292nd Meeting – Tuesday,
Brother Mouse’ - Book
publishing in Laos
A talk and
presentation by Sasha Alyson and
Present: Jack Moerschbaecher, Sharon
Beanclerk, Steve Epstein, Carole David, Bodil Blokker, Nantiya
Trasvin Jittidecharak, Alain Madec, Reinhard Hohler, John Cadet,
Cadet. An audience of 12.
Summary of the talk and
Traditionally, books have
been rare in Laos.
Shared textbooks are available in many villages, but most children have
seen a book they would want to read. Few people even realize that
be enjoyable, or could add to their education, or could provide
improve their quality of life.
Khamla Panyasouk and Sasha
Alyson are changing this picture. At the meeting they talked about Big
Mouse, a publishing project they run from Luang Phrabang, Laos.
Sasha is a retired American
book publisher. He first visited Laos in 2003 and met many
people who were eager to learn new skills and to improve the quality of
for people in their country, but had no place to start. He decided to
writing, computer, and publishing skills to young people, while
increase reading and literacy throughout Laos.
Khamla was born in a typical
rural village and grew up with no electricity, no running water –
course, no books. After he moved to Luang Phrabang to become a novice
had access to a few books, and began to develop an interest in reading.
a Lao college student when he met Sasha, who was soon impressed by his
and his eagerness and ability to learn. They formed Big Brother Mouse.
than 18 months later, they’ve published more than 30 books.
After organising painting
and writing competitions in a number of schools, Khamla and Sasha
while there are some promising young artists in Laos,
writing skills are still very
weak. Almost all of the children could use their imagination and create
pictures on a theme: ‘Why is the monkey afraid?’, but very
few could write
about it. Although several local writers have produced collections of
traditional stories, and easy alphabet books, for Lao children,
types of books, with Lao content, is a challenge. For new ideas, they
the books children in other countries have enjoyed most, such as those
Seuss, and discuss what underlying concepts made those books
they apply those concepts, but with new Lao content and pictures. They
also translated some classics: a Lao Dr. Dolittle has already been
The Wizard of Oz, Sherlock Holmes, and, on a more serious level, Anne
Diary of a Young Girl, are currently being translated. To assist in
of the books, Sasha and Khamla recruited young Lao artists and writers.
With virtually no books to
also had no distribution system for books. Big Brother Mouse has begun
into rural villages to hold Book Parties in the schools. Some villages
remote that the journey is made by road, by boat, and then walking for
or so, carrying all the books. At the village schools, the young Lao
and writers talk about their work and read from books. Then every child
school gets a book – virtually always the first book
they’ve ever owned.
Finally, Big Brother Mouse leaves a “swap box” where
children can exchange
their book for a new one. About 85 children came to the first Book
all received their free book. The next day more than 50 of them came
the “swap box” to exchange their book for another one.
Within a very short
space of time all of the children had read all of the books in the
While the children are given advice and instruction about book care,
are paperbacks and with constant use do deteriorate to become unusable.
In response to a question
about the cost of the Big Brother Mouse books, Sasha said that the cost
of one of their picture storybooks is about US$ 2, Khamla then added
book costing more than US$ 1 is beyond the reach of people living in
For the first year, Sasha was able to fund printing costs from his
savings. Now, the project needs a sponsor for each new book before it
can go to
press. Details about sponsoring a book party ($200) or a book ($1,000
$3,000), and more information about the project, are available on their
After the question and
answer session the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria, where
of the audience engaged Sasha and Khamla in more informal discussion
drinks and snacks.