Maxatawny author Mary Laub, a retired teacher, recently published her second picture book, “Uff der Bauerei: Wu iss die Henny?, (On the Farm; Where is Henny?)” written in Pa German, aka Pa Dutch, with phonetic spelling and the English translation. This book is a sequel to her first book, “Uff der Bauerei: Die Henny un der Spunky,” which was released in 2017.
“Readers of my first book were eager for a second book and, hence, the publication of the second book. My goal in writing the books is to teach and, therefore, perpetuate the Pa Dutch language. I am truly driven to do what I can to make this happen,” said Laub during a recent interview with the Patriot Item at the Kutztown Community Library.
Laub recently received the 2018 Award for Outstanding Pennsylvania German Activities presented by the German-Pennsylvania Association in recognition of her Pa German activities which include teaching Pa German dialect classes to preschoolers at the Early Learning Community in Maxatwny.
“I’m honored. I’m just so humbled,” said Laub about the award.
While thrilled that the response about the books has been overwhelmingly positive, Laub emphasizes that her purpose for writing these books is not for having recognition but instead it’s about preserving the language and the culture.
More than 1,000 books of the first book have been sold and the audio CDs sales are close to 400. Her book has traveled internationally to Europe and across the U.S. The second book released Nov. 26. The following day she picked up books from the publisher and by the end of that day she had orders for 100 books and 50 CDs.
“It’s so positive and people want to know more. When I wrote the first book and they published it, most people said, ‘When are you writing another one?’ They were telling me, ‘You are writing another one.’ Their enthusiasm has helped me to become even more enthusiastic about this.”
This second book has the same format as the first book in that under each Dutch word is a phonetic pronunciation of the word, and an English translation is at the bottom of each page. The illustrations, by Lester Zimmerman, match each page of text. And, there is an audio recording of the story which can be downloaded for free with the purchase of the book or there is a CD which is sold separately. Masthof Press, Morgantown, is the publisher. A free bookmark is included with each purchase.
“What I most want them to get from these books is an awareness about the Pa German language. It’s still there. It’s alive and well and it’s a part of our heritage, it’s part of who we are,” said Laub. “Hopefully people will develop an appreciation for it and a real respect for it. That’s what my goal is, to let the community know about it and be a part of it.”
Born and raised on a farm in Maxatawny Township as one of 10 children, Laub grew up hearing her parents speak Pa Dutch. She understood what they were saying but couldn’t speak it or write it. She decided her goal in retirement was to become fluent in Pa Dutch.
“My goal was to preserve the Pa Dutch language and culture. I knew to do that was to take lessons,” said Laub.
While taking lessons from Mennonite friend Emma Burkholder of Maxatawny Township, Laub began writing a story to help her better learn the language. Emma enjoyed reading the stories and encouraged Laub to write a book.
Meanwhile, when people found out Laub was learning Pa Dutch, they requested she teach them the language also. Laub has 42-years teaching experience. She was an elementary teacher and reading specialist at Kutztown Area School District. More recently, she worked 15 years in the elementary education department as the graduate reading program coordinator.
“Rather than teach words individually in isolation, like the word cat and a picture, I wanted it to be in the context of a story to make it more meaningful and purposeful and hopefully more memorable.”
Laub took her idea for writing a book to Patrick Donmoyer, director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, who also served as an editor for the books. He offered his expertise in the language and helped create the phonetic spelling pronunciation guide at the front of the books. Alice Spayd was also an editor of the books and created the audio recordings.
Her favorite part about this whole process has been learning the language and becoming more fluent herself because “it has helped me to make more of a connection to the language, to the culture and, of course, to the community in which I grew up in.”
“I’m just so driven to do what I can to preserve the language and the culture. It’s who I am. So any awards or distinguishing honors I receive, it’s not about Mary Laub; it’s about the language and the culture so I will do what it takes to preserve the language and culture because it’s who I am. I want other people to know and hopefully appreciate that, too.”
Laub will read her books at the Kutztown Community Library’s Candy Cottages for Kids event on Dec. 13 at 4 p.m. She will donate 15 percent of book sales to the library from that event.
Laub is working on her 3rd book, “On the Farm; Where is Spunky?”
The books are for sale in local stores across Berks and Lancaster counties. For a free audio download, visit www.masthof.com.