Wobbling unsteadily on my precarious perch on the desk, I stretched as far as I could towards the books located over the doorway: would there be an interesting book on the very edge of this improvised bookshelf?
We had just moved to a new place the summer I turned ten, a small village in the interior of Alaska. We were finally unpacked into this log cabin home so now I had time on my hands. I didn’t know any of the kids in the village yet. What I really wanted was to settle down into a good story but didn’t have any. Where could I find one?
I looked up at the books in my parents’ collection. The shelves located above and across the full length of the desk seemed promising. I tried to see the titles … hoping that perhaps one of those books would contain a good story! Needing a closer view, I carefully climbed up on the ‘desk’ (a door resting on two small file cabinets). Starting at one end of the bookshelf, I examined each book letting my fingers guide me along the edge of the shelf. I found theology books of all kinds: commentaries, concordance, dictionary, Haley’s Handbook, etc — all sorts of books for my parents — but nothing that looked like a story. There were a few more dozen books that went across the doorway next to the desk. I stretched out to reach over to those books, being careful not to fall down.
Oh! A First Aid book! Hmm. This is intriguing….How to treat a broken arm. How to stop bleeding. Pretty interesting, but not a story.
I gave up finding anything good in Mom and Dad’s books. I went searching for Mom and told her that I really wanted something new to read. She told me that she had heard that we could order a box of books from the public library in the capital city of Juneau, hundreds of miles away. So Mom mailed off an order, and I waited somewhat patiently. When the box came several weeks later, we opened it excitedly! We pulled out many large new-looking books. But it was immediately apparent that none of the books were interesting to a 10 year old girl. All were adult fiction, except one book for teens — National Velvet, a horse story, Although I tried to read it, it was dry as a bone. I was so disappointed!
Months later, when Dad returned home from a flight to another village, he was carrying a big box. “This is for you, Jeanne, from Shirley O Donald!“ He set down the box and I eagerly opened it finding it full of books … all kinds of interesting stories! Wow! A whole box of books just for me!!!
I realize now that Dad must have told her I was longing for new books to read and she had responded generously. I never forgot her kindness to me!
Later, as an adult, I watched my children become readers. They progressed from the very easiest of beginning readers to progressively harder and longer stories. On our frequent visits to the public library we’d find and borrow all sorts of books. Stories and non-fiction. Picture books with lovely pictures and chapter books with great stories. I would try to limit us to five books each (as 5 of us x 5 books = 25 books!), but I was a big pushover when I was the one choosing. I’d almost always come home with way more than the planned 25 … borrowing a huge pile of books to read to and with my kids. What fun to cuddle on the couch together enjoying book after book!
As I carted books back and forth to the library, I thought about my young self wishing for new books to read and wondered… What do families overseas do for books for their kids? What do they do when their kids outgrow the few books they may have brought along at the beginning of their time abroad? Where do they get books to snuggle up on the couch with their kids, or stories for dads to read aloud at bedtime?
For years the idea of sharing books with kids like me in far away places was just a dream. Finally, in 2003, I figured out the logistics of getting books overseas. I started small, but the project quickly outgrew my family’s garage. Today my little hobby has a name, BookEnds International, and serves many overseas worker families. Our collection contains over 5000 books — from easy to difficult, fiction and nonfiction. Books are available just for the asking! We are able to give these books for free and to split the costs of shipping with the book recipients thanks to the generosity of others who share the vision of this specific way to care for overseas workers’ children.
Why do I do this? Because I remember my yearning for a new book to read. And as an adult, I can look back and see the emotional strain on my parents. Lots of pressure to do get important tasks done each day: to communicate with folks back in the home country, to get normal daily chores done, and especially, to help the needy people all around. I believe that such parents need to hear the message that is implied with the gift of books that says, It’s okay to take time to read to your child. Snuggle up together. Share your story adventures together. Fill up their ‘love bucket’ with book loving time. Help your children bridge the worlds from where they are growing up currently to the culture from ‘back home’. We support you. We affirm you. We care about you and your kiddos!
Interested in getting a box of books for your family? Click on Request Books for more information.
More about Jeanne
Jeanne lives in Southern California, where she tolerates “fake trees” and substandard mountains (compared to Alaska’s, of course!) but loves making friends with the many people from other cultures she meets there. She is always happy to talk about books, homeschooling, babies, or Alaska!
Jeanne is a nurse–her father’s encouragement to bandage his cuts (“I need a nurse!”) and the first aid book in the story above planted the idea in her mind years before college. She currently works at a pregnancy care center where she enjoys giving ultrasounds and teaching birth classes.
BookEnds International is managed by Jeanne and her husband, John, with help from their four young adult children and local friends who help collect, catalog, and send books.