Best-selling children's book creators and FableVision founders Peter and Paul Reynolds inspired attendees at BC's 'Stories That Move' USAID Book-a-thon. Paul Reynolds, at right, is an alumnus of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences. (Photos by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

This holiday season, many American children will receive books as gifts. But for 250 million children around the world, books are a rarity. Many primary grade children in low income countries cannot read at grade level, a problem that can continue to affect their educational progress throughout their lives, limiting their economic and developmental opportunities.

Earlier this month, Boston College partnered with the United States Agency for International Development in an effort to promote global literacy through USAID's innovative Book-a-Thon program, which engages U.S. colleges, universities, and communities in producing books for children around the world.

At BC's “Stories that Move" event, students, faculty, and staff were invited to write and illustrate short stories in the language of their choice. Then, using SIL International’s 'Bloom' software, attendees uploaded the stories to a free digital library, where they would be translated into more than fifty languages and made available for download.

The event, sponsored by the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Connell School of Nursing, Lynch School of Education, and BC School of Social Work, drew a capacity crowd to its Campion Hall location on November 15.

USAID specialist Amie Harris, who graduated from the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 with a degree in international studies, is instrumental in moving the Book-a-Thon project across the country, said Erik Owens, interim director of the Boisi Center.

“She's the reason we know so much about the program," said Owens, who is an associate professor of the practice in international studies and theology. "We were inspired by the great work that USAID does to bring education to young people in the most impoverished and troubled parts of the world.”

Amie Harris
USAID specialist Amie Harris, who graduated from the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 with a degree in international studies, was instrumental in bringing the Book-a-Thon project to BC.

Best-selling children’s book creators Peter H. Reynolds and his brother, Paul, who is an alumnus of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, were on hand to provide inspiration for attendees. With more than 20 million books sold, translated into more than 25 languages, the Reynolds brothers are creating "stories that move" (Judy Moody, Going Places, The Dot), designed to motivate readers to think creatively to make a positive change in the world.

The brothers also are the founders of FableVision, a Boston-based, education-oriented creative services company "dedicated to helping all learners discover their true potential."

“We love their message,” said Owens. “It fits in beautifully with writing messages for children around the world.”

With the Reynolds brothers as guides, imaginative storylines flowed through the packed room, and participants were excited to see their ideas develop into books.

Paul Reynolds
Author, illustrator, and FableVision founder Peter Reynolds also launched an independent book and creativity shop, The Blue Bunny Bookstore, in Dedham, Mass.

“As soon as I saw the program description I signed up,” said senior Andrew Craig, who majors in secondary education and English.  “I loved the event, and hearing the Reynolds brothers speak helped me see how kind and passionate they are about what they do.

“It also inspired me to keep on with my writing and drawing, and to keep hoping that I can continue to create stories and help people by sharing them," he said.

Craig was impressed at the Bloom software's translation capability, and ease of use. Classmate Jacquelyn Andalcio, also a secondary education and English major, concurred. “The ease of inserting an image minimized fears often held by those who, like myself, can’t draw,” she said.

Andalcio added that she was grateful to hear how USAID is trying to increase global literacy, and expressed her appreciation for the Reynolds brothers, who not only shared their story, but also encouraged everyone present to feel that "their own talents were the perfect tools for success and happiness," she said.

Attendees at BC's USAD Book-a-Thon workshop
The Book-a-Thon event drew a capacity crowd to the workshop location.

For two other students, the message of the event hit close to home.

“I know first-hand how childhood literacy needs to be improved around the world,” said international studies major Lynn Petrella '17. “I worked at a center for refugees in Lynn (Mass.) this past summer and found that the students I worked with had trouble reading and writing in both English and their first languages.

“I know how much easier they would’ve had it in their home countries if they had an online book resource like USAID is providing,” said Petrella.

Attendees at the USAID Book-a-Thon event
Software called BLOOM allowed attendees to write and illustrate short stories in a preferred language and then upload them to a free digital library, where they would then be translated into more than fifty languages and made available for download.

“Research has demonstrated that it is incredibly important for a child’s development to be able to read and write in the language that they hear from their caregivers,” said sophomore Julia Barrett, an international studies major and education minor, who will be teaching and volunteering at a local school and orphanage in rural Western Kenya next summer.

“The school recently had to change locations and as a result lost many of its materials," said Barrett.  “In addition, many of the students who live at the orphanage and attend the school were raised either speaking Swahili or a tribal language.  They learn English at the school, but many do not know how to read or write in their mother tongue. 

“This event, for me, was an opportunity to work with a good friend of mine who happens to live in Kenya and speak Swahili, to write and illustrate books in both English and Swahili for the kids at this school,” she said.

Students and Boisi Center administrators hope the event can become a yearly one. The center also plans to connect with individual groups around campus that might want to have a similar book-writing workshop in a smaller context, said Owens.

“We wanted to provide a space for students and others to participate and see themselves as actors in the world,” said Owens. “You don’t have to be a famous novelist, a world class illustrator, a philanthropist, or a humanitarian, to just do some good in the world.”

Siobhan Sullivan | University Communications

Student 'Stories That Move'


Jackie Andalcio '17

“I collaborated with my friend, who had an interesting water-bending, discover-your-talents type theme.”

Julia Barrett '19:

“I wrote part of a book about a young Kenyan girl who loves her mother very much and wants to demonstrate that love, but doesn’t know how.  She eventually decides to grow her mother tea.  With her mother’s help, she becomes a very successful tea farmer, and she and her mother produce the most popular tea in the country.”

Andrew Craig '17

"My story is about a bear named Tom Tom. He’s a small bear cub and he is usually more curious than other bears. He loves honey, but he gets upset when he sees the bears destroy the bees’ hives, forcing them to leave. The other bears laugh when he suggests befriending the bees, but Tom Tom tries anyway. Eventually, Tom Tom talks with and befriends the bees. He is still laughed at when the other bears hear him talk about the bees, but when they see the bees bring Tom Tom honey, they realize they are wrong, and the bees are friendly. The story ends with Tom Tom helping the bears and the bees become friends with one another, and the bees leading the bears to a strawberry field where they can eat strawberries instead of honey.  The bears and the bees continue to be friends to help each other."

Lynn Petrella '17

“I wrote about a Muslim student, named after one of the elementary schoolers I worked with this summer, who is being bullied in school for bringing her Iraqi cuisine to lunch.  She overhears kids telling her that they’re going to build a wall to keep people like her out of America, but eventually is comforted by her mother and helps other marginalized students by letting them know that she ‘stands with them’.”