A Library With Legs by Melissa Forney
Can you imagine a library that has ten legs and two tails? That might sound like a silly question, but for some children who live in the isolated countryside of Magdalena Province, Colombia, it’s true! Every few weeks, they gather in groups of 40 or 50 to wait and
call, “Biblioburro!” Soon, their amazing library comes into sight: a smiling man leading two tiny burros (donkeys) loaded with 160 children’s books.
The smiling man is Luis Soriano, a primary teacher from the town of La Gloria, four to eight hours away. He knows that most of these children need help learning to read. Few teachers want to travel so far over rocky terrain and through swamps to help out. But twice each week, Luis makes the long, dangerous journey so the children can check out books.
The night before he leaves, his wife Diana and his three children help load the books into plastic pouches sewn onto canvases. Luis folds each canvas so that it will fit in the frame he places over the burros’ backs. The burros are named Alfa and Beto. Because of this, his blue and white sign says, Biblioburro. The word, biblio, is for library, and the word, burro, is for donkey. Biblioburro.
For hours the next day, Luis, Alfa, and Beto travel down rutted paths, through swamps, over steep hills, and across rocky streams. Green iguanas sun on the smooth rocks. Parrots laugh and scream from the treetops. A tawny jaguar sleeps in the shade of a high branch. Sometimes, Luis is the only human to be seen on his journey. He always wears his black and white Colombian cowboy hat, called a sombrero vueltiao.
For many years, the country of Colombia has had a history of violence between warring bandit groups. Way out in the countryside, where there is no one to enforce the law, threats and violence have made life dangerous for children and their families. It is risky for kids to make the 40-minute walk to the nearest school, so most are unable to attend. They are grateful Luis makes the long trip out to them from La Gloria, which takes many hours.
When he arrives at one of the 15 villages he visits on a rotating basis, the children greet him as a valued friend.
“¡Bienvenido, Profesor!” (Welcome, Teacher!)
“¡Hola, Señor Soriano!” (Hello, Mr. Soriano!)
“¿Qué tal , Alfa? ¿Qué pasa, Beto?” (How is it going, Alfa? What’s up, Beto?)
Everyone scampers to help unload Alfa and Beto and to hang the canvas book display between two tree branches. The kids take care to make sure the colorful book covers are showing for all to see. Luis sets up a portable table and spreads out a sitting cloth for the children to gather on in a group.
The excitement is electric. Everyone speaks at the same time.
“I need help with my homework!”
“I want to check out the same book Eduardo got last time.”
“I’ve been practicing my reading, teacher!
Luis knows that Colombians especially love adventure stories. He settles everyone down by telling a favorite tall tale about animals that live in the jungle. Parents and neighbors gather to listen, too. Some stay as Luis teaches reading lessons, helps with homework, shows exactly where they live on a colorful map, and invites everyone to check out books. His two rules are obeyed by everyone: wash your hands, and don’t write in the books.
As much fun as it is to help the children choose their favorite books, Luis knows there is a long, long journey ahead for him, Alfa, and Beto. They will not arrive home again until dark. Once, he was riding Alfa and fell off, fracturing his leg. Another time, bandits at a river crossing tied him to a tree when they found out he had no money for them to steal. Why does Luis, who only makes a teacher’s salary of $350 per month, make these many danger-filled trips to help children who live four to eight hours away?
As a primary teacher, Luis knows many of his students were born into poor families and have lived in fear of violence from the bandit groups that fight throughout the countryside. He is amazed to see how books bring the children so much happiness and hope. “Learning to read helps children connect to the rest of the world,” he says. “I want to change my community for good and help children become useful, productive citizens. If people fall in love with books, the long cycle of violence might be broken.”
The kids of Magdalena Province, Colombia, are not so different from kids anywhere: they love reading mysteries, adventure stories, and books that teach about dinosaurs, exotic pets, and the ocean. Keep that in mind when you visit the library where you live. Our rooms and rooms of books would be seen as the ultimate treasure to children who live in some areas of the world. They love their collections of books, too. It’s just that their library eats hay and leaves hoof prints behind along the way.
1. What is the English word for burro? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Why does Luis make the long, dangerous journey? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. What happens the night before he leaves? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4. What is painted on Luis’s sign, and what does it mean in English? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
5. Why is there violence in the Colombian countryside? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. Who are Alfa and Beto? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
7. What kinds of stories do Colombians especially love? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
8. After they greet Luis, what do the children do? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
9. What happened to Luis when he fell off Alfa? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
10. What does Luis say will happen if people fall in love with books? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Down, Down Deep by Melissa Forney
Down by the sea, the sea that is the same color as the light green crayon in my color box, my daddy and I walk to the lagoon. It is at the end of the beach by the big rocks. I want to walk fast, so we can get there sooner. I pull Daddy’s hand. He walks faster to keep up with me. Seagulls flutter over my head, crying for part of a sandwich or a chip. People wade and swim. A grandpa and two children build a sandcastle.
We walk and walk. The sand is warm and crunchy between my toes. Bits of shells prickle the bottoms of my feet. Daddy holds my hand. His hand is twice as big as mine.
“Here we are,” He says.
“My favorite place,” I say.
The waves of the sea roll and crash, but the water in the lagoon is calm. Tiny crabs skitter across the rocks. They remind me of spiders.
In the shallow part, I sit on the sandy bottom. The water is warm from the sun. I open my eyes. Sunbeams flicker all around. I open my mouth. The water tastes salty.
I find a sand dollar next to my big toe. It tickles my hand as I hold it close. I know it is a living thing, so I put it back. I swim in the pale green water. I am a turtle, gliding through the sea. I roll on my back and hold my breath. I am a ship, riding the waves. I swim and swim and swim.
Daddy dives down in the deeper water. It is turquoise, like another crayon in my color box, my favorite.
I want to dive deeper, too, so I flip under and kick my legs. Instead of sinking, I float. I kick harder, but my legs flop in the air. I pull with my arms, but I bob on top of the water. It looks easy when Daddy does it.
“Hey,” I call, when he comes up for air. “I want to dive deeper.”
“Hold on,” he says. I hook my hands over his shoulders and wrap my legs around his body.
“Big breath,” Daddy says. “One, two, three!”
We flip under. Daddy’s strong arms and legs pull us down. Woosh. Woosh. Water rushes past my ears. My hair swirls. Bubbles swim out of my nose. Daddy points to a seahorse. I reach out to touch his curly tail, but before I can touch it, he is gone. I squint my eyes so I can see other things. It is hard to see underwater.
When I need a breath, I tap Daddy’s shoulder. He pushes off the bottom with his feet. We shoot to the top like a rocket. Our wet breath sprays high into the air.
Daddy says, “Did you see the seahorse?”
We roll under and go down again. This time Daddy swims along the bottom like a shark. I let my legs trail behind. I laugh, and bubbles burst out of my nose. I tap Daddy’s back and we zip to the top.
“I want to see things,” I say. I wipe salty water from my eyes. “But my eyes burn.”
“Let’s get the mask,” he says. I fit the yellow mask to my face. I straighten the strap behind my head. The mask is tight.
“Big breath. One, two, three,” Daddy says. We roll under, and this time he pushes my back. I kick my legs and arms. It is hard, but I keep going. When I am at the bottom, I give him a thumbs up sign. He gives me one back.
The mask makes everything clear. I see crusty shells growing on rocks. I see a hermit crab. His feelers twitch and twist. I rake my fingers across the bottom, and the sand swirls. Purple periwinkles wiggle back into the sand.
I need a breath! I kick off the bottom and keep my hands flat by my sides. Daddy follows me to the top.
“You did great,” he says, shaking water from his ear.
This makes me smile inside. “Again?”
Daddy squints at the sun. “One more.”
This time Daddy pushes me only part way down. I scissor-kick like a frog chasing a bug. I make it to the bottom on my own. My heart pounds. My ears pop. I hold on to the rocks to keep from floating up.
The water is quiet and cool. I pretend I am the queen of the sea. The fish and the shells and the periwinkles belong to me.
I look up, up to the top, and see the shimmery shape of my daddy. He is waiting. I wave at the fish and the hermit crab. I wave at the fluttering seahorse, wherever he is. I tuck my legs and push against the bottom.
I zoom to the top, as fast as a rocket. I gulp in air, breath after breath.
Daddy helps me pull off the yellow mask so that it doesn’t pull my hair. I hate to leave my favorite place.
We walk back down the beach, by the water that slides in and out with every wave. Daddy slows down a little so I can keep up with him. We walk and walk.
The sand is cooler now and the seagulls have flown away. The sandcastle has melted into the sea. The sun is dark orange, like the sun I painted in my picture at home.
Daddy holds my hand. His fingers must be twice as big as mine. No, three times as big. Four.
Tonight, when my stepmom Lucy tucks me in, I will remember to tell her that I can dive deep, even by myself, and that I am the queen of the sea.
1. Where is the lagoon? _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. What reminds the girl of spiders? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. Why does the girl put the sand dollar back in the ocean? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4. What does Daddy point to down in the deep water? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
5. Why does the girl need a mask? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. When she needs a breath, how does she get back to the top quickly? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
7. What does the girl want to do on her own? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
8. What does she pretend to be? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
9. Why do you think Daddy holds her hand? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
10. What will the girl tell her stepmom, Lucy? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 1807-1882
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.