A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
A few weeks ago, my family received a German exchange student named Hannah. Hannah is a lovely fifteen year old who, my sister and I believe is a bit homesick. The other day Hannah came to me and asked me for books to read. Now, I had already asked her earlier in her stay here if she liked to read. She had told me no. She had had to read a book, a single book, for her class back in Germany last year and she told me that she had “almost died.”
We’ve all read books like this…
Now of course, I was very excited that she asked me for books. This non-reader wanting to read. I have no idea why she asked me for books, but I presume she is bored. She spends a lot of time on her computer and on her phone in contact with her friends and family back home and she wants something else to do that creates the empty hole of loneliness and isolation she feels.
This is the absolutely worst feeling in the world.
I know exactly what she’s feeling from my own experience in France. While I was in France, I wanted to read. I really did. I was a reader back home and I assumed I would take on this role in France as well. Except that I didn’t. I have a shelf full of French books at home that I’ve only read one chapter out of each one. I found a bookstore that sold English books and I read a few. The librarian at my lycee also recommended many English books to me that I never checked out but would sometimes sneak away from my friends into the library to read. I would use discreet bits of paper to mark my place and come back the next day. It wasn’t until I was at my second host family’s house that I began to read in French. I read their comic books/graphic novels, called BD in France (pronounced bay-day). I devoured books by Joann Sfar and other French artists. I read Clavin and Hobbes in French. I would read BD all day long if I could because words had become hard for me and so I turned to pictures.
Le Chat du Rabbin is one of my absolute favorites.
I was also always insanely jealous of this Mexican girl named Alejandra who went to the same lycee as me and shared my first and second host family. She read books in French all the time. She was a true reader, while I felt a bit like a poser with my BD. I wanted to be able to read like Ale. And I couldn’t, but I did find the wonderful world of graphic novels, so I’d call it a fair exchange.
Nerdy girls sometimes feel left behind by their friends reading ability.
But, with Hannah, I have a new challenge. How can I get her to read? I have provided her with stacks of books. From my own BD collection of translated works (because it’s nearly impossible to get the French ones stateside for a decent price) to library books and series like Pretty Little Liars and The Year of Secret Assignments. She likes boys. She talks about them a lot, so I have tried to cater to a fifteen year old girl’s boy crazy tastes when I don’t know if she’s ever read for fun. I gave her a couple of bookmarks and now I’m waiting for results. And I’m not seeing any.
This cliched picture sums it about up.
In class, we talk about how to teach students how to be real readers and I’m hesitant to teach Hannah this at home. I think to myself that she’s only here for a year and just let it go. She’s going to be busy soon and won’t have time. And then there is this tiny little voice in me, we’ll call this voice hope, and it’s saying, “No, no! You have to try something. Anything. Bond with this girl over books. Teach her to find her way to loving reading.” I don’t know how though. I can see it with a class, but how do you do it at home. Should we make it a routine where Hannah and I sit down every night and we read together, each our own book? Or should we read aloud to each other. I love being read aloud to and reading aloud. Do I ask if this is something she wants? Or do I just wait for it to happen organically which I have very little faith in. I feel I just need to get her started and she’ll do it on her own. I want to help her to learn to love to read and I don’t know where to start. Help!
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Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
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Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region on both sides. All photos © Stefan Falke (use with written permission by the author only)