Monday | April 20, 2015
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The French Connection

Since September, local children have been journeying from one continent to another, learning about different cultures and filling up their passports — all without leaving the island.

Once a month, these students in kindergarten through sixth grade meet at the Kailua-Kona Public Library. They present their passports, which sometimes include hand-drawn self-portraits, to the members of the Friends of the Libraries, Kona, who use a stamp indicating their next destination.

Entering the library with their parents, they excitedly head to the children’s room and are greeted by their hosts. Over the next hour, these natives, experts or aficionados introduce them to the traditions, foods, clothing, history and language, as well as share personal stories and interesting books. Afterwards, the adults read stories to each other, and volunteers read to the children. There’s also shared family time with pizza, snacks, light refreshments, door prizes and free books.

This is Books Are Building Blocks, a free program that promotes reading aloud and instills the joy of reading in families. FOLK, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting libraries in providing the best possible service to the community, has offered the program over the past four years, said Shirley David, a FOLK board member. It has proved to be an exciting and entertaining way to engage people in reading and learning, she said.

David said it’s really important for people of all ages to read and to do so together, especially families. Reading is important not just to succeed in school or work, but also to negotiate the realities of our information-based and verbal world. It increases one’s general knowledge, helps with speaking and writing, expands imaginations, creates a better understanding of the world, and can lead to greater sharing and community participation, she said.

Between 50 and 60 people typically attend Books Are Building Blocks, typically held the first Tuesday of each month. Sponsorships from Costco and Target help FOLK provide cultural experiences at the library by paying for supplies and food. The stores’ employees often attend the program with their families or choose to volunteer. Other regular volunteers are from Kealakehe High School’s National Honor Society, David said.

This Tuesday, participants went to France. Cheryl King, a FOLK member and retired school librarian, gave a brief overview about the country. She showed photos of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris.

King taught the audience common phrases in the native language, such as merci (thank you), au revoir (goodbye) and bonjour (good day). She told them how she struggled with pronouncing the letter R in French until her frustrated professor advised her to pretend to be choking on a chicken bone.

The Kealakehe Intermediate School French Club, along with its adviser Priscilla MacGregor, led the audience in two French songs, “Frere Jacques” and “Sur le Pont d’Avignon.”

Master baker, instructor and owner of Kailua-Kona’s former French Bakery Fernand Guiot shared his knowledge of France. Originally from Clermont-Ferrand, Guiot revealed his favorite foods as a boy, which were always his mom’s creations. She often cooked rabbit, chicken, horse and veal. His favorite desserts? “I like them all. Anything I’ll eat,” he said.

When asked if he had ever eaten escargot, Guiot said, yes, with lots of butter, garlic and parsley. He explained they are farmed snails, not the ones off the sidewalk.

He spoke briefly about his love of creating wedding cakes and croissants, the latter of which he brought to give the students a taste of France.

Kailua-Kona resident Lisa Lea regularly attends Books Are Building Blocks with her children, 9-year-old Addi and 4-year-old Alika. She said both of her children already enjoy reading and do so above grade level.

Still, she thinks the program is important because it helps foster a lifelong love of reading and can be a launching pad for further exploring the world.

For more information about the program, visit