Going to School Around the World

While our children write their lessons with pencils and computers, Pakistani schoolchildren in the village of Korphe used to write on the ground with sticks.  Then one day a lost climber stumbled into their village, and everything changed.

Adults may recognize this as the story of Greg Mortensen, well-known for the bestselling book, “Three Cups of Tea,” about his work building schools in Pakistan.  Now young children can learn the story in his new picture book, “Listen to the Wind, The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea.”  

The outline of the story is simple but dramatic.  Mortensen had been mountain climbing in northern Pakistan when he accidentally ended up in Korphe, exhausted and sick.  The villagers took care of him, and before he left he asked the local wise man what he could do for them in return.  “Listen to the wind,” Haji Ali replied, and Mortensen came to the realization that what they needed most was a school.

It was a year later when Dr. Greg, as he was called, returned with the materials needed for the school.  Together, he and the villagers built a bridge to transport the materials, mixed cement, laid the stones, and constructed the first school building the village had ever had.  Now, “We add and subtract. We read our books and explore our maps. We are learning in the school that we helped to build.”

Susan Roth’s paper collages are a dramatic accompaniment to this inspiring story.  Through the imaginative use of colors and textures, she portrays the smiling faces of the children, the jagged, snow-covered peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, and the joyful parade of people and animals who climb up the hill to the new school on the first day it opens.  A scrapbook complete with photos of the villagers and a note from the artist about her innovative technique round out a book that celebrates a most unusual first day of school.

Lots of children walk to school, but in Edith Baer’s picture book, “This is the Way We Go To School,” young readers will meet children who run, skate, and ride every conveyance you can imagine.  Steve Björkman’s watercolors show children on the Staten Island Ferry, Chicago’s El, and a horse and buggy in Amish country.  In Venice, children ride a vaporetto, while Scandinavian children ski, a Kenyan girl takes the train, children in Nanjing ride bikes, and some children don’t travel at all – they go to school by radio.  

The minimal text may provoke lots of questions from children, so adults will welcome the appended list of exactly where each scene takes place.  Be prepared for requests to ditch the school bus in favor of a Skidoo!

In “Running the Road to ABC,” six Haitian children rise before dawn, eat a quick breakfast of cornmeal or plantains, and start to run. In their bare feet, they run through the countryside, watching the moon set and the sun rise, racing to get to school on time.  Denizé Lauture’s story is based on his own childhood in Haiti, where he and his friends rose early six days a week to make it to school on time.  Reynold Ruffins’ Caribbean palate and folk art illustrations provide a colorful and dramatic setting that will open children’s eyes to the lives of their fellow students in another land.