The St. Paul Public Library in Minnesota is proving that the public library is one of the most valuable places in town, especially for an under-represented immigrant population — the Karen. In December, mayor Chris Coleman announced that the library had curated and published two Karen language children’s books, which were then handed out at a special book launch and read at a December storytime.
The Karen are the ethnic and language groups of people living in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and on the borders of Thailand. Many Karen people fled their home due to government persecution and settled in Minnesota after living in refugee camps. There are approximately 6,500 Karen language residents currently living in Minnesota, according to the St. Paul government website. An article by the Lillie News reports that the growing community of Karen people has many avid library users.
In a press release for the book launch, St. Paul Public Library Director Jane Eastwood said, “We produced these books with the goal of creating an environment of learning and discovery for all residents that access our libraries.” She said their city lacked early literacy resources in the Karen language. The Lillie News, which serves the St. Paul suburban area, reported that the library already had offered storytimes in eight different languages including Hmong and Somali, but were stumped when coming up with materials to use for the a Karen storytime.
Local authors Win World and Saw Powder wrote the books, Elephant Huggy and The Hen and the Badger respectively, in both Karen and English. Once the illustrations were created by Betsy LePlatt and Jingo de la Rosa, the library Friends group along with local community leaders teamed up to produce and distribute the books. Both books feature colors and details important to the Karen culture.
The twincities.com website reported that Andrew Powder used the pen name “Saw” for his book because it means “mister” in Karen. Powder said his wife told him about a writing contest sponsored by the St. Paul libraries so he entered his first book – The Hen and the Badger. According to the Lillie News, author Win World lived in Myanmar and then a refugee camp before moving to St. Paul. He is studying to become a teacher at Hamline University.
Pang Yang, the Community Services Coordinator for the Saint Paul Public Library, said the books have been well received by the Karen community. The Library also distributed over four hundred copies at a Karen New Year celebration. Said Yang, “People young and old were extremely excited to see that these books were created.”
The Lillie News said the books would be distributed at another event for the Karen population, and also be available for print and digital checkout through the library. They will also eventually be sold through an Amazon publisher.
 Jane Eastman, “Mayor Coleman announces Library’s publishing of two children’s books in Karen language,” Saint Paul, Minnesota press release, December 16, 2015.
 “St. Paul Library publishes 2 Karen children’s books,” twincities.com, December 16, 2015.
 Pang Yang, e-mail interview with Eileen Washburn, January 28, 2016.