A Huge, Huge Thank You to the Many Sponsors and Supporters of the JG English Library!
When I arrived at Jhamtse this February, I was fortunate to lug along with me four suitcases full of picture and chapter books, donated by a cornucopia of generous individuals and organizations; their nestling into the daily heartbeat of this community has been a resounding success.
The library is a patchwork, and that’s part of what makes it magical and fertile soil for intense curiosity. Each book carries with it an inscription of a different sponsor’s name and a unique set of inherited memories: each one a treasure to be discovered. It is clear how much this bookshelf is a vastly collaborative construction, and the love you’ve poured into these stories and, in many cases, these copies of them absolutely exudes from the space, strengthened multifold by its rich company. These hand-selected and handed-down gems infuse reading with the very mystery and meaning that define it.
[singlepic id=2042 w=300 h=525 float=right]Every time I walk into my classroom before a period of English, I am greeted by the sight of a dozen students, hunched in clusters around the room. Ever since the school year began on April 1st, the English classroom has been the place to be, where students come to hang out in their free time: morning recess, lunch break, and arriving in a run as soon as classes finish for the day.
The oldest students—grades 8 and 9—stayed at school over their vacation. Even before I’d set up the bookshelf and leveled the volumes, kids began checking out chapter books from the ever awe-inspiring suitcases I’d reveal from under my bed, later telling me all about the heroines and heroes they’d encountered. They’d show each other the stories they were reading and, news traveling like wildfire in this small community, other students would seek me out with utmost initiative, interest, and excitement. For the last few weeks, every time I’ve walked into the family houses before bed, it has been to a landscape of students snuggled under covers and lying, propped on their elbows, exploring these tales late into the night.
I began reading Harry Potter after dinner to some of the older students, who like clockwork implore me to keep reading, just a few more pages, even as their eyes are drifting shut—just like I used to beg of my mom every evening. They give each other succinct and thorough explanations of the previous day’s developments before we start, demonstrating their comprehension and practicing their skills of summary and interpretation. When Dobby the house-elf shows up, it opens an opportunity for conversation about discrimination and structural violence. The benefits of reading aloud and independent reading—to language acquisition, literacy development, and their awareness and understanding of the infinitely-faceted world we live in—are innumerable.
Since the return of the younger kids to campus at the end of March, they’ve been approaching me independently as well, asking about the treasure trove they’ve seen their pseudo-siblings enjoying. One by one, I give them lessons on taking care of the books and how to check them out. We read a story aloud together on the first day of class, the kids sharing their observations about the illustrations and considering the significance of the addition of color to the pages mid-way through the book, making predictions about what might happen and inferring what the author meant when she wrote that Hwei Ming could now “see with her fingers.” The second and third year class was engaged for nearly half an hour—this is a rare feat—by the imaginative and creative pictures in the book Flotsam, all raising their hands and listening quietly to each other as they pointed out things they noticed in the images and interpreted the plot David Weisner had illustrated without words.
They elate to recognize their own names in the stories, and to point out those of their friends. As I read Tsomo and the Momo with one of the third graders one afternoon, Tashi Tsomo, crouched nearby but soon approaching to investigate, remarked in surprise at the unfamiliar encounter, “Tsomo is me!”
Kids come up to me constantly, asking about definitions of new words they’re encountering. On my way to lunch yesterday, Tenzin Drolma ‘A,’ one of the oldest girls at the community, in Class IX, called out to me from the line of kids waiting to enter the kitchen. “Madam, can I ask you one question? Will you tell me what are ‘ethics?’”, in her hand clasped the Dalai Lama’s Ancient Wisdom, Modern World. Last night I sat in Panggyen family for a few minutes and Tsandang Lhamo, also one of the oldest kids at the community, pulled a thick book out from under her pillow, boldly titled Women Who Dared. “What is ‘dared?’” she inquired, reaching for her dictionary notebook to make herself a note. I told her the definition and tagged on my excitement at her choice of reading material: how I had had her (and her similarly inspired and inspiring classmates) in mind when I picked out that volume.
I cannot thank you enough for making this dream possible. I have long wished we had a broad selection of engaging and culturally responsive reading material for the kids to enjoy. Anecdotally, I remember how much I loved and learned from reading as a kid (and presently), and as I’ve studied education in college, I’ve been struck time and time again by the research and general consensus about the value of reading for linguistic development and the establishment of practices of independent, engaged life-long learning. But I could not have anticipated or even hoped for how broadly and enthusiastically the kids and community have adopted this resource, nor how thoroughly the habit of reading and attitude of literary excitement are infusing into the culture of the community. I am endlessly grateful for the fodder you provided to allow these incipient interests and curiosities to take root and which will grant them fuel to flourish for years into the future.