Kids 1. Cynicism 0.


The car park in the neighbouring mall has been full for over an hour. Cars are prowling the lanes looking for a space and overflowing into the curling club parking lot further down the road.

People of all ages stream along the sidewalks and traffic is backed up as they cross the road, all making for the auditorium.

Inside, with curtain time still an hour away, there is already standing room only. Some seats have been claimed for two hours or more.

What’s going on? Big win bingo? A revival meeting? A royal visit? A surprise appearance by T. Swift or Drake or J. Bieber or M. Bublé or all four?

Nope. Just the elementary school Christmas concert.

I have the pleasure and privilege of playing for a couple of classes. I’m early and take a stroll through the school. The kids – button shirts and ties and dresses and lots of ruffles and frills and hair teased into curls and ringlets – are strewn all over the floor and perched on desks because their chairs have been seconded for the audience in the gym-turned-auditorium. All the doors are welcomingly open, security measures (Visitors Please Report to the Office! Alarm Will Sound If This Door is Opened!) happily neglected for the day, and parents and grandparents and friends and high school kids wander through the hallways and classrooms.

Until … showtime!

In the auditorium, with all seats taken, people stand two or three deep at the sides and the back. The first class is on stage and the next already lined up in the hallway ready to move in as the first files out. Tension crackles the air.

Applause still sounding, the first performers stagger from the stage, giggling and gasping and pretend collapsing against one another. “I couldn’t breathe.” “I felt sick to my stomach.” “I thought I was going to pee my pants.” (It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.)

Next class is already on stage. A girl faints and a teacher’s assistant gently gathers her up and carries her out. Right on cue, the third class is marching down the hallway, ready for the ordeal.

And thus it continues. The same old songs, some spiced up with a new take, a few new ones.

Easy to be cynical and jaded about all this after so many school Christmas concerts.

But for the kids, when it’s all over, and you didn’t mess up, at least not too badly – what inimitable rush of adrenalin and excitement and exhilaration and achievement, remembering and savouring the buzz and hum and settling silence of the audience as the curtains opened, the heat seeking missile gaze of your family searching you out, the smiles, the discreet waves, the adoring faces, incandescent with admiration, like you’re a movie star – how can it ever be topped? Christmas Day will surely be an anticlimax now.

After the concert, by unspoken tradition, the mass exodus for a de facto afternoon off, not an official afternoon off, and discouraged by the school district authorities, but right now who cares about them, and anyway how would you ever settle down to work after such excitement and brilliance and adulation?

And who knows when they’ll come again?


And the winners are …


It was exciting this week to receive copies of the three winning books in the 2013 Burt Award for Young Adult Literature in Ethiopia. Congratulations to the winners, and to everyone at CODE-Ethiopia for their administration of the award and for seeing the winning books through to publication.

I had the privilege of sitting on the jury, first to establish a shortlist, and then to select the winners from a stack of entries. We met for three days at the Rosemary Hotel in Bishoftu (formerly Debra Zeyit), a town about 30 miles from Addis Ababa, situated among seven crater lakes at an elevation of 6,300 ft.

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I was on the jury again this year, to choose the 2014 winners, but this time took part at a distance, emailing my responses and thoughts about the manuscripts while the jury deliberated, a system that wasn’t ideal, of course, but still worked surprisingly well (with the added advantage for the jury of not having to listen to me).

The 2013 winners are: The Revelation, by Kibrom Gebremedhin, Behind the Invisible Bars, by Eyob Getahun, and Breaking the Chain, by Daniel Negash.

In The Revelation an earnest and ambitious university student struggles against the obstacles of a broken family and uncaring fellow students. Kibrom Gebremedhin, a poet, is a senior corporate communications expert in Addis Ababa.

Breaking the Chain takes its young adult readers on a wild and exciting adventure in which a young woman takes on human traffickers, corruption, and organ harvesting at the same time as she struggles with conflict within her family. Daniel Negash, an accountant, has eight children’s books, written in the Amharic language, in publication.

In Behind the Invisible Bars two struggling young people of Addis Ababa, a blind girl and a petty thief, embark on a mission that takes them into a dark and dangerous world of greed and kidnapping. Eyob Getahun has published three books in Amharic, including Yaltenore Lijnet (Robbed Childhood), which is based on a true story.

CODE (the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education) supports literacy and learning in Canada and around the world. Its international programmes encourage development through education through support to libraries, and professional development for teachers, as well as national and local book publishing in 20 languages.

Sad Luddite

Came across this provocative stat the other day: Ninety per cent of books bought now are bought in digital form.

Ninety per cent!

The stat was quoted by a publisher. A publisher that publishes only e-books.


My first thought: That statistic does not correspond with the reality I perceive, of book buying friends, and line ups of book toting customers at the book store, and people staggering from the library with books falling from their arms.

But then N. reminded me: It’s the kids and the young adults, i.e. the book buyers of the future, who slant the stat towards e-books.

So – are we heading for a future of digital books only, the shelves at the book stores and the libraries doomed to emptiness (maybe book stores and libraries themselves doomed to extinction)?

Nothing against e-books. I see their advantages … the world-wide distribution within seconds of ‘publication’ (breathtaking, isn’t it?), and the saving of trees, and the instant reception of a book you want to own (no trip to the book store, no waiting for Amazon to deliver, no going on a waiting list at the library), their easy portability (you can travel with a whole library), no danger from having a book crash into your face when falling asleep while reading in bed.

Still – just hate to see ‘real’ books – with their feel and their smell and their ease of riffling through and finding well-loved passages and being able to look back and ahead to check on something you may have missed (yes, I know you can do that with an e-book, but it really doesn’t seem so easy) – just hate to see them disappear completely.

You detect a note of Ludditism? Dead right.

Am I alone, pathetically shouting into a real-book-less future, “Hang on. I don’t think this is such a good idea”?