Imagine that you are an “untouchable” Dalit girl living in a rural village in Tamil Nadu, India, and your only access to books is through a mobile library on a motorbike that visits your vlllage; or you are a young boy living in poverty in Manila who goes after school to the Dagdag Dunong Reading Center where the storyteller and director - a medical technician by day and an angel to Manila’s children in need after work - reads books to you both in Tagalog and English and also feeds you because you are hungry; or that you are a child who comes from a long tradition of musicians, the Merasi, at the LKSS Merasi School in Jaisalmer in the Great Thar Desert in India, who are descended from generations of musicians, but as a member of one of the lowest castes (named the Manganiyar, or beggars) you are consistently discriminated against and deprived of basic human rights such as education and healthcare.  


And imagine that one fine day a box of carefully chosen illustrated children’s books arrives for your teacher, storyteller, or the person who heads up the mobile libraries from your friends half a world away at WaterBridge Outreach (WBO), thanks to support from its contributors and friends. Imagine your excitement and eagerness to hold the books, touch the beautiful illustrations, and read the stories, or have them read to you! 


This year, as we have done for the past four years, WBO’s small and dedicated team selected sets of books for each of the schools, libraries, (including two mobile libraries on motorbikes in Tamil Nadu) and literacy resource centers we donate to in the Philippines, Haiti, India, Tanzania, Pakistan and Malaysia. WBO does this in the spirit of making a small but important difference in the efforts of teachers and staff there to educate underserved and unjustly treated children and to give them hope for a better future.


What does WBO look for in the books it selects to donate? We choose books that tell stories of diverse cultures, and of both children and adults working together to bridge cultures to the larger human family that unites us all. The characters in the 2015 books do this through overcoming adversity and persevering, surviving, and often triumphing in the face of adversity of various kinds. The stories WBO selected to donate in 2015 exemplify compassion, friendship, and empathy—the qualities that our partners strive to cultivate in the children they teach and that WBO seeks to support as a key aspect of its mission.  These books often depict social injustice and even tragedy (as in the case of 14 Cows for America and Malala, a Brave Pakistani Girl/ Iqbal, a Brave Pakistani Boy) and show how children respond to such injustices such as the violence of war and terrorism, and how they overcome their terrible effects. Others show the redemptive power of nature (The Promise), and how we can work together to protect our environment and all of its life, including wild and endangered animals and endangered rain forests.  


Karen Lukas, Executive Director of Folk Arts Rajasthan (FAR) and a partner organization supporting the Merasi School, says of the WBO books that were donated this year: “WaterBridge Outreach, your annual selection of gifted books offers cultural bridges, dignity, and respect for all our students, and we are endlessly grateful.”


We are pleased to present the books that WaterBridge Outreach donated in 2015 for children ages 6 to 9 years of age:

A Look at the Books Donated by WaterBridge Outreach in 2015


by Dr. Barbara Bundy, Coordinator, for Books + Education

WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water

This book is based on the true story of a Maasai warrior, Wilson Kimeli Nayomah, who was studying medicine in New York City when the tragic events of 9/11 occurred and who returned home to Kenya with the sad story from America that ”3,000 souls were lost” because of terrorism.  His tribe's grief at the news quickly turned into a plan for help as Kimeli's people offered the most precious gift they could think of—their sacred cows-- to give to Americans who had lost so much. In Kimeli's words, "to heal a sorrowing heart, give something dear to your own." 


Stunningly illustrated in colored pencils and pastels, this is a story of a compassionate and generous people who herd cattle in East Africa and convey a message of hope and healing across the world with their gift of 14 cows presented to an American diplomat who journeys to Kenya.  This book continues to inspire compassion and empathy in communities everywhere. Carmen Agra Deedy disspells stereotypes about people living in Africa and also shows how the Maasai warriors connect with grief-stricken Americans in a very different culture half a world away through empathy and compassion.

This is a beautifully illustrated allegorical tale about hope and the power of nature to heal, set in a city “that was mean and hard and ugly” with streets “dry as dust, cracked by heat and cold, and never blessed with rain” where one day a young girl tries to snatch a woman's bag.  The frail old woman, hanging on to her bag with fierce tenacity, tells the girl she can't have the bag without giving something in return: the promise to plant the acorns contained in it.  This promise is the beginning of a journey that changes the thieving girl's life forever—and offers a chance for her to change her world for the better. The acorns in the stolen bag become agents of redemption in the hands of the girl who steals them and atones for her wrong doing by making a "promise."  As she plants the acorns all over, the grey, desperate city changes--and, importantly, the girl changes, as do all the people in the city. 


The Promise was nominated for the 2015 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and selected for USBBY’s list of Outstanding International Books. The book was inspired by Jean Giono's 1953 story, L'homine qui plantait les arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees).

This striking digitally illustrated two-in-one picture book tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young advocate of girls' education in her native Pakistan, who came to the world's attentions in 2012 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban. and again in 2014 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The corresponding story of Iqbal Masih, a young anti-child labor activist from 20 years earlier, is less well-known and has a much less happy ending than Malala's story.  The boy, Iqbal, was shot and killed at age 12 for his humanitarian activism.  


The two stories are united by the author's repetition of certain sentences and phrases throughout the book and by  two center pages without words that use the image of Iqbal's kite to unite the stories of these two brave children.  Poetically, Iqbal’s kite string slips from his hands, his figure drawn as pure white, symbolizing that he has died, and the kite passes to Malala, rendered in color and symbolizing that she has  taken on the fight for children’s rights in Pakistan for Iqbal and all children. Bold colors and shapes are used throughout, and the reader must rotate the book physically in order to read each story, illustrating the message that these two stories from different times in Pakistan are truly united, and that we, as readers, are joined across cultures and time as we read of the bravery of Malala and Iqbal. 

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music and Little Melba and Her Big Trombone were donated to the Merasi School in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, because of their special focus on music with the Merasi students being active musicians performing publicly and carrying on 38 generations of musicians, and Tiger Boy, an outstanding new book for the 10 to 13 age group, was donated to support the school’s middle level readers. 

Drum Dream Girl is a “girls can do anything” story inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl (talk about diversity!) who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers.  The aspiring drummer girl dreamed of playing congas and bongos on the island she lives on in the story but is forced to practice in secret because only boys are allowed to make music.  When her extraordinary drumming is finally heard publicly, the islanders decide that both girls and boys should be free to drum and realize their dreams.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone tells the story of the remarkable Melba Doretta Liston, who loved music from the getgo and persisted in her dream to make music.  She taught herself to play a big, shiny trombone at age 7, and by the time she was a teen, Melba pursued her unusual gift for jazz by joining a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the U.S.  Melba faced and overcame obstacles of race and gender to become an acclaimed trombonist and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the 20th century, from Duke Ellington to Quincy Jones.  This moving story is a tribute both to the joy of music and to a great unsung jazz artist of the 20th century, Melba Liston.

Written by prize-winning Indian American author Mitali Perkins, Tiger Boy is the story of a tiger cub who escapes from a nature reserve and the boy, Neel, who tries to save him, set in West Bengal’s Sunderbans islands.  Neel encounters obstacles in trying to save the young animal and protect a treasured way of life that respects nature on his island while racing to beat out a rich newcomer, Mr. Gupta, who wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market for profit.  To add further drama, the hunt for the tiger cub interrupts Neel’s preparation for an exam that could win him a prestigious scholarship at a school far from his island home, which is Neel’s family’s dream for him—also a treasured family value. This book is an engaging celebration of education and honoring one’s family and also protecting animals in need.

Finally, in 2015 WBO donated a second batch of 1600 “Keep Books” printed in the US to The Foundation for Tomorrow (TFFT), to help support their effort to meet wide-ranging and urgent educational needs in Tanzania. The Keep Books are slender, light-weight leveled readers which can be carried by friends traveling to Arusha, thus assuring that they reach their intended destination. WBO contributed Keep Books for grades kindergarten through second grade for a second year in a row. . 


WBO is also funding an initiative undertaken by TFFT, whereby local teachers and illustrators are writing and illustrating leveled readers in Kiswahili, the lingua franca of East Africa. These booklets will be able to be used by the teachers and students of the government schools of the Arusha region. This creative program is producing books similar to the English-language Keep Books, but it provides stories and images drawn from daily life in Tanzania and therefore more familiar to the students and their teachers.


To learn more about WaterBridge Outreach's books + literacy program and what is distinctive about this program, click here to read our September 2014 interview with Dr. Barbara Bundy, Coordinator for Books + Education at WaterBridge Outreach.




Published August 2015



To access our archive of Books + Literacy Updates click here.