It started with looking for picture books to read to my preschool students in Taipei in 2016. As I spent my days with four year olds, my dreams and imagination became more vivid. In turn, I wanted to facilitate curriculum and share books that nurtured children’s imaginations.
At the end of 2016, I moved from Taipei to Dubai. A city made up of over ninety-percent expats, Dubai introduced me to people who were from corners of the Middle East, Africa and Europe I knew little about. I started working in international classrooms and learning about subjects like diversity and differentiation through my Master’s program. While interviewing for an elementary teaching position at an international school, I was asked to read aloud a book to a group of first grade children. I chose an illustrated children’s book about Emirati food culture. There was one Emirati student in the first grade classroom. While I read the book I often paused to ask the children questions about the dishes. The Emirati student was eager to participate. After the fact, her teacher thanked me and told me her Emirati student was usually very quiet and unwilling to participate in classroom activities. This was one of many events that inspired me to write my Master’s thesis about how culturally relevant pedagogy creates a sense of belonging in international classrooms.
During my time in Dubai, I began seeking out and collecting children’s books that promoted diversity and amplified historically underrepresented voices. I remember feeling really excited when I came across Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman.The protagonist was a South Asian woman like me. The personified tiger, the king and his family reminded me of characters in short traditional Indian stories I read as a child. The illustrations made me nostalgic too! It felt like the was book written for me.
Over the years, I’ve developed better discretion when it comes to pinpointing books that discuss progressive themes, feature diverse characters, are well written and beautifully illustrated. I’ve curated books for classroom libraries, sorted through boxes of donated books in preparation for fundraisers and reviewed diverse books for children. For the last seven years, I’ve walked straight to the children’s section of every bookstore I walk into.
When I found out I was pregnant I immediately started collecting books for my baby. After years of curating books for other people’s children, it felt exciting to choose books for a baby of my own. I’ve stepped into Books Inc. and the Recycled Bookstore in Campbell at least a couple times every month during this pregnancy. I’ve also spent hours browsing for baby board books online.
Reading with my baby is going to be a way to bond, create a calm atmosphere, and communicate. It will give me words to say to him when he doesn’t have words to say back. I hope my son’s books will mirror his culture and skin making him feel confident. I hope that the books he reads will become windows that allow him to experience other cultures.
When we learned that the baby growing inside me could hear my voice, Sam and I started reading to him. Our favorite books to read to our son before we fall asleep are: Besos For Bebe, Jane Goodall is a Friend to All, Rory the Dinosaur Me and My Dad and Every Little Thing. We’ll continue reading these books with baby after he’s born.
Learn more about my four-week program Reading and Writing Partners here!
Talk to you soon