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Island Expressions: Cristina Kessler

Cristina Kessler St. John author Cristina Kessler brings stories about Africa to young people all over the English-speaking world.

"I’m trying to get the good news about Africa out,” she says. “It’s not all famine and chaos.”

Kessler tries to give her readers another perspective on how other children live, but sees that no matter how different their lives, they share a common ground.

"They have family, friendships, the most human characteristics," she says.

Learning about this commonality is particularly important in multicultural schools, according to Kessler.

She has two books in the works. One is called "Animal Partyyyyy." It’s about animals on the African plain that get ready to welcome rain. The second, "Iz Odyssey," is the story of a young girl who finds a trade bead made 250 years ago in the glass-making city of Murano, Italy.

"It takes her through the 250-year life of the bead," Kessler says.

Kessler, 59, came out with her 10th book in March, "Trouble in Timbuktu," a story about two Bella youths who try to stop the theft from Timbuktu of an ancient manuscript.

Last week she unveiled her website, which features slide shows and music pertaining to her books. The website is still a work in progress, but it currently features a piece on "One Night: A Story from the Desert," her first book about Africa.

She’s an old Africa hand, as they say in some circles. Kessler spent much of 20 years in Africa while her husband worked for the aid organization CARE, as well as other locations around the world.

Married 35 years, the couple moved to St. John in 2001 when her husband, Joe Kessler, accepted a post as president of the Friends of V.I. National Park.

"I’m still dazzled by the beauty," she says of St. John.

Born in Modesto, Calif., Kessler graduated from California Polytechnic Institute. She caught travel fever as a youth when she read the entire set of the "Lands and People" encyclopedia.

The Kesslers met while in Peace Corps language training in Puerto Rico in 1973.

"We snuck away to Cinnamon Bay," she says, referring to St. John’s Cinnamon Bay Campground.

After five years at Peace Corps assignments in Honduras, Kenya, and the Seychelles, the Kesslers spent the next 3 1/2 years traipsing around from the Seychelles to Antarctica with several stops in between.

"We spent five months on an uninhabited island in the Galapagos tagging turtles for the Darwin research station," she says.

In Ecuador they ran out of money. Kessler says she and her husband made a deal that they would go wherever either one of them found a job. As luck would have it for her, her husband had an offer from CARE. This left her free to pursue a career as a writer.

She has also followed other endeavors during her time on St. John. After connecting with a Maasai warrior named Kakuta Ole Maimai Hamisi, who spends part of the year working at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, she forged efforts on St. John through the schools and with residents to raise more than $30,000 for the Maasai Association. This money went to help put in a water system and build a school in Kenya.

Kakuta visited the Kesslers five times, staying with them at their St. John house.

"I’ve lived in 23 houses, but this is the first house I’ve ever owned," she says, marveling a bit at her new homeowner status. “Before this house, we never owned anything but books and our collections.”

Visit Kessler’s website at www.cristinakessler.com.

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