Kaua‘i doctor lights love of reading in children

Local child psychologist Dr. Laura Anderson is working on a children’s book to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads, a grassroots, non-profit organization that is working to cultivate a love of reading in children.

The Kilauea resident works in the public schools as a licensed clinical psychologist and when not working, travels the world. Anderson hitched her love of travel to a literary dream for girls in Ethiopia when she joined forces with a childhood friend to publish “Smile at a Girl, Ethiopia,” a children’s book that celebrates girlhood through verse and images.

“Smile at a Girl, Ethiopia” offers a poetic reminder of how important it is to encourage girls to live, move, dream and accept themselves with boldness and joy, Anderson’s press release states.

All proceeds from sales of the book will go to support programs run by Ethiopia Reads and will put books into the hands of young boys and girls who’ve never before had access to libraries or written stories.

The book was born of a commitment to honoring girls in Ethiopia and offering them opportunities to read about their own experiences.

This slim volume showcases girls engaging in a variety of enriching activities — from laughing with friends to playing drums; from dancing and traveling to dreaming and reading.

The text reminds readers of the power of a positive word or gesture: “Whisper encouragement to a girl / ‘Just do the best you can do’ / Burst with pride and hug her / When she dares to try something new.”

The text was inspired by Anderson’s travels across 38 countries where she observed the challenges and opportunities that await girls in every corner of the globe.

“I have been lucky to see young girls at play and at work in cultures all over the world,” the press release states.

After traversing Southern, Central, Eastern and Northern Africa, Anderson developed a special appreciation for Ethiopia when visiting her childhood friend Catie Dupont who lived there with her family. An active volunteer in Washington, D.C., Dupont currently leads efforts to support the publication of “Smile at a Girl, Ethiopia.” So far the project has received financial support from the Hanalei Hawaiian Civic Canoe Club, the Kapa‘a Rotary Club and individual donors. Dupont aspires to raise $10,000 for the project.

Anderson’s text is accompanied by photographs taken by Matthew Andrea, a District of Columbia-based volunteer who spent time in Ethiopia in 2007. The book will be sold in the United States as a fundraiser for Ethiopia Reads and also distributed throughout the organization’s growing network of free libraries for children in Ethiopia.

In keeping with Ethiopia Reads’ commitment to providing culturally relevant materials for children, “Smile at a Girl, Ethiopia” will feature text in the Ethiopian language of Amharic.

Ethiopia Reads is based in Denver, Colo., and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is a grassroots, volunteer-led nonprofit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia. Ethiopia Reads publishes books in English as well as local languages and trains teachers and library workers to cultivate a love of reading in children. Co-founder Yohannes Gebregeorgis was recently named a “hero” by CNN News. Visit ethiopiareads.org for more information.

“Smile at a Girl” will go to print when funds have been raised for a 5,000-book printing.

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