Reading with children is one of the best investments anyone can make. The returns are gratifying on so many levels; not the least of which is bonding.
Every Saturday morning, I Skype with a friend, Shengdong and his daughter, Biyun Lin. They live in China. Sometimes, if it is a holiday, his wife Mary will be home from work and then we all gather around our computers to chat. Shengdong spent the past year at the University of Rhode Island as a Fulbright Scholar. His wife Mary stayed for a few weeks but went back to Xiamen to her job as a librarian. Biyun, who chose an American name, Milanda, was enrolled in kindergarten at our local elementary school. She did not speak English, but by the end of her year in the US, she was quite fluent for a six-year old. Being young, she picked up the
language quickly. I met them at our church in late fall and they shared an American Christmas with us. Milanda decorated her first Christmas tree, ate her first turkey dinner, emptied her first holiday stocking, opened her first Christmas presents here as I snapped pictures to etch these memories in our minds.During the year, Milanda and I spent days together building our own friendship. We baked cakes and cookies in the shape of gingerbread people, stars, hearts and bunnies. We frosted and meticulously decorated cupcakes with sprinkles and jelly beans to bring to our church’s coffee hour on Sunday mornings. We danced, sang, colored, polished our nails, gardened and sat on the porch watching the hummingbirds squabble for the best place at the feeder. And we read together.
Now that she is home in Xiamen, we continue our traditions via Saturday morning (night time for her) Skype sessions. She demonstrates her latest dance moves, practices her keyboard and when I play my ukulele, she claps and sings along with me,. She brings out her newest art work and tries in vain to teach me origami. (Long distance origami is extremely difficult!) Each lesson usually ends up with me placing my “art work” on my head and saying, “Look, a hat in the shape of a boat!” She heartily applauds my efforts, no matter what the outcome.
First, we look at the pictures and talk about them. This week, we counted the pumpkins and tried to guess how many under the pile were hidden from view. We discussed ZuZu eavesdropping on the family’s conversations in the quilt bag. I read where we last left off and eventually, she jumped in to read, too. If there is a word she does not understand, she puts up her hand and says, “Stop!” I explain the meaning to her and we continue. We read a small section at a time and then we review by discussing things from previous pages. We talked a lot about seasons this week because in the book, ZuZu does not want summer to end. She worries about winter and whether the flowers and butterflies and hummingbirds will return. Her mother assures her that they always remember to come back. Milanda likes this thought. I do, too. There is a certain solace for us both in the idea that things we love will return to us.
We are now on page ten, with many pictures and words to go. I’ve assured her that I am writing new ZuZu stories, so that when this book is done, there will be more adventures to share. There is a certain, special solace for us both in the belief that the things we love will continue on.