Heartfelt promises - in story form

Principles: At a reading in Columbia, Alma Powell, wife of the U.S. secretary of state, tells a tale about the five things every child should be assured.

October 22, 2003|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Alma Powell never had writer's block.

When the first-time author penned a children's book last year, she found the writing part surprisingly trouble-free.

"It was simply building a story around the five promises," Powell said yesterday at Howard County's Central Library, where she read her book, America's Promise, to about 60 third-graders from Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia.

She explained that the promises are the building blocks that all children need to become productive, healthy citizens: caring adults, safe places with structured activities, a healthy start, marketable skills through effective education and the opportunity to give back through community service.

The promises reflect the guiding principles of America's Promise, a nonprofit organization committed to helping the nation's poor children through volunteer efforts. It solicits pledges from corporations, civic and charity groups and community leaders.

America's Promise has particular significance for Powell, who is a co-chairwoman of the group. Her husband, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, helped launch the initiative in 1997.

Yesterday, the children from Bryant Woods Elementary sat cross-legged before Powell, waiting for her to begin reading.

"My book has a story to tell, but it also has a lesson to teach," Powell told them. "Some children don't have all they need to be successful, and we live in such a wonderful country we can't let any of them down."

It was at an America's Promise staff meeting that the thought of a related book was first mentioned.

"The idea for me was to write a book for children so they would know the promises we were making to them," said Powell, who also wrote a companion book, My Little Wagon, for toddlers.

America's Promise, for children ages 4 to 8, begins as a bear family is settling into a new neighborhood. Leaving the house to start her new job, Momma Bear tells her two bears, Honey and Benji, that they have to go to a day care center until she finds a baby sitter for them. Reluctant at first, the bears have fun at the center - where they have healthful snacks - and make friends with the other animals there.

They visit a friend who works at his father's store, and then the bison mayor asks for help clearing a vacant lot to make way for a town park.

The pupils from Bryant Woods had no problem identifying the fulfilled promises in the story.

"Here you are in a safe place to learn with all these caring people around you," Powell said. "But it's up to you to think about how you can give back to your community. Sometimes it's in church, sometimes it's with neighbors, and sometimes you can get together and think up your own project."

After the reading, the children had questions for Powell.

Do you have grandchildren? "I have a grandson who's 9, one who is 14, and one who is 8 months."

What's your favorite book? "When I was a little girl, I loved Heidi."

Do you have an idea for another children's book? "I do have an idea, but it's not quite together in my head yet."

Powell's visit, sponsored by Friends of the Howard County Library, was scheduled after Ruth Newton, the branch manager at Ellicott City's Miller branch library, attended a book party for Powell in Washington. Newton was invited through a-friend-of-a-friend connection, and when she had the chance she asked Powell whether she would speak in Howard County.

All of the children at yesterday's reading received a signed copy of Powell's book.

She said she is donating the proceeds from the sale of her books to America's Promise.

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