One September day in 1993, Greg Mortenson, lost and delirious, stumbled into the remote Pakistani village of Korphe, following a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2. After villagers nursed him back to health, the American pledged to return to build Korphe’s first school.
In Three Cups of Tea, published by Viking in 2006, he and coauthor David Oliver Relin reveal how Mortenson fulfilled that promise and went on to build 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, bringing educational opportunities—especially for girls—to locations where none had previously existed. The Penguin paperback edition of the book, released in January 2007, has spent 92 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—the last 27 weeks in the top slot—and worldwide sales of this edition have topped two million copies.
Due next January in Dial hardcover and Puffin paperback editions is a young readers’ version of this story, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World... One Child at a Time by Mortenson and Relin, adapted by Sarah Thomson. The publisher has ordered a combined 250,000-copy first printing for the book. Dial will simultaneously issue a picture book told in the voice of Korphe’s children, Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and 'Three Cups of Tea' by Mortenson and Susan L. Roth. Featuring collage art by Roth, this title has a 60,000-copy first print run.
The young readers’ adaptation grew out of Mortenson’s frequent visits to American schools, where he talks to students about how they can make a difference in the world and be advocates for peace. He discovered that many teachers at middle and high schools had incorporated Three Cups of Tea into the curriculum, but they reported that some students were struggling with it. “It is an adult book, and a rather heavy read for that age group,” he says. “As I listened to teachers, and heard from kids themselves about wanting to learn more about how they can make a difference, I realized that we needed to do a children’s book.”
That idea sat very well with Eileen Kreit, president and publisher of Puffin Books, who recalls connecting immediately with Mortenson when she and Puffin senior editor Jennifer Bonnell, who edited the young readers’ adaptation, first met with the author. “Jennifer and I were told that we had 10 minutes to meet with Greg, because he had to catch a plane,” she says. “Well, after an hour and 10 minutes, we were still talking with him. He was passionate about doing this book and made it very clear to us that we must make it extremely accessible to a 10-year-old reader.”
After Thomson signed on to adapt the adult text, Kreit reports, “We asked Greg to tell us the top 10 things from Three Cups of Tea that kids ask him about when he visits schools. And we used his answers to guide Sarah’s adaptation.” Kreit adds that Mortenson was “extremely hands-on during the adaptation process and worked very closely with the design, editorial, marketing and publicity departments.”
Mortenson and students from the village of Khane in Pakistan.
Mortenson, who notes that teachers’ suggestions were also instrumental in shaping the adaptation, calls the book’s new components “very exciting.” These include a timeline, a glossary, color photos and a foreword by Jane Goodall, who became a friend of Mortenson’s parents when the family lived in Tanzania from 1958 to 1972.
The new material closest to Mortensen’s heart is the book’s Q&A with his 12-year-old daughter, Amira, who has traveled with her father to Pakistan. “Since this is a kids’ book, it needs to have a kid’s perspective in it, so that readers can understand what some of us are doing to help,” says Amira about her Q&A. “Traveling with my dad definitely opened my mind about his job. It was a great experience seeing how the kids in Pakistan are so caring and so eager to learn. I am really excited to be involved in this book. I have always wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps, and this is a great way to start.”
Amira, who has written and recorded a song entitled “Three Cups of Tea,” dedicated to the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan, will tour with her father in January to promote the adaptation. As she has in the past, while appearing with her father, Amira will talk to youngsters about Pennies for Peace. Inspired by a student who decided to donate the contents of his piggy bank after hearing Mortenson speak in 1995, this program has students collect pennies for various causes, including supplies for the schools founded by Mortenson. Since its inception, Pennies for Peace has raised more than $1.2 million dollars in pennies.
Mortenson’s son Khyber and daughter Amira help inaugurate the Jafarabad Community Girls School in northern Pakistan, in August 2007.
In addition to the tour, the publisher’s joint marketing campaign for Three Cups of Tea and Listen to the Wind includes print advertising, online promotion and a floor display. Mortenson says he is “ecstatic” about the picture-book version of his story and notes that Roth’s collage art is fitting, as the youngsters in the impoverished villages where his schools are located “create their own art, collage-style, using whatever they can find to put into it.”
Amira, too, is pleased with Listen to the Wind. “It is a beautiful book,” she says, “and it will help very little kids learn about people in other parts of the world and get them thinking about what they can do to help, how they can become involved. I’m really happy about that.”
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World…One Child at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, adapted by Sarah Thomson. Dial, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-8037-3392-3; Puffin paperback, $8.99 ISBN 978-0-1424-1412-5
Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth, illus. by Roth. Dial, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-8037-3058-8