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Nerdy Book Club Member Spreads Book Love Abroad by Lynn Wehn

What, you may ask, is a member of the Nerdy Book Club doing, living in a country with no public libraries and one bookstore? (The term bookstore is used very loosely here, and I have to mention it because it does call itself a bookstore.) Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my father’s lap while he read to me; watching both my mother and father reading for pleasure; traipsing many blocks to the neighborhood public library in the summer and being a member of the summer reading club; pushing a stroller with my nephew, six years my junior, to that same library and coming home with as many books as were allowed, and devouring them.

Later I became a teacher librarian (as did my nephew), and being a book pusher, giving booktalks, and building a collection to meet the
needs of any reader. I joined two adult book clubs, and began one for students. Both our sons are readers, too. Well, you get the picture!

My husband and I retired and joined the Peace Corps, thinking we still had talents and skills to share. We are currently serving as Peace
Corps Volunteers in the Kingdom of Tonga. (In the South Pacific, not in Africa as many people think.) As the language was only oral until the missionaries came in the late 1800’s there is no culture of books and reading, their language is Tongan, with a secondary language of English. I am assigned to a primary school and setting up a school library for them, holding library classes, and teaching form 1 and form 2 English (about equivalent to 7th and 8th grade). The Ministry of Education is trying very hard to print more books for children in Tongan and increase the written and reading level for it. I find my greatest challenge is having books that children can read and relate to, but also not “baby” books, since many students have very little English. The “relate to” part is critical, as the culture here revolves around the family and the church. Much of the island is rural, with even the capital having pigs and chickens everywhere.

Many students have been to either New Zealand or Australia, which helps, but it does, also, create a divide between those who have and  those who haven’t.

On a personal note, thank heavens for the Kindle! The Peace Corps volunteers have a library in the volunteer lounge, but my reading
habits…. And we’re here for 27 months.

I’d also like to put in a plug for Darien Book Aid that sends a box of books if you fill out the application. The books were carefully
selected and a wonderful addition to my library at the school. If you’re looking for a good place to give some money that will help
promote book nerdiness, look to Darien Book Aid!

For a few more months I’ll be on an island with no public libraries and one, in name only, bookstore. The rewards, however, are
immeasurable in other ways. Learning about another culture and living in it, trying to encourage library use and reading for students who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity, meeting wonderful people who care about reading and the education of their children, and, the watchwords of the Peace Corps: flexibility and patience. What memories! I’m so thankful, though, that I grew up in a place where it was possible to become a book nerd.

Lynn Wehn is a retired teacher librarian from Barron Area Schools in Wisconsin. She and her husband have been serving in the Peace Corps in Tonga since October, 2010. They will be returning to the U.S. in December and look forward to more volunteering. Lynn will be haunting libraries and bookstores wherever they go. She also has a blog, Two for Tonga, if you’d like to experience Tonga through her eyes at www.twofortonga.blogspot.com.