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Publishing children's books – and delivering them by elephant

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The mission of the small but thriving enterprise, which has a bookish cartoon mouse as its logo, is to "make literacy fun for children in Laos."

On a recent Friday morning, Alyson and several of his helpers were in Pakseuang to hold a "book party" at the local elementary school. They led the children in playing games and singing songs with words like "Books are good/ Books make me smart."

The children then each had their pick from a stash of new books – and instantly lost themselves in them. Khamla, a shy 9-year-old with a Young Pioneer's red kerchief, chose "Animals of Africa." At a previous book party she received "The Monkey King" storybook.

"When I read, I feel happy," she says.

Based in a modest two-story house in Luang Prabang, Alyson and his two dozen helpers produce more than 30 new titles a year in print runs of 6,000 copies each: colorful alphabet books, science primers, fairy tales, and folk tales. All the books are produced in-house and most are written by "Uncle Sasha" and his Laotian staff.

"When I was 7, my parents bought me 'The Cat in the Hat.' That turned me on to reading," Alyson says. "Most Laotian children have no comparable memories. Many don't even know what a book is. Sometimes you have to show them how to turn a page."

Inspired by the playful style of Dr. Seuss, Alyson, who taught himself to read and write the Lao language, has penned more than two dozen children's books.

"New, Improved Buffalo," for one, tells the story of a village boy who outfits his trusted mount in various ways, much to the animal's dismay. Like all the publisher's books, it's printed on glossy paper and illustrated in a charming, idiosyncratic style by local teenage artists recruited from schools and villages through drawing competitions. It sells for just 15,000 kip ($2).

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