Bilingual Children: Reading

Last weekend, I tackled a chore I've been meaning to do for a long time: weeding through our large collection of books. My husband and I gave away many of our much-loved paperbacks in favour of more living space and less clutter. In our purge, I found a box of children's books that once belonged to yours truly. I laughed when I saw my own name in a child's scrawl on the inside cover. I'd misjudged the space and had to add the final "r" in Heather on the next line.

My five-year-old was thrilled with the new additions to his library and didn't seem to mind that they were in English. French is the dominant language in our home, as both my children attend a French-language school and their father is a French-speaking Quebecer. My son's first choice was Horton Hears a Who, possibly because it was bigger and thicker than the other books. He is already wise to the fact that a longer book means a later bedtime. Horton was a little too difficult for a kindergarten student and required some explanations in French to maintain his interest. However, the Dr. Seuss beginner's series produced two favourites this week. Unsurprisingly, The Cat in the Hat was a big hit. My son loves rhymes, yelling out the last rhyme on every page. But the best book for learning English was Go Dog Go! My son adored the detailed drawings, and I loved all the repetition of sounds that rolled off our tongues. This is a fun book that I'm sure we'll read many times in the future.

Something else happened this week. Even though we have a copy of Je Suis Fou de Vava [I'm Crazy About Vava] by Dany Laferrière, my son brought a copy home from his school library and asked me to read it. He also blushed when he handed it to me. I had the distinct impression that his teacher or the librarian had read it to the class because this time he knew exactly what it was about--Laferrière's boyhood crush on a girl called Vava. When I'd finished reading it, he immediately took it to his father and asked him to read it again. I can't say I blame him. It's a bright beautiful book. Frédéric Normandin's breathtaking illustrations have strong Haitian naive art influences.

My son has taken to English, unlike my daughter who is now 10. Even as a young child she refused to listen to stories in English, even if it meant she could stay up later. Fortunately, she started to make a genuine effort to learn a few years ago. Our trips to the States have helped her see that there are indeed cool people who speak English. Besides, now the world revolves around Katy Perry, Adele and Ellen DeGeneres, and English is top. She's even talking about taking intensive English in high school. But I still encounter resistance in getting her to read in English with me. I was hoping to move on to a thin volume in English after finishing our current night-time read: Aurélie Laflamme by India Desjardins. But, while reading in English is important, reading without my insistence is the goal. I still entertain hope that one day she will be a bibliophile.

 Zee fingers are crossed.

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