Wednesday, 12 March 2014

There was an old lady who swallowed her fly

Do you ever get in your head that you want a particular book for yourself or as a gift? Has it ever happened that because of that, despite the fact the bookshop has millions of books you feel as if there is nothing there? Welcome to my world!

I'll be honest, this usually doesn't happen to me. Mostly, if I don't find a particular book that I am looking for, I spend hours wandering around looking for a substitute.  Sometimes, I will even change the genre completely. I've gone from searching for a Wilkie Collins to buying a Tintin. So, this winter, when I was in my favourite Irish bookshop (Chapters, for those in the know), I was alarmed to find myself becoming increasingly irritable in a bookshop. I mean, how is that even possible? I've spent entire Saturday afternoons in bookshops, never bought anything and still went home happy! I went to my next favourite bookshop (Easons) and again was getting more and more annoyed. I couldn't find a book that I was looking for or a substitute that I liked.

What was this infamous book? A first edition of a lost masterpiece? No. The newest Lee Child (Jack Reacher novels)? No.  50 Shades of Grey?  Not in a million years.  No, it was something much more elusive -  a book version of There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. We had a great copy when I was a kid and I wanted to share something with my nephew that was fun and catchy. My plan was that we would each have a copy of the book, so that when we have our Skype story time we both have a book to look at. I spent over an hour just looking by myself for the book in both the new and second hand sections. When this failed, I asked for help, and sadly that book hadn't been in stock for years. I didn't have time to order it as I was flying out that same week. So I began to comb the shelves to find a substitute. However, all the books that I looked at evaded my interest - the pictures were unattractive to me, the content either too wordy or barely any words and several stories uninspiring. In Easons, it was the same story and I was so frustrated with it that I decided to give up matching story books. I wanted these books because I don't own any children's books in Korea.When I have read to him in the past, I've had to bring books home from school and sometimes I didn't know I was going to get to talk to him that day so I didn't have a book. He wasn't impressed either with the stories I made up!

Eventually, thanks to one of my other sisters I got Chicken Licken and The Enormous Turnip. My nephew has his copy that he can follow along with at home, and I have my copy here in Korea. We tested it out a couple of weeks ago, and besides one or the other of us turning the pages too fast this went really well. This love of being read to doesn't stop at Skype. When I was home, he was read to by everyone! He loves kids stories, comics like Asterix and even factual books about trains and animals. His train one is a firm favourite. I think, in one day, I read it 3 times and his Mam easily double that! Whilst I was home, he got to go on the Luas (a modern tram) and a train to and from Athlone. I think he thoroughly enjoyed both trips as he was full of questions and chat about both modes of transportation. On the train, pulling into each station the announcer would say "Mind the gap" and by the end of the day, he was mimicking the phrase. He'll probably die of happiness whenever he is on the London Tube and hears the exact same expression. You might think I'm mad to believe that a negative experience in a bookshop is something that I am now glad has happened. You see, I realised that I had to "swallow my fly" to be able to find what I was looking for. Until I had put aside the absolute NEED for that particular book, I wasn't able to see the potential in all the other books. However, once I could the possibilities were endless.

Reading to my nephew has a few distinct advantages over reading to my students. While he may not know all the words, I rarely need to explain anything to him. Another distinct advantage is he asks questions for what he doesn't understand. I hope that someday, my students will have fostered their independence in English enough to have the courage to question everything.  I know sometimes my students have questions but they don't have the vocabulary to make the question. And as annoying as "But, why?" can be, I wish for nothing more than to hear those two words frequently from my nephew and eventually from my students. But, why? Well, it shows their inquisitiveness and investment in the story they are being read. It challenges me to find the answers to give them. To expand their thinking, to encourage their love of the story and their desire to know everything. For my students, it will help them to build their confidence in English and in their abilities.

Digging a hole with a stick
As you can probably tell, except for the one frustrating day in bookshops (still shocked that could happen!), I had a wonderful trip home. Some highlights for me included seeing some friends, having Afternoon Tea at the Gresham Hotel, my niece's christening and getting to see most of my relatives, and just hanging out with my sweet, sweet niece, wonderful nephew and amazing siblings, brother-in-law and parents.You might think I'm mad to be quite happy to just sit at home and giggle at a baby's smiles. You might think I'm mad to be happy with a short and busy two weeks in rainy, cold Ireland instead of a warm beach in Bali. Well, I thought I was mad at first to go home again so soon after my last visit in August. However, even the lure of a beach couldn't drag me from meeting my new niece. So, considering how much I enjoyed both these trips home you might really think I'm mad to have decided that, should I stay in Korea a third year, I will not visit home again until the end of that contract. It was a tough decision to make but I decided to follow my initial goal for living in Korea, outside of teaching: to travel and see the world.
At the museum

PS. This post was inspired by my trip home, a negative experience and a favourite childhood book: There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.

PPS. I've bought us each a copy of that elusive book! It's his birthday present!

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