Manjhi in Many Languages: Room to Read Moves Mountains

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I was thrilled to open up a fat envelope and find copies of Manjhi Moves a Mountain in eight languages spoken in India and Sri Lanka.

Thanks goes to Room to Read, a remarkable charitable organization, based in San Francisco, that is dedicated to providing children in literature-deprived communities with books in their spoken language.

“The children we serve do not have access to any high quality children’s books in a language they can read,” Christabel Pinto, the organization’s Global Literacy Director, wrote me in an email. “An early childhood with zero books seems unimaginable to me, but it’s an unfortunate reality for too many. And Room to Read (RtR) works in communities that do not have a culture of reading in countries that do not have developed children’s book publishing industries, so we are starting from scratch.”

Manjhi Moves a Mountain  in Tamil, a language spoken in Sri Lanka

Manjhi Moves a Mountain in Tamil, a language spoken in Sri Lanka

It seems fitting that the story of Dashrath Manjhi, the hero of Manjhi Moves a Mountain, would promote literacy. After all, Manjhi spent 22 years chiseling a path through a 300-foot mountain in his native India to help kids in his poor village get to school on the other side.

I created a program to honor Manjhi called MOVE YOUR OWN MOUNTAIN where kids share how they are moving mountains in their schools and communities by doing kind things for others. There’s no question in my mind that Room to Read is moving mountains every day by commissioning these translations and bringing them to kids in need.

On the Move Your Own Mountain page: Pia Allibhoy, 8, is making a difference like Manjhi by inviting friends who sit on the buddy bench to join her games. She also volunteers at her local pet shelter once a week. She says that when she grows up she is going to become a culinary chemist and invent new foods to help the world get healthy. Thank you, Pia, for spreading kindness and sharing this beautiful picture of yourself playing with a kitten at the animal shelter. #PiaMovesMountains

On the Move Your Own Mountain page: Pia Allibhoy, 8, is making a difference like Manjhi by inviting friends who sit on the buddy bench to join her games. She also volunteers at her local pet shelter once a week. She says that when she grows up she is going to become a culinary chemist and invent new foods to help the world get healthy. Thank you, Pia, for spreading kindness and sharing this beautiful picture of yourself playing with a kitten at the animal shelter. #PiaMovesMountains

Manjhi never expected or wanted anything in return for helping the people in his village. When the government of India thanked him by giving him land, this man who had never owned any land in his life gave it to his village in the hope that people would build a school and a hospital.

Now the story of this man who dedicated his life to helping kids get an education is educating kids who live in India and Sri Lanka, who speak Hindi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Nepali, Tamil and Sinhala, thanks to Room to Read. Plus, in a separate and also wonderful effort, National Braille Press has made Manjhi available in Braille. While Room to Read translations aren’t available to the general public — yet — you can buy Manjhi in Braille on the National Braille Press website here.

Manjhi Moves a Mountain in Gujarati, translated by Room to Read

Manjhi Moves a Mountain in Gujarati, translated by Room to Read

I am grateful that this true story, exquisitely illustrated by Danny Popovici in watercolors, published by Creston Books and distributed by Lerner Books, has won many awards that have brought it attention. Among them: the 2018 South Asia Book Award, the 2019 Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award, a Junior Library Guild selection, a National Council for the Social Studies Notable, an International Literacy Association Choice and a California Reading Association Silver Eureka.

When I thanked Christabel Pinto from Room to Read for choosing Manjhi to translate, the awards were never mentioned. Instead, I received this lovely response that suggests Manjhi made his own special connection with the committee that chooses books: “We are equally thrilled to have your wonderful book as part of the collection of books we can offer some of the world’s neediest children! Thank *you* for your gift of storytelling and for joining us on our mission in this way. We are very grateful. When we shared options for books that could be translated for use to our country teams, they chose your book. It’s a sweet and inspiring story, and I love it too.”

I’ve been turning the translated books over and over in my hands, filled with wonder. It’s always a thrill to see books translated and to imagine the adventures they will have in other lands. But in this case, the best part has been seeing Manhi’s story fulfill the mission of the real Manjhi — to help the children and make the world a better place. That makes me most thankful of all.

For more on Room to Read and how to support its mission, click here.

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Manjhi Moves a Mountain  in Sinhala, translated by Room to Read

Manjhi Moves a Mountain in Sinhala, translated by Room to Read