Inspired by Shana Burg’s middle grade novel Laugh with the Moon, BookPeople and Random House Children’s Books have teamed up with the Austin Independent School District to launch Words Across the World, a pen-pal program connecting Austin, Tex., students with students from Malawi, Africa.

More than 40 schools have signed on to participate in the literacy initiative that will also provide local schools with tools for curriculum enrichment. “Nothing could make me happier than to see students inspired to action through reading,” Burg said, in today’s press release. “The way BookPeople, AISD and librarians and teachers are supporting local kids to move beyond the pages and engage globally in this pen-pal project is the ultimate thrill!”

To further engage students and teachers, educators in the participating Austin schools have been given tie-in information about Laugh with the Moon for their curriculum. “Our goal was to offer an a la carte program,” Meghan Goel, children's book buyer for BookPeople, told PW. “Depending on what your class is doing, and how much time you have, you can pick the element.”

Along with connecting students and focusing on curriculum, BookPeople will host a book drive. In addition, they’re turning over their annual Giving Tree program as fundraiser for Words Across the World. The goal is to raise funds to buy books for Austin school libraries, support the pen-pal program, and deliver books, malaria medication, and other medical supplies to children in Malawi through World Altering Medicine.

There will be two pen pal exchanges between students during the program. Hon. Dr. Cornelius T. Mwalwanda, m-p, deputy minister of finance in Malawi, said in the release, "(The Pen Pal Programme) offers an unique opportunity for young people, who have never dreamed of ever meeting in life, to get to know each other; to appreciate different life styles; and more importantly to understand the difficulties and challenges economic and social environment prevailing in Africa, as opposed to that in America, poses for young people living in Malawi.”

Random House will donate copies of Laugh with the Moon to the participating schools in Malawi for students who have signed up for the pen-pal program. Goel noted that hundreds of students in Africa have already written their first letter and “are really excited to connect with the kids here.”