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What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur

Some wishes are traditional – to be the fairest in the land or find a handsome prince. Some are personal – for a family member to get better, to be a doctor, learn the piano, fall in love. Some are never identified as wishes, but are rather the silent longings of the heart. Written by a truly stellar cast of authors with a foreword by Mia Farrow, What You Wish For is a collection of short stories that center on children who wish.

The collection ranges from Meg Cabot’s wry and humorous “The Protectionist” – which starts with the protagonist lamenting that the school bully has taped a note to his sister’s back which reads, Boobies: Get some; to the quietly poignant “Rules for Wishing” by Francisco X. Stork, where a young boy is celebrating his birthday in the foster care system, after his mother gave his sister up for adoption when his father could not control his fists.

If poetry’s more your speed, there’s a delectable selection from several renowned writers. Jane Yolen’s contribution, a very brief poem simply entitled “Wishes,” will give you a serious case of goosebumps with lines like, “We want so much/ we want so much not to want.” Other talented poets include Gary Soto and Naomi Shihab Nye. 

Of course, a wishing collection would not be replete without a retelling of a fairy tale (“The Stepsister” by Cynthia Voigt”), an epistolary short (Ann M. Martin’s “The Lost Art of Letter-Writing”), the supernaturally frightening (R.L. Stine “Funny Things”) or a graphic story (“The Conjurers” by Nate Powell), and What You Wish For delivers on all fronts.

The book is the efforts of the Book Wish Foundation, founded by a mother and son team, Lorraine and Logan Kleinwaks in October 2007 after reading a Washington Post article about a Darfur refugee who had left Sudan with only a few books and ending up reading those same books over and over again as he could not obtain anything else. The organization likes to “start with the wishes of the neediest readers and give them the books they want” rather than doing book drives. They are donating their proceeds from the sale of the book to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Although the conflict in Sudan and the reality of refugee camps are never explicitly mentioned in any of the stories, it’s hard to read the following passage by Nikki Giovanni without thinking of the children who fled the atrocities in Darfur and ended up in the camps,

Just a little girl being brave
In a world
Where water
Is in short supply
But everybody has a gun

I don’t think
That’s a good idea
I’d rather be in
A book