Saturday, January 03, 2009

A trip to the bookstore

A little departure from the regular post. It is inspired by a trip I recently took to the bookstore with 4 refugee kids who recently migrated to the US from a Southeast Asian country (Not Malaysia!) because their tribe was being persecuted by the central government in their country. My wife and I were giving some of them Math tuition for about a year before we had to stop because of my thesis commitments. We bought each of the eight kids in the family a Barnes and Nobles gift card and I brought 4 of them (space constraints in the car) to a Barnes bookstore on Monday so that they could use their giftcards to buy some books. It was a learning experience, for them as well as for me.

The oldest kid in the car was a boy, 15. The girls were aged 8, 10 and 13. I thought I could just leave them to roam about the bookstore by themselves to pick and choose the books which they would like to purchase. But I thought wrong.

When I was young, my parents used to dump me in a bookstore and let me wander around there for hours while they did their shopping. I would pick and choose the books I liked. These would include Enid Blyton books (moving from Brier Rabbit to Famous Five as I got older), Time Machine, Choose your own Adventure, Lone Wolf, Dragonlance, etc... You get the picture. I never needed anyone to help me choose books.

I was wrong in making the same assumption with regard to the kids I brought to Barnes (temporarily my adopted children, I like to think). They had never been in a bookstore of this size before though they had been in libraries. More importantly, they had never bought a book for themselves. Not only did they have to pick and choose a book (or two) for themselves, they also had to figure out how much they were willing to spend on each book.

(Aside note: Gift cards are a great thing to teach kids how to budget. Instead of buying books for your kids and friend's kids, get them gift cards instead)

In the end I had to help 3 of the 4 kids pick out a book each. One picked a book on anatomy (I'm convinced that she will be a doctor when she grows up), another picked a book on dogs and another a book about fairy tales.

They had some money left over on their cards which I'm hoping they will use either on their own or when I bring them there next. Maybe the other 4 kids.

The larger lesson I learned which I think may apply to Malaysia is that their situation may not be so different from that of some Malaysian kids from some of the rural and semi-rural areas who are also from financially disadvantaged backgrounds (high correlation there). I think if you were to bring some of them (not all of course, I'm generalizing) to a place like Borders or Books Kino, they may find it to be an equally intimidating experience. I'm just guessing.

I'm not sure that it would be necessarily helpful to expose some of the rural kids to these kinds of bookstores. Perhaps a better way would be to bring mobile libraries to some of these rural areas. And have reading programs in these schools which will perk up their interest in reading books, in whatever language. For this, you really need good teachers who are skillful enough to excite kids about reading. Not something easy to do. Getting the books to the kids is only part of the step. Having a nurturing home and school environment are equally if not more important.


Unknown said...

KM, its good to know that there are ppl like you out there who are kind and generous.

Off topic a bit but definately something you guys should write about - Local Nobel Price Winner (in Science) by 2020

Please tell these Politicans how much resources the Universities / Government have poured in on R&D in order to produce Nobel Price winning research and often it takes years if not decades before such R&D is recognised as "Nobel Quality".

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Rural mobile libraries are a GREAT idea.

- LD

Anonymous said...

"is" a great idea. heh.

- LD

Anonymous said...

You said "My wife and I were giving some of them Math tuition for about a year before we had to stop because of my thesis commitments."

Did you charge any fees to these Myanmarese kids?

It is not correct to judge that all local rural kids never been to bookstores. This is subjective base on each families activities.

John Lee said...

I don't think Kian Ming is arguing that every rural kid has never been to a bookstore - just that most probably haven't.

Kian Ming said...


No charge for tuition. Volunteers. And read the post, I didn't say which country they are from. Doesn't mean that they are Myanmarese, just not Malaysian.

Anonymous said...

You said "because their tribe was being persecuted by the central government in their country"

It is so clear the country is MxxNxxR!

Florence said...

choosing books for kids is indeed a learning experience. good job, km.

Eni said...

You mention having read Enid Blyton's books from Brer Rabbitt to The Famous Five. I too as a child read a lot of Enid Blyton's books, which explains why I decided to write and publish a book on her, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye