Here's the backstory:
As an author, I automatically get author copies of all of my books (although I have to say the European publishers are a bit stingy when it comes to sending copies of the translations ... but then again, they pay in Euros, so with the exchange rate being what it is, I can't really complain). For example, here's what I just pulled out of my garage:
These are the GLBs—Gibraltar Library Binding hardcover editions. I also get copies of the standard, paperback versions of the books. Those are the flashy ones—silver foil, French flaps, secret illustrations under the flaps, etc. So I give those away to people when I need to promote the book, etc. Fortunately, Random House takes care of every reviewer I could imagine, so I never need to send out review copies myself.
But I'm usually left with a case of GLBs for each book. When I was living in New York, I tried (tried) to give them away to a Brooklyn-based charity that in turn donates books to schools in the city. After shipping them to the indicated person and having them returned after total failure to deliver, I sorta gave up on giving books to local charities.
So I searched further afield, spurred on also by one of my friends' trips to Burundi in east-central Africa (one of the ten poorest countries in the world), when she visited schools throughout the country on a fact-finding mission for the Church of England. The photos she brought back were both inspiring and appalling. Students living and studying in buildings that we wouldn't let people squat in here. Kids sharing iron beds which had metal springs but no mattresses. Everyone she met in the country, she said, was in a sort of continuous haze as a result of low-level Malaria infection. And these were the best schools in that country, the ones with the best chance for the future.
Perhaps the saddest thing was a photograph of the library of one school she visited. It was the biggest library of any school in the country, and it was a single bookcase. I'm pretty sure that I have more cookbooks on my donwstairs bookshelf than these students had in their whole library.
Anyway, things are dire there. Fortunately, there are folks like the Minnesota-based Books for Africa working to correct this problem. I sent them a few cases of books last year, along with a check to cover the transportation costs (it costs them around 38 cents per book to ship them).
Back to the Kidlit conference. When I came to the 2008 Portland Kidlit Bloggers Conference on Saturday, armed with a case of Babymouse: Monster Mash GLBs to give away, I was faced with the reality that (a) There were 70-some people in attendance and (b) I had about 20 books. I didn't want to shortchange anyone, so I decided, on the spur of the moment, to let the market decide (as the economists like to say). I gave away the books for free, but collected any donations people wanted to give in return for a book ($3-$5 was typical) to pass on to Books for Africa.
It was a rousing success. Even when I had to run out to pick up my wife for the conference dinner, people kept leaving donations! They even tracked me down afterward to shove five-dollar bills into my hand, like some kindly uncle at a birthday party.
The result: a whopping $97!
Not bad for people's spare change! Thank you, thank you, thank you all. I'll round this up to $100 and send a check out to BFA pronto, probably with a case of Puppy Love. (I'm sure the themes in Skater Girl would resonate with people in any country, but will the subject matter—ice skating—strike a chord with kids in the tropics? I think I'll pass the Skater Girls on to Jone MacCulloch for her Doernbecher Children's Hospital drive.)
Monday, September 29, 2008