Seeing Each Other via Books

Keynote address given by publisher Karl Beckstrand to the Utah Educational Library Media Association, Weber State University, 6 March 2020

How important is it that kids see themselves in books?

I’m no childhood development expert; I hope you can look past any incorrect terminology I may use and hear what I hope to convey regarding inclusion.

I was raised in paradise. San Jose, California was founded by Hispanics while the 13 British colonies were starting a war of independence in the East. Nearly half of my home town was Latino. In my day Silicon Valley was drawing high tech experts from all over the world, so my typical childhood classroom was a mini-United Nations.

I was short. I wasn’t one of the rich kids. My mom suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and a neck injury from a childhood accident. So I often arrived at school in yesterday’s clothes and without a lunch. I wasn’t just ostracized by my peers; one teacher type-cast me as Pig Pen in the Peanuts play. I was also a minority as far as the dominant religion of the area.

But my creativity was nourished and my mom often spoke to me in her broken college Spanish. She had gone to school in segregated Virginia and later developed a special bond with the black community in California.

I served as a volunteer missionary in Chile for a couple years and, more recently, served six years in a Spanish-speaking congregation here in Utah—I use my Spanish more here than I ever did in California!

I hated writing as a kid and—do I confess to a group of bibliophiles? —reading! When I was in the third grade I got the measles and my grandmother bought me a chapter book, Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. That is the first time I remember enjoying a non-picture book. I was transported to a world of adventure.

So how did I come to publish multicultural books? A journalism major offered a short path to graduation. But it gave me writing chops, which have helped me publish a western novel and several biographies.

While I should have been doing homework, I got ambushed by story ideas, which would not let me rest until I scribbled them down. Ten years after getting my undergraduate degree I went to a League of Utah Writers social (not even an actual meeting), manuscripts in hand. A gentleman I met there published my first book. Unfortunately, he died the day my book went to print. I was forced to learn book marketing on my own.

Another publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew a story in my family history about a girl who came to America alone and not knowing English. That story became Anna’s Prayer—and I got hooked on family history (hence the many biographies in the works).

Language can be a huge divider. What other ways distinguish us—might make a person feel “other than”? Race, sex, dominant culture, religion, socioeconomic level, physical challenges, age, name, legal status, clothing choices, sexual orientation, size, accent, abuse, health challenges, urban or rural background, single parent/grandparent/foster parent, incarcerated parent, deceased parent, parent in the military, politics, literacy/education, mental health, learning disability, neighborhood, family, appearance—or a person may simply be the designated outcast of the group.

Why is it so common for mortals to categorize each other in ways that separate us from those who are different? I do it. Humans compare (we’re often insecure and we think comparing will make it better!).

But life is complex and it’s natural to want simplicity; and categories can simplify things in our minds. So I blame no one for seeking ways to simplify. Yet, how wonderful is it that life keeps throwing differences in our faces—giving us opportunity after opportunity to re-evaluate those simplistic boxes in our minds. Thinking requires effort, but thought and complexity also reward us.

Now that I’m over 50, I’m finding how wonderful it is to not be certain of much! Don’t misunderstand; there are things I am certain of—like the people I love. But when I am not certain of something, I tend to learn and grow. Some “growth” we fear. Let me promise you now: you can never be poorer or baser for having seen a new perspective.

Uncertainty requires courage. Facing fear is a continual theme in my stories. I think many adults are more afraid than they need to be—and that impacts children. How can you best bless a young person? Be brave and optimistic. Even when the worst case scenario unfolds, we are typically more capable than we realize, and unanticipated support often appears. Things are seldom as bad as we can imagine.

I don’t publish books about diversity or multiculturalism. That would be boring. My books don’t preach social justice, and I don’t portray characters of color to be trendy. I like to show the world as I know it—based on my minority status growing up and my observations in four continents and 12 countries. I believe travel is the best education.

If you’re like me, you love learning while being entertained. Many of our books are written in Dyslexic-friendly font. They cover cooking, generosity, astronomy, finance, and habitat conservation. They also have subtle humor and surprise endings. I tend to produce more picture books than other titles because they can be published more quickly than novels or non-fiction—and story ideas continue to hound me.

Since I’ve taught English as a Second Language to immigrants for more than 20 years, making my books in bilingual and Spanish editions was a no brainer. They come with a pronunciation guide in both languages. Since I’m learning German, language-learning challenges remain fresh in my brain. I have more than one native professional Spanish editor, since some terms can mean different things depending on the country.

Can one publisher realistically portray all cultures, circumstances, faiths, or families? I don’t think so. Will an Arab child be harmed if she or he never sees an Arab character in a book? I’m not sure they would be; children have wonderful imaginations and—like you—can typically identify with the feelings or situations in a book regardless of outward differences. Even in middle-grade or Y.A. literature, authors seem to devote less time to a character’s physical description. I think that is laudable (and good for sales) in that the reader is more able to envision him/herself in the protagonist’s shoes.

Here’s a tip for aspiring writers/illustrators: Some books have animal or non-human protagonists—which can be easy for just about anyone to identify with. Certainly children’s imaginations facilitate this kind of connection. Still, a child WILL notice if they never encounter their own culture or circumstances or choices in literature. And that would be sad. So we try to portray as many kinds of characters as we can.

Our books aren’t necessarily books about cultures. I’m not trying to ignore cultural differences, but to normalize everyone, showing how much we all have in common. Regardless of origin or creed, most of us experience the same kinds of desires, fears, joys, family highs and lows; and of course we all need food, clothing, and shelter. No one culture has a monopoly on loneliness or loss or love, on blended or divided families, on oppression or oppressiveness, on a love for music, on a desire for justice.

Yet, I think there is a real danger in our quest for justice or equality. That is the danger of thinking we know best how to spot and solve inequities. For most of my life I believed in meritocracy—that people should be rewarded or trusted based on their choices or performance. I felt this was a good standard because it wasn’t based on physical appearance. But meritocracy has its flaws too. It can delude a person into thinking that his or her choices alone determine outcomes and happiness. Worse, meritocracy can lead to discrimination in that we can categorize people as “smart” or “good choosers” based solely on outcomes. But we can’t truly see all the factors behind “success” or “failure.”

I’ve noted that individuals (and groups) are prone to carry both praise and blame beyond what is appropriate; And that I am never in a position to judge a person based on outward appearances or even success. Individuals who seek to improve things based on outward signs alone can end up creating new problems. In this land, where human rights are so valued, our quest for equality has begun to trample the rights of the most important minority: the individual.

Perhaps the greatest individual right that sparked our war of independence was the right to worship according to individual conscience. Whitney Clayton said, “If you believe public and private institutions should credit the dignitary claims of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities, then please consider that many of the same reasons for doing so apply with equal…force to the dignitary claims of religious believers.”

The right to choose and publicly express one’s faith is one of the main reasons America separated from England. While some think faith choices are as casual as selecting a t-shirt, my convictions are the core of my identity. If you doubt that religion should have special protection under the law, consider the millions of hours of voluntary service to community and billions of dollars donated to charity each year by people of faith. Were the government to attempt to replace that giving with tax funds, it would bankrupt the nation. What would happen to crime, courts, and prisons if people of faith could no longer provide scriptural arguments for honesty or integrity? Where I grew up, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a teacher or student who believes it illegal to discuss religious texts or God in schools. Our Constitution guarantees every person the right to study and speak of faith in school.

Now, why is our country so accomplished in so many areas? It is obviously not because of a single superior race or religion or sex or caste. It couldn’t be because our shared language facilitates innovation (those of us who have taught English know it’s terribly difficult). Our country has proven the value of a free marketplace of ideas and, gradually, of finding value in all corners from all cultures and all kinds of people. Many of us know that regardless of how someone appears or talks or worships he or she may be creating the next iPhone or a cure for cancer. While crony capitalism is repugnant, the free competition of capitalism—yes, for profit—has fed more people than any other system to date.

Wilfred McClay said, “For the human animal, meaning is not a luxury; it is a necessity.…[W]ithout the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are. Without them…we cannot…learn, use language, pass on knowledge, raise children, establish rules of conduct, engage in science, or dwell harmoniously in society. Without them, we cannot govern ourselves.”

Isaac Bashevis Singer: said, “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts—only for the day.”

McClay goes on, “A fair and accurate account…must be far more than a compilation of failings and crimes. It must give credence to the aspirational dimension of a nation’s life, and particularly for so aspirational a nation as the United States. A proper history of America must do this without evading the fact that we’ve often failed miserably, fallen short, and done terrible things. We have not always been a land of hope for everyone—for a great many, but not for all. And so our sense of hope has a double-edged quality about it: to be a land of hope is also to risk being a land of disappointment,…even a land of disillusionment. To understand our history is to experience these negative things. But we wouldn’t experience them so sharply if we weren’t a land of hope, if we didn’t embrace that outlook and aspiration.…[W]e Americans allow ourselves to get our hopes up—and that is always risky.”

John dos Pasos said, “[Our ancestors] were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts; they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it. In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking.”

McClay goes on, “that ‘idiot delusion of the exceptional Now’ expresses something that nearly all of us who teach history run up against. It’s harder than usual today to get young people interested in the past because they are so firmly convinced that we’re living in a time so unprecedented, enjoying pocket-sized technologies that are so transformative, that there’s no point in looking at what went on in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To them the past has been superseded—just as our present world is forever in the process of being superseded.

“While this posture may be ill-informed and lazy, a way to justify not learning anything, it also represents a genuine conviction, amply reinforced by the endless passing parade of sensations and images in which we are enveloped—one thing always being succeeded by something else, nothing being permanent,…always moving,…moving into a new exceptional Now. But it is a childish and disabling illusion that must be countered.”

Have you noticed that anti-Semitism is growing again? That the rising generation thinks consolidating power into the hands of a few is a good idea? You are in a special position to help young people know the truth. To know that blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians fought for our independence. That one of America’s first millionaires was a black woman (a hundred years before Oprah). Regardless of whether you believe in a creator, you can educate people how rights are not a gift from governments, but are inherent to every individual. That every person is free to choose his/her thoughts and—at least here—actions; that we are not tumbleweeds at the mercy of the elite.

Our system seeks imperfectly to ensure equal opportunity for every individual. No system, no person can guarantee equal outcomes for all. Because an Asian family appears to have all the resources and education it needs to prosper, doesn’t mean we can see their disadvantages. How arrogant to presume that they experience no opposition and that another culture exclusively owns disadvantage? If reparations are needed, they must come only from those who caused harm and go only directly to those actually injured.

People condemn our nation and Constitution saying they were built on slavery. They ignore that slavery was a global infection and that churches and states of Western Civilization (including ours) were the pioneers of abolition and eradicated slavery in our part of the world (today slavery is worse than ever in much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East). If you read the first draft of our Declaration of Independence, you’ll see that our founders wanted to end slavery, but southern states wouldn’t join the fight against England if those words remained. And if America wasn’t strong enough to gain independence, it would not be able make changes of its own accord.

Our young people need to know how these things were accomplished in such a difficult world. Our secret is in allowing anyone a chance to dream and the opportunity to try for those aspirations. To this day, liberty and equality have to be fought for—but they bear astounding fruits.

My new philosophy (to quote Sally from Peanuts) is to extend love and kindness and opportunity where I can to anyone I meet—because he/she is a fellow creature—and I have no hope of knowing all a person’s circumstances. Since I can’t know all the merit/lack of merit of someone’s choices, I’ve gone from lazy categorizations of ignorance to mindful complexity—back to simplicity in seeking to extend love and respect to everyone on the merit of being a being. I have a long way to go in implementation; but it’s a simplicity not based on laziness (though it has the benefits of laziness:)

Difference is beauty. It is the dynamo of prosperous community. It enriches us all. Your family life alone tells you that we grow because of adaptation brought about by differences. Whether we see our connectedness or not, we are all interconnected and benefit from every other culture.

Printing, gunpowder, and the gear came from China; the turbine from Africa; Algebra from Arabia; the zero, compass, and steel from India; irrigation from Iran; the Piano and Glasses from Italy; the telescope from the Netherlands; the telegraph from Switzerland; Smallpox vaccine, slide rule, and steam engine from England; the electromagnet, radio, and morphine from Germany; refrigeration and penicillin from Scotland; the antenna from Japan; dynamite from Sweden; the electric motor from Russia; the internal combustion engine and automobile from France; the telephone, TV, PC, Laser, and light bulb from America. Much of the world enjoys American music which is a mixture of African, Celtic, Creole, and spirituals. Perhaps most importantly, Chocolate came from Latin America.

If a child feels her/his culture or circumstance is valued, she or he will feel more a part of the community, he or she will be more confident to speak up and share ideas—perhaps lifesaving or life enriching ideas. We are a robust nation because we have valued ideas and effort, regardless of source!

Are you a librarian who isn’t afraid to give a child a book with a difficult vocabulary? I hope you’ll also be fearless in sharing complex ideas too! If you’re looking for resources or guidance on equity amid differences, see http://Ready.web.unc.edu/.

How much more enriched will we be as we seek to cast off our categories and see one another for the glorious miracle that each of us is? This is my invitation to you.

[See Wilfred McClay’s book: Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story]

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018

Tomorrow is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I encourage you to check out the links here and get/give books that reflect our diverse world.

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

MCBD2018 Book Reviewer Sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/our-programs/reviewer-tools-works/

MCBD2018 Offline Classroom Celebration sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/category/offline-classroomlibrary-event-project/

MCBD2018 Book Donator details and sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/sponsorship/sponsorship-info/authors-donate-a-book/

MCBD2018- Ways to celebrate January 22-27 http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/how-to-get-involved-in-multicultural-childrens-book-day-2018-for-a-week/

Free Classroom Empathy Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/mcbd2018s-free-classroom-empathy-kit-is-here-empathy-immigration/

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Diverse Books in Your Home Library: Parenting Global Kids: https://theeducatorsspinonit.com/20…

Multicultural Book blogs:

http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/how-to-get-involved-in-multicultural-childrens-book-day-2018-for-a-week/

Jump Into A Book

https://www.imyourneighborbooks.org

https://diversebookfinder.org

https://readingcultr.wordpress.com

https://PragmaticMom.com

GozoBooks.com

Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

Russian Books for Children https://theeducatorsspinonit.com/20…

Social Media and Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with is on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MulticulturalChildrensBookDay

Twitter https://twitter.com/MCChildsBookDay

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/readyourworldmcbd/

SPONSORS – PLATINUM: Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD: Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER: Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

Muffy as a puppy, me and my dog, book cover Muffy & Valor: A True Story

My Dog – Bodyguard to a German Shepherd

The only dog I ever had was Muffy. We got her from a neighbor when I was seven—though we didn’t have high hopes of keeping her (my dad had dispatched with a cat we’d had). But we four kids pleaded so earnestly that we wore him down.

Muff was a mutt—part Maltese and part ?? But she was instantly a special part of the family. My brother Nels trained her (using cheese) to sit, shake, roll over, and eventually to close the front door. She hated getting bathed—but was at her most playful immediately afterward.

In 1977, while my mother was on a trip to Scotland and my father on business in Alaska, we three younger kids were farmed out to stay with family. Nels held the fort at home in California. One day, he came home to find Muffy licking a wound in her side. It didn’t look too bad, but he decided to take her to the vet.

It was actually a deep puncture, most likely a bite from a big dog. Muffy had to have it stitched up with drainage tubes placed to help the healing. We came home to Frankenpup. It was a shock.

I don’t recall Muffy ever liking other dogs but, certainly after this trauma, she went ballistic whenever she caught sight of any dog. It was sometimes easier to just take her barking self back inside the house. This is why what happened next in her life is so miraculous.

One day, my brother Chris and I were out playing when we came across a large German shepherd that had been hit by a car. It was lying in blood. We ran home and told my mom. Always a compassionate woman, she got us in our station wagon and had us show her where the dog was. With no fear of what an injured animal might do to her, she and some onlookers picked up the shepherd and put him in the vehicle.

II.

Without consulting my father, Mom authorized the vet to operate on an unknown dog we weren’t even sure would live. It was an expensive operation. And that was just the beginning of concerns. After the surgery and a day’s rest, the vet wanted the German shepherd off his hands. Where would we take him? —certainly not home to Muffy, our fiend in sheep’s clothing.

We decided to put “Valor,” our name for the injured dog, in a room by himself and keep the door closed. Valor crawled under a desk and collapsed. That was his spot from then on.

The first surprise was that Muffy didn’t bark when we carried this big strange dog into the house (we may have put her in a bedroom at the time). It seemed she could sense or smell the injury. We decided to see how she would respond to Valor. Holding Muff very tightly, we opened the door to Valor’s den.

Still no barking. Muffy sniffed—and pulled with all her strength to get closer to this imposing beast. She seemed to especially note that the dog’s injury (and stitches) were in the very place where she had been hurt. After examining the wound, she immediately curled up and nestled herself against Valor—who seemed quite at home with her there.

The last thing we had expected was to leave the room without our own dog. We got busy (at my dad’s insistence) looking for Valor’s owner. We canvassed the neighborhoods around us, but no one we asked had lost a dog.

III.

Each day Valor got a little stronger. Determined to show he had been raised properly; he wouldn’t empty his bladder on newspapers, but walked out his sliding glass door—painfully—each day to do relieve himself.

Muffy accompanied him like a bodyguard and heaped fury on the poor Husky next door for daring to poke her nose through the fence. Yet with her charge, Muff was a tender companion.

I can’t remember whether we put an ad in the newspaper or my mom saw an ad. I only remember my mom spoke with someone on the phone who had lost two dogs. “Would you like to come see if this dog is yours?” she asked.

Like a true drama, the story gets weird here. The person my mom spoke with on the phone wasn’t the owner of the two lost dogs—but he was surely in the doghouse! His sister had moved and asked him to watch her two dogs in the process. They both promptly escaped him—likely looking for a home that was no longer “home.”

While the brother clearly cared about his sister’s two dogs, he had only found one of the escapees. Many days passed with no sign of the other.

We answered the door and ushered our guest to the den. Standing in the doorway, the man wasn’t sure; the light wasn’t very good under the desk and, with stitches, Valor’s appearance was altered.

But Valor’s tail was all over the place. The man knelt down. Valor struggled to his feet and over to our visitor, licking the tears that were falling from his eyes. It was a special moment—especially for my dad, who was finally reimbursed for the surgery.

Valor was soon home with his longtime friend—a little white dog named Fluffy—really!!

Mom never doubted how the story would turn out (at least she never showed doubt). Our Muffy was not a changed canine; she continued to freak out whenever any other dog appeared. But her time with Valor was noble and sweet and miraculous. I still miss her.

 

My 19th book is the illustrated story of “Muffy & Valor” (with some artistic license). Pre-order the Kindle version now (July 24 release, free for Kindle Unlimited users). If you’re willing to leave a sincere comment online, I’d be happy to share the epub, pdf, or Mobi version at no charge (email: info [at] PremioBooks.com). 700 words in dyslexic-friendly font for ages 4 – 7, Hispanic characters, illustrated by Brandon Rodriguez—with online extras. 28-page, 8.5”x8.5”, hard and soft cover out Sept. 1 (© PremioBooks.com, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, Ingram, Nook, and select retailers, Hard ISBN: 978-0985398842. The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living is free now through the 23rd (it’s never too late to comment on Amazon, Goodreads, iBooks … ).

Serving Brings Happiness

Over the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching English to immigrants on a volunteer basis in both California and Utah. I’ve also been able to donate hundreds of my multicultural/bilingual picture books to refugee and other charitable organizations for language learning. While I’ve been the teacher, it’s been an education for me. Students from Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, and Syria have enriched my world. These people are so grateful for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. (If you don’t yet know that the United States is the greatest country, find a way to live abroad–not simply visit tourist capitals.) While their language abilities vary, they want very much to master English and contribute positively to the community. Some of their stories are too intense for human consumption (and yet these humans have lived them). Sacrifice and struggle seems to be the price to come here. These people are generous with the little they have and are always grateful for help with perhaps the most difficult language in the West. If you can make time to help newcomers, I promise you, it is the cure for self-focus and “the world is going to heck” thinking. Find service opportunities in your area by typing your zip code in the following site: JustServe.org. You will be happier than you are today.

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Folk Tale Shows Kids How to Earn

Adults get business and money-making tips too

Doing things for free may not sound like a great recipe for earning; but a new picture book by a former Silicon Valley recruiter shows how providing free service can build skills, ideas and a reputation — all of which can bring income.

 

“Some people graduate from high school or college and expect to be paid right out of the gate,” said author Karl Beckstrand. “Most employers want experience,” he said. “Seeing problems and providing solutions — even without pay — can give job seekers the edge.”

 

“The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living” (for ages 5 and up) came to Beckstrand after he had visited many schools, observing almost no curriculum on earning money.

 

Beckstrand’s 18th book (number one in three Amazon categories) shows how a child with an eye for solving problems helps some hungry fish and finds a treasure. This illustrated Asian folk tale comes with ideas for businesses, finding customers and managing finances.

 

“I hope it helps bridge the gap,” Beckstrand said, “between what kids aren’t being taught and what they need to know in order to make a living. Money shouldn’t mystify.”

 

Beckstrand, winner of a 2016 International Book Award, says that earners start young — with no expectation of reward. “Doing something for nothing not only helps you feel good,” he said, “it gives you experience, a good reputation and, sometimes, money-making ideas.”

 

“Many children and adults lack confidence that only comes through experience,” said Beckstrand. “We get experience by finding and filling needs, solving problems.”

 

While he wanted to be a rock star, Beckstrand’s first job out of college was as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley. “I got that job because I had worked some summers and semesters as a human resources assistant.”

 

Some of the people Beckstrand recruited had great ability and egos, some had no ability and great egos, but some had an idea of what they didn’t know,” he said. “The latter group had the best chances because they wanted to learn how to bring value.”

 

Beckstrand worked in high tech, sales and public policy before publishing his first book. “I did get to sing professionally,” he said, “even if our band was basically a wedding band. The point is, by trying lots of things I learned what I like and developed skills that help in any industry.”

 

“Maybe you don’t get that Fortune 500 job,” Beckstrand said, “maybe, while you’re serving someone in need, you get an idea the turns into the next Uber or Amazon, only it’s your company.”

 

After a couple of books through other publishers, Beckstrand now runs Premio Publishing in Midvale, Utah. They specialize in multicultural mysteries, biographies and language books for families. “They’re not about race or ethnicity,” said Beckstrand. “They simply happen to have characters of color.” They have received awards and raves from national publications like School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book’s blog and ForeWord Reviews.

 

Even after getting a master’s degree, Beckstrand noted that none of his courses taught earning or managing money. He says his most valuable education has come from running a business and living abroad. He has included tips he has learned in “The Bridge of the Golden Wood,” written in dyslexic-friendly font and available in hard cover (pre-order), soft cover and ebook (free thru July 23 on Kindle) via major distributors and PremioBooks.com.

Beckstrand will contrast traditional with digital or self-publishing on Thursday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Kearns Library, 5350 S. 4220 West in Salt Lake City.

Me, Inside & Out

People often ask me how I—a South African, Scottish Swede—came to speak Spanish. I also get quizzed about being so thin. Both are the result of my LDS mission to Viña del Mar, Chile. Actually, my mom was an enthusiastic student of Spanish, so she spoke broken Spanish to us while we were growing up in San Jose, California (she used to call me Carlos).

If they are physically and mentally healthy, and if they meet the standards of worthiness, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the privilege of serving a volunteer mission when they reach eighteen to twenty something years (also at retirement age). I was healthy, but I’d made some choices that were less than worthy. I remember at 18 going to a room alone and declaring—not to God, but to the devil—that I would qualify to serve a mission no matter what! While my determination was admirable, God knew I could not do it alone. It would be years before I realized that it was Christ’s grace that qualified me.

After submitting an application, having ecclesiastical interviews, medical exams, and my wisdom teeth pulled, it was a thrill to bid my friends and family farewell, get some training, and fly to Santiago, Chile. I LOVED the country, the people, and the language. I got sick almost monthly, and learned what real service was (from the people I had come to serve).

We missionaries saw thousands of people embrace the gospel of Christ and receive the blessings of following God’s plan of happiness. I learned that God’s love is tenacious. I witnessed miracles (especially when I could first understand the fast-speaking people). I gained an appreciation for U.S. freedoms while living under a dictator. I distributed food, helped build a house, and got in-person training from a prophet and apostles. I gained life-long friends with some of the most generous people on earth (we mission associates—gringo and Chileno—still gather whenever we can and marvel at the extraordinary things we were able to be a part of). Mostly, I had a profound and personal assurance that I was doing the most important work on the planet. It’s hard to describe that joy.

What I didn’t realize is that a double course of antibiotics (after having my wisdom teeth pulled) had sent me defenseless into an environment of microbes my body had never known.

At first I only had occasional discomfort once I was home. As the years passed, stomach stress became constant and often painful. Despite visits to Stanford Medical Center and countless other doctors, no one has yet identified or remedied the problem. I soon lost confidence in my ability to control my body. This began to impact my social life. While I’ve dated more women than I can remember or number, each date was first stressful, and eventually became a major effort. Soon, I would return from short dates completely wiped out.

Today my diet is severely restricted—as is my energy. My social life is paltry. I struggle to maintain even a runner’s body weight, and my gut remains inflamed. Please believe that this is not typical for a missionary who gets sick. Most I’ve met have found remedies. (Don’t fear travel, it’s perhaps the best education you’ll ever get—especially if you get away from the big cities.)

Still, I’ve been able to do nearly everything on my bucket list. My Spanish has proven helpful in my work and in countless other spheres. The following isn’t to brag (more to enumerate my blessings) —there’s a point I want to make at the end. In addition to gaining a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a film certificate, I have:

  • Been a commencement speaker for college graduation
  • Taught at a university
  • Sung in rock bands
  • Signed Legislation in D.C. (staffers do it all the time if the rep. is away)
  • Visited 4 continents, 12 countries, and 35 states
  • Created and headed two businesses
  • Volunteered at Stanford University Hospital
  • Helped found a Silicon Valley high-tech organization and handled their PR
  • Published 17 books (many award-winners and Amazon bestsellers)
  • Kayaked in whitewater
  • Lectured to large and small groups
  • Worked for IBM, Intel, and Marriott
  • Piloted a plane (not take-off or landing)
  • Hired hundreds of people
  • Been to an Olympic hockey medals game (my favorite sport to watch)
  • Performed for thousands (even alongside the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
  • Water skied, snow skied
  • Been a Spanish interpreter
  • Acted in radio, TV, film
  • Been published in magazines & The U.S. Congressional Record
  • Had my scripts selected in competition (one produced on radio)
  • Repelled on and jumped from high cliffs
  • Been an ecclesiastical leader / served on a high council

My point is this: Even with my illness and the impact it has had on my life (I have yet to have a family of my own), if I had to choose between the experiences from my mission or those in the list above, without hesitation I would keep my treasured missionary service. Some might wonder whether I would do it again—knowing beforehand how it would change my life. I wouldn’t give up those changes for anything. If they called me to serve again today, I’d be the skinniest, weakest, happiest missionary on earth. My passport is still current.

Perpetual Education

In April, 2001, then President, Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in the church’s 171st annual (world) General Conference that the church was going to establish a Perpetual Education Fund for young adult members whose access to education and job training was limited by cost or other circumstances. The program was to be modeled after Brigham Young’s Perpetual Emigration Fund of the late nineteenth century, which helped bring 26,000 Latter-day Saint converts (mostly from Europe) to Utah Territory (Utah was not made a state until 1896) (Deseret News).

President Hinckley was concerned, as he visited members in various parts of the world, that many of them (including returned missionaries) were unable to fill their potential—or even adequately meet the needs of their families—because the cost of education was prohibitive. “We don’t want to give away money and make people weak,” he told the program’s future director (LDS Church News). “‘Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training” (LDS Conference Report).Since LDS ministers are lay clergy (non-paid), even these must have gainful employment outside their church service; and the standard of living in many states where the church operates was not conducive to job training or learning.

The educational loan fund was to be established initially by volunteer donations (which quickly poured in from all over the world), the interest of which is loaned out and then replaced as employed graduates paid back their loans into the fund. Early Mormon converts whose immigration was facilitated by the Perpetual Emigration Fund worked to restore monies into the Fund to assist other converts in their journey. Today, Perpetual Education Fund loan recipients work to replace what they have used so that others may benefit.

In 2001, the year of its creation, the PEF was offered in Mexico, Peru, and Chile. “The potential for failure might have loomed as the PEF’s newly appointed leaders rushed to begin providing loans by autumn of 2001, as President Hinckley had directed. Outside of the prophet [Hinckley]’s inspired outline there existed no business plan, no detailed proposal. The program was organized using the text of President Hinckley’s conference talk as its charter. Hundreds of loan applications were flooding into Church headquarters even as directors were being called and the basic structure of the program was being formed.

“But miracles were already taking place. Within the first year, millions of dollars had been donated to the program. Several individuals whose backgrounds made them uniquely qualified for the work of the PEF were immediately available to serve as volunteer directors. The infrastructure necessary to support the PEF globally had already been laid in the form of Church Educational System’s institute programs and Church Employment Resource Centers [around the world]. Things fell into place quickly, providing the program with what President Hinckley reported in April 2002 to be a ‘solid foundation’” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Education has always been a paramount objective of the Latter-day Saints. After building temples, the church has typically sought to establish schools as its next highest priority. Church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18). LDS scripture also instructs, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). “In part, this means that Mormons recognize a kind of learning that incorporates both intellect and spiritual insight. They also acknowledge that these are not unrelated: spiritual understanding, for instance, is necessary to give rational inquiry its ultimate purpose. Moreover, Latter-day Saints affirm that faith and reason are not fundamentally hostile to each other” (LDS Newsroom).

Brigham Young taught that Mormons embrace truth regardless of the source. “It is our duty and calling, … to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church … to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (Discourses of Brigham Young 1940,248).

In the ten years since its inception, more than 50,000 people in 450 countries have received PEF loans. “As of February 2011, 90 percent of those who have sought work after completing their schooling have found employment. Some 78 percent of those now employed say that their current employment is an improvement over what they had before receiving schooling, a figure expected to improve with time. The average income after schooling for PEF participants is three to four times greater than income prior to schooling, representing a vast improvement in economic status” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

“Today the program is made up of 47 percent men and 53 percent women. Of the men, 80 percent of the participants are returned missionaries and 82 percent of all participants work while going to school. On average, education and skills training takes 2.6 years, and the average total loan for one participant is about $1,800” (LDS Church News).

As more people donate to the fund, it expands to more countries. And the loans impact many more lives than just those who receive education. Rex Allen, PER Director of Training and Communications, explained: “As each participant marries and begins a family, the number of people blessed doubles, triples, and continues to multiply into the hundreds of thousands” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Loan recipients are able to give time and means to other worthy endeavors—including sharing the blessings of education with others.

“‘This program is growing very, very rapidly, and it really is quite a challenge to keep up with it,’ according to Elder John Carmack, PEF Director. Each area in the Church has its own committee to screen PEF applications. More than 98 percent of the applications that reach PEF headquarters in Salt Lake City are able to garner final approval.

“Elder Carmack estimates two-thirds of PEF recipients are current with or have completed the payback of their loans. ‘We would love to have 100 percent payback,’ he said. ‘These are people most of whom never even had a bank account. They have never been involved in a business transaction or signing a promissory note. But they’re paying back better and better all the time. For example, those who just joined the program in the last 12 months, their paying-back percentage is something like 88 percent. These people are showing their integrity, and we keep working to move that up’” (LDS Church News).

Still in its infancy, the PEF has much territory to cover (the PEF currently operates in 45 of the 175 countries and territories in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence). It is difficult to estimate how many of the more than 14 million Latter-day Saints have need of education assistance.

The LDS Church Welfare program, which focuses on people’s temporal needs and helping them be self-reliant, began as a resource for church members only (today, church membership is not a requirement). Additionally, Latter-Day Saint Charities regularly delivers food, clothing, medical and other disaster relief, as needed, around the globe. As the PEF matures, the day may come when anyone who desires to improve their situation may apply for such a loan.

REFERENCES

Deseret News. Perpetual Education Fund a Success, but with Challenges.www.deseretnews.com/article/705380579/Perpetual-Education-Fund-a-success-but-with-challenges.html?pg=2(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Askar, Jamshid. 2009. Perpetual Education Fund is Making a Difference. LDS Church News, Sept. 11. www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57887/Perpetual-Education-Fund-is-making-a-difference.html  (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

LDS Conference Report, April, 2001. The Perpetual Education Fund.http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-183-21,00.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perpetual Education Fund Fulfills Prophetic Promises. lds.org/church/news/perpetual-education-fund-fulfills-prophetic-promises?lang=eng(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LDS Newsroom. Mormons and Education: An Overview. newsroom.lds.org/article/mormons-and-education-an-overview (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Widtsoe, John A. Discourses of Brigham Young. Deseret Book, 1941.LDS Church News. Celebrating Ten Years of the Perpetual Education Fund.

http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/61195/Celebrating-10-years-of-the-Perpetual-Education-Fund.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

PEF.LDS.ORG.PEF Success Stories. pef.lds.org/pef/southafrica_shirley?locale=eng(accessedNov. 22, 2011)

See also: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASteMXNHN-8 

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Originally posted by Karl Beckstrand 2/7/2012 11:02 PM