By Norris Burkes Sep 12, 2021

Last year, I escorted a gaggle of readers to Republica De Francia, a school inside the gang-ridden neighborhood of Honduras’ capitol, Tegucigalpa. We were there to help Chispa Project establish a library. As most of you are aware, my daughter, Sara, began Chispa Project in 2014 to create libraries in Honduran elementary schools. 

As we inventoried the library collection of 2,000 books, the volunteers and I were surprised to recognize some of our own family favorites translated into Spanish.  

Today, my wife, Becky, and I want to use my annual book-review column to recommend the children’s authors we shared with our children. Many are titles that can be found among the diverse collections of Chispa libraries and, if you volunteer in 2022, you may find your favorite books as well.  

Discovering a children’s author that you love opens up a whole world of new learning. Standard collections include Dr. Seuss books as well as E.B. White’s classic, “Charlotte’s Web.” Consider adding any of Laura Numeroff ‘s books that began with “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” illustrated by Felicia Bond.

In addition to those authors, our Honduran libraries carry books by Eric Carle, who wrote one of the five top-selling children’s books of all time, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” 

Carle enhances his books with tactile methods that include tissue paper collage, hole punches, textured lines, and other, almost impressionist-type artwork. From his 70-plus books, we recommend “A Very Busy Spider” or “A House for Hermit Crab.” 

Becky’s favorite author, Patricia Polacco, uses her illustrations to recreate renditions of her Russian roots. Her popular, “Rechenka’s Eggs” describes the relatable Russian tradition of painting eggs for Easter. Despite the fact that she had difficulty learning to read in elementary school, Polacco has written over 100 books. Look for “Thank You, Mr. Falker,” her homage to the teacher who taught her to read.  

In her series about a curious and pesky little sister, Beverly Cleary made the Ramona character hysterically famous. Also, don’t miss Ralph, her character in “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.” This book has entertained children for decades as a spiritually relevant story of friendship and sacrifice. Cleary’s artists continue to update her books, infusing interest for multiple generations.

Arnold Lobel writes the early reader series “Frog and Toad” which translates well in several cultures. The two amphibian friends become close despite their differences. Don’t be fooled by the easy language and simple pictures. The stories provide thought-provoking meaning even while readers erupt in laughter. Parents can have fun with children by dramatizing the two characters in various ways.

A more recent book on the Chispa Project list is award-winning Jacqueline Woodson’s  “The Day You Begin.” The book examines the loneliness of feeling different while helping children discover that they are not alone. The artwork by Rafael Lopéz adds considerable inspiration.

Becky and I read these picture books to our children and grandchildren as early as the week they were born. But most children in Honduras have never seen a picture book since they are too expensive compared to a family’s priority to feed their children. 

Chispa libraries give me a chance to pass on the love of reading. We share our family favorites mixed with new titles by Latino/a authors and Honduran classics. The variety allows these kids and their parents to discover their own favorites.

Please write to me with your book suggestions for our Chispa library. And then consider joining Becky and me on our next volunteer trip in 2022 to give kids their first book. But – fair warning – our volunteers often find themselves like Numeroff ‘s character in “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” They come back again and again.

Volunteer trips scheduled in May and July 2022. Donations for the Chispa project accepted online or by check. 

Contact Chaplain Norris at or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.