Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

On Saturday, January 24, 2009, Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea for adults as well as a new young reader's edition by the same title and a picture book called Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea, spoke to a packed auditorium at Ann Arbor's Huron High School. Mr. Mortenson (he is a nurse but not a doctor) has gained well deserved praise for his work to bring schools to remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His work began when he was trying to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, as a memorial to his sister. He got lost after failing to reach the summit and wandered into a small village. After they nursed him back to health, he stayed to learn more about the village. He saw the children gathering in a clearing and scratching in the dirt with sticks to try to learn from the teacher who could not come to the town every day. He vowed to build them a school.

The books all tell this story and how he worked to get the school built in that first town. His fund raising was truly grassroots. It did not become productive until he got school children in the United States behind his project. Children collected their pennies to make major contributions to his building projects. As his funding grew from children and adults, the scope of Mr. Mortenson's project grew as well. Now he has funded and helped build more than sixty schools for both boys and girls in remote areas that previously had little or no educational opportunities for their children.

There are many ways that you can learn more about Greg Mortenson, his books, and his work.

You can visit his personal website.

You can read more about the books at the website linked to Amazon.

You can learn more about Mortenson's Central Asia Institute at its website.

You can learn how to schools are helping to support the building of peace and schools at the Pennies for Peace website.

I have great praise and admiration for what Greg Mortenson has done and continues to do. He is a moving speaker who clearly believes strongly in what he is doing and makes great personal sacrifices to see that his work will continue.

With that in mind, it gives me great pain to complain about his books. It seems that all too often books about good and meaningful things are poorly written. I enjoyed reading Three Cups of Tea for what it talked about. It was exciting at times and interesting. It was inspiring. It was not, however, an enjoyable read. The ghost writer usually writes for Parade Magazine--the one that comes in Sunday newspapers. Unfortunately, he writes this book much like he writes his brief magazine articles. Sometimes they simply fall flat. It gives the book the book a feeling of being rushed and not of great importance to the ghost writer. Where Mortenson's voice comes through is where the most inspiration appears.

The young readers version, while also important to be read, is a bit "dumbed down" for my taste. The questions in the end for Amira Mortenson get a little simplistic, though Amira's voice is clear and real. The study guide, like so many book club or readers' guides, asks questions that are too fact related ("What is the name of ________?") or that will not lead to discussions that will last longer than a couple of sentences. This is a big complaint of mine about most of these end-of-the-book questions. Please read this book. It is valid. It is important. It just is not that well written.

I love the pictures in the picture book. They are marvelous collages that give a feeling of warmth and depth. The writing will not win awards, but the point will get across to the youngest reader that it is important to give of one's self.

Read these books. Think about what Greg Mortenson is doing and how it will positively change the world.

1 comment:

Kerry said...

I agree with your thoughts about the discussion questions. They do not provide actual discussion. Have you come across any good discussion questions?