.
I think this is a really cool project. What can I do to get involved?
- buy books and distribute them to schools or children while traveling throughout Laos
- donate money
- write non-fiction books for BBM to translate and publish
- give rights to publish your own book
- hang out with Lao kids and novice monks to converse and read in English
- sponsor the publication of a book