Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018...12:42 pmnguyetra

My grandmother and how I learned to read

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Under the shadows of my grandmother’s grapefruit trees, I grew up in Vietnamese folk songs and fairy tales. Before every dinner, (and for my constant nagging, of course), my grandmother would read me a random story from our stacks of “colorful books,” funny legends of coconut princes, bamboo heroes, and moon-dwellers. I listened attentively as her fingers traced through the pages, her movements so elegant that I thought she was drawing something from white papers – probably unsymmetrical lines. At night, these legends once again burst into life as I sank into moonlights, faint, parallel strips of lights that were painted all over the bedroom’s window. I dreamt of copra and bamboo leaves instead of princesses and dragons; I woke up wondering whether last night the moon-man, in his eternal longing for the Earth, had watched me during my sleep.

Reading comes to me as natural as listening to these tales: o is an egg, ô wears a hat, and ơ always has its “mustache” on. In my grandfather little library, my reading skills “advanced” as I started to read what he believed was more than dinner-time stories. My reading list reflected a kid’s interest, however: I favorited “Journey to the West” more than anything else, a novel about a devoted monk who travels to faraway lands with a monkey, a pig, and a river monster in the search for sacred Buddhist texts. I was on a thrilling quest where tree spirits, scorpion demons, and six-eared macaques tried to lure and eat the monk, only to be defeated by his protectors who once were also sinned demons.

How I learned to read was never the scolding of first-grade teachers, the frowns from expecting adults. I learned to read by listening to my grandmother, who in her generous patience and gentleness has taught me what the words mean. I knew reading was a delight since I was four, as words take me to strange adventures that only a child’s imagination could match.


  •   Professor Seiler
    April 10th, 2018 at 2:16 am

    Trang, this post is *lovely* in so many ways: its vision of your grandmother, its lively recreation of stories you heard and read, its record of the images that animated the alphabet for you, and the sensory depth of your memories. Thank you for sharing!

  • I really love this account. I too was driven by fairy tales and family story-telling, and this definitely resonates with me.
    Books can really take people to other worlds, and that wondrous journey can really take a child and turn them into an avid reader. I think this is both a great account of learning to read, but also of learning to love reading. And that narrative is almost more interesting, especially for someone else (me) who loves to read.

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