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Day 14: One Ukrainian Book at a Time

It was my second time visiting a bookstore in Ukraine. I had this idea that I wanted to buy some children’s books written in Ukrainian by notable Ukrainian authors as a gift for a refugee center just outside the Krakow city center. About 50 adults live there and 30 children.

When I thought about ways I might help Ukrainian children, I went back to the standard reminders I give to the parents of my students.

To set brains up for learning, children must have:

1. Unstructured play time: inside and outside (Not on screens)

2. Time to draw and write (Not on screens)

3. Listen to stories read aloud to them in their primary language. (Not on screens)

4. Follow their interests (Not on screens)

I thought about families fleeing from war and what their needs would be. It’s easy to buy art supplies when you land in a new place, but children’s books are heavy and expensive.

I decided to spend one hundred dollars on books that I would gift to the center.

I visited a store and went to the children’s book area, but had no idea what books were classics, well written or beloved. There was not one children’s book written by an American author that was translated into Ukrainian—which was fine with me.

No Dr. Seuss. No Corduroy. No Goodnight Moon.

I left the store without buying anything.

On our last day in Ukraine, Jullia, who grew up in Ukraine and spoke the language, offered to go with me.

She chose a large bookstore close to the center that had a decent collection of children’s books.

I used my translation program to explain to her that I wanted classic books that were well written.

“I know.”

We spun around. There were so many books to choose from. I had no idea where to start.

I wanted a variety of books. A funny story. A book with little windows that open. A how-to book that older children might be able to read. A collection of stories that a parent might read to a child. Maybe one with simple words in English.

A Google page showing the value of dollars in Ukraine
(Figuring out how many books I can buy with $100.)

I was worried that I would overspend. I checked the internet and found that 3,654.51 Ukrainian hryvnias equalled $100.

I picked up a book and handed it to Jullia.

She shook her head and returned it.

She picked one up and handed it to me. A large book with what appeared to be individual stories and realistic illustrations.

I added it to the BUY pile and she opened a calculator on her phone and typed in the price.

It took about a half hour for us to choose and agree on 8 large books. We hit all of the areas I was hoping for.

We double checked the hryvnias: we were over by a few dollars, but I was okay with that. Back home a collection of books of this size and quality would cost at least $300.

Sometimes I worry that as a teacher I only care about buying educational gifts.

When I saw Dasha in Krakow during her vacation, I gifted her with an American Anthology of Humorous Literature for Teens that was published in the 1960s.

The short story of Tom Sawyer painting the white fence was in the book as was a piece from Little Women. Abraham Lincoln had an entry as did Hellen Keller and Edgar Allen Poe.

I loved the book and was excited to hand it on to a teen who loved to read.

A woman holds up books
(Jullia holds some of the books in the BUY pile.)

Dasha lives in Kiev, Ukraine and complained that during the winter when the days were shorter and there was no electricity due to the war, she had to spend her daylight hours doing homework and couldn’t read for fun. She was excited to get a book that could help her improve her English during the summer, when there was more daylight to read by.

After I gave it to her, I regretted that I didn’t also buy her a necklace or something personal. After all, she is fifteen. During her visit to Krakow, I treated her to dinners and ice creams. Hopefully building memories was more valuable than some necklace that I might have bought for her.

But when it came to the children at the refugee center, my stay in Poland was short; I didn’t have enough time to build memories with them.

A woman stands in front of a bookstore holding two heavy bags of books.
(Jullia holds two heavy bags of books.)

Books. I could gift them with an assortment of books.

I know what will happen to the books. Some will be written in. Some will be ripped. Some will be hidden so only one child knows where to find them. Some will be fought over and others ignored.

That’s okay with me.

Not every child will be excited to see a collection of books in his/her primary language. That’s okay.

These books are for the children who love to read. And maybe a child or two will learn to love reading from this small collection.

Because that’s how a love of books starts: one book at a time.

Jullia piles books on the counter of the bookstore in Lviv, Ukraine. these Ukrainian books will be gifted to a refugee center in Krakow.




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