I grew up in a house filled with books. Bookshelves lined entire walls and I can recall my parents spending hours each spring carefully vacuuming each volume. There were a great many things that could be thrown out, recycled, or given away in our house, but books were permanent. Despite many tantalizing tales on the shelves, some handed down from previous generations, as a kid my head was buried in the likes of Dr. Seuss and National Geographic magazines; images were the thing.
Eventually the books lining my bookshelf became chapter books and I forgot or didn’t notice what became of my childhood picture books. I can still recall the books that consumed my reading time as an elementary student: the Three Investigators series, James and the Giant Peach, The Hobbit, and science fiction by Robert A Heinlein. Despite the numerous books I called my own, I made heavy use of the public library during the summer months and took part in challenges like Reading Is FUNdamental. Reading was a natural part of my being and so it remains, though my taste skews towards biographies and history these days.
As parents, there was never any question that Savvy and I would read to our children. We just started stockpiling picture and chapter books wherever we could find them. Before they could comprehend the concept of a book, we read to the kids and encouraged our ayis to do the same in Chinese. It didn’t matter if a child gnawed on pages, some books had to be taped together, or a few books met their doom in the hands of a toddler; those early books were an investment in each child’s future, a way of jump-starting their education and fostering a lifelong love of books, reading, and learning.
Honestly, it isn’t always easy committing 20 to 30 minutes each evening reading to small children. Sometimes they fixate on one title and want it re-read over and over again. There are only so many times an adult can read Go Away Dog or Good Night Moon with enthusiasm. Reina had me read some titles so often that I would occasionally “misplace” a book for a few days so that we could read something else.
Despite the challenges of time, sleep deprivation, and parental boredom in the face of one too many caterpillar tales, Savvy and I never faltered in our commitment. Watching a child’s face light up because of a book is priceless and being asked to read with them snuggled close is a memory I’ll treasure forever. Around a year ago, my daughter started to read on her own in earnest and began consuming prodigious numbers of books. In a single evening, she might read about fairies, the Middle Ages, architecture, and outer space, and still ask for more time to read long past bedtime.
As a result, Reina has created her own “library” in her walk-in closet. She never misses an opportunity to visit a bookstore and asks to augment her school lessons with books at home about science, history, and biographies. She is a child after my own heart.
A few years ago, my mother gave me a box containing a dozen or so books for the grandchildren. As I examined the faded pages of The Pop-up Book of Trucks, The Witch Who Wasn’t, and People in My Family, I immediately recognized them as my own childhood books. She saved them thinking that someday they might be worth sharing with my own kids. She couldn’t have been more right.
About the Illustrator
Amy Wei (age 17) is a Year 12 student at the British School of Beijing, Shunyi (BSB). Before moving to Beijing in 2011, she grew up in the Netherlands. Amy is currently taking higher-level IB Visual Arts and hopes to return to the Netherlands or go to the UK for university.