Peace Like a River by Author Chris Cander

In 2012, I was one of 25,000 World Book Night “givers” who personally distributed half a million books as part of a campaign to change lives through literacy. To give away my twenty copies of PEACE LIKE A RIVER by Leif Enger, I chose the Covenant House, a shelter for homeless, throwaway, and runaway teens.

“Do you think there are any residents here who would like to have a copy of this book?” I asked a staff member.

“I think so,” she said as she read the back cover. “And you’re just giving them away?”

“For free, to anyone who wants one.”

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Inside, 20 teenagers—many of them scarred, tattooed, broken-looking—talked in small groups. After I was introduced, the kids looked at me somewhat suspiciously. As I told them why I loved this incredible story of a young boy’s journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother, it occurred to me that I might not be able to give away any books at all.

Then one tall, thin boy raised his track-marked arm and said, “I’d like a copy.”

“You would?” I said, relieved. “What’s your name?”

“Donny. I never had my own book before.”


“Me too. Can I have one?”

“And me.” They came one by one, and I pressed a brand-new copy into each of their hands. Each thanked me with such sincerity I could hardly bear it.

“Yes, please. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did,” I said, and this went on until I had only one copy left.

Then a heavy-set boy came up and said, “Can I have that last one?”

“Yes, of course.”

“My name's Voltaire,” he said. “Like the philosopher. Did you write this book?”

“I wish I had.”

“Can I show you my poem? I don’t know anybody I can show it to.” He unfolded a typewritten page from his pocket. “My mom taught me a lot of vocabulary,” he said, “before she kicked me out.”

He bent down to my ear so he could whisper it. It was filled with spelling mistakes and grammar errors and despair and pain and beauty and also hope, because he’s still alive. “This was going to be my suicide note. But I decided to make it into a poem instead.”

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” I said. “I hope when you feel that pain again in your life, you’ll keep trying to find the poem inside it. You’re a good writer. You should keep writing. And keep reading.”

“I will,” he said, folding the poem back along its worn creases. “Starting with this.” He pressed the cut edge of the book to his nose and took a deep breath and said, “This smells so good.”

Because of Voltaire and those other beautiful souls, those drug users and abuse victims, it was my life that was changed by literacy that day.

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Bio: Chris Cander is the award-winning author of the novels THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO, WHISPER HOLLOW, 11 STORIES, and the children's picture book THE WORD BURGLAR. For seven years she has been a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools, serves on the Inprint advisory board, and stewards several Little Free Libraries in her community. A former competitive bodybuilder, Chris currently holds a 3rd dan in taekwondo and is a certified women’s defensive tactics instructor. She lives in Houston with her husband and two children. Be sure to check out her website:

Brave Tutu Note: In 2016, I met Chris on our Little Free Library tour of Texas with the Texas Center for the Book. Chris hosted a small gathering for other Houston “super stewards”, my colleague Stephen and Little Free Library’s Founder, Todd Bol. I’m so grateful that I got to sit next to Chris. I quickly connected with her communal love of books. This piece is a beautiful example how Chris makes herself available for impact. Through Little Free Library, her writing and volunteering Chris shares herself and her words with the world.


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-Take courage in delight. Discover power in small moments.