Great Granny Goes to Afghanistan

Posted on July 8, 2010


(This story was first published in the July 1, 2010 edition of the Elk Rapids News.)

Betty loves to read the thank you notes children send her

People who live in Antrim County know about Betty Beeby’s art. They read Whistle Up the Bay at school, or their children bring home a copy of Mrs. Squid. They visit the author/illustrator’s studio in Eastport. They take pictures of the Bear that graces River Street. Betty has given away hundreds of her books around here. Now people in a troubled land far away will be introduced to northern Michigan through Betty’s eyes.

Last week 100 copies of Great Granny’s Sturdy Stable Picnic Tables flew off to Afghanistan, a gift from Betty. They are headed to libraries, and to schools where students learn English. Some of them will go to classrooms where younger children can delight in the colorful illustrations of faraway Northern Michigan with no need of any reading at all.

Betty was inspired to make the gift after she read Greg Mortenson’s Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs. She decided to help. How to proceed? She consulted her friend Susan Roggenbeck, who thought that military channels might be helpful. Susan says she called “anyone I knew that knew anyone in the service!” Eventually she found her way to Connie Turner, who lives in Alba and sends cookies to troops overseas. Naturally Connie, the Cookie Lady, has a great many devoted contacts in the military, and pretty soon Susan heard from them.

At first they were skeptical. “The books are in English,” they pointed out. Yes, said Betty, but they were children’s books, and the illustrations told the story all by themselves. The military contacts talked to a translator, who was interested. The books would be useful in English classes. They weren’t . . . political? No. No politics. They weren’t . . . on religious subjects? No. They were storybooks—brightly illustrated storybooks that children would love. And they were true. They were all about Bertha Brinker, who used to make cedar picnic tables in Eastport 60 years ago.

Oh. OK. The books went off by regular U.S. Mail, just like the cookies do. “The person at the Kewadin Post Office was really helpful,” says Susan. Her boss, Rick Young of the Village Market, paid the freight. And that is how some children in Afghanistan will learn that Michigan is a place with blue water and big trees, where an artist and a local grocer are thinking of them, and wishing them well.