Friday, January 6, 2012

Story Reading & Meetings

I used to be a fan of meetings, back when I ran meetings and liked talking in them. They made the workday go by faster plus venting felt good. Then I had a part time job. Meetings whittled away at the hours I had to do actual work. Sometimes while the droning continued, I would guesstimate the cost of the meeting by adding up the hourly rates of the various members. Meetings are expensive if you think of them that way. If you are having a meeting to tell me information, please, send me an email. I can read. If meetings were ever really about input from the bottom feeders who do most of the muscle work, then they might be worthwhile.

Nowadays, I fall more into the volunteer category instead of employed worker bee. Not that I have any less work to do, but the meetings I attend are on a voluntary basis. The caveat is that I get out of a lot of meetings because my children attend Japanese public schools, and I can't speak Japanese. I live nearly an hour from both the military base and church so I don't find myself involved there either. My plate is full enough so I don't seek it out, but last month a meeting caught up with me.

A friend asked me to consider joining a group of mothers that take turns reading stories to the first graders on Thursday mornings. Every Thursday there is a teacher's meeting. The children are given an assignment to do on their own while they await the teacher's return. A group of mothers took up the task of reading stories during this time. I asked, "In English? Is it ok if I read a story in English?" I was surprised that anyone would want me to read in English at a Japanese school. "Yes, English is OK." So off I went to see her read to the children and then to attend a meeting afterward.

She read two stories from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., then we headed down the hall to the school library to attend the "Reader's Meeting." I wasn't clear how often this meeting was held or what the agenda was. A "schedule" was mentioned. I left the meeting, still in progress, at 10:30 a.m. My friend promised to email me my schedule, telling me, "You can go. This will take longer." Stunned that a fifteen minute event could evolve into a two plus hour meeting, I happily removed myself. I love books, I love reading stories, and I agreed to do it. Scaling back an English story so that Japanese children can understand it is not easy, but I'm willing to try. That seemed to be all that they wanted from me.

The Reader Meeting
What did the readers do during their meeting? Why read books to each other of course. I was aghast. The ten women flipped through each page of their book and either summarized the page or in most cases read the book aloud to the other members. This wasn't just show and tell- this was the epitome of details. However, I have a particular love of picture books and children's stories so even though the mothers were reading stories in Japanese, once I gave into the moment, I enjoyed it. Being the week before Christmas, the stories touched on winter, Santa, or Christmas. Though mostly Buddhist, the Japanese like decorating and gift giving so Christmas is happily embraced here. A Finnish story about Santa needing various forms of transportation to deliver gifts via plane, boat, sled, etc. amused me enough to write down the title so that I could find it later. Another mother read the ever popular The Year Without a Santa Claus. Unable to suppress myself, I explained to my friend that this was a television special from my childhood. I wondered if they knew of the TV version? I had just that week watched it with my children. The mother reading the story said, "It's a Japanese story." "The book's pictures are from a television show from my childhood," I responded. We plundered onward through the remaining books. Apparently the show was not translated into Japanese though Rankin and Bass learned the animation techniques from the Japanese.

The American Response
In Japan there is an emphasis placed on the group so reviewing information together is a valued activity. Most Americans and Europeans that I know, when the subject of meetings run by Japanese comes up, grimace. Meetings are endured as everyone is given a chance to build consensus and mutual understanding- and this is time consuming.

A Task
With a deadline looming, I sent the book titles I will read later in the month. I got an email back requesting in addition to the titles the name of the authors and the publishers. Wow! That is just about all I can say. The details, meeting, deadline, and planning for a fifteen minute volunteer activity are impressive to me.

On another note, my children are on break so we went to the American library. They are immersed in Japanese so much that we rarely have time to read in English or even go to the library. The Moose loves books but can't read but a lick of English. He pours over the pictures and brought at least ten books to the checkout counter. The Mule can read English, but it is labor intensive for her compared to Japanese. Last time we were at the American library she could not find any books to check out. While I was on a quest to find something simple to read for my upcoming project- a large picture book with some repetitive vocabulary- she recited plastic bottle recycling facts to me from the sofa in the children's room. I glanced up thrilled that she was connecting with a book and reading in English. Sitting down with my selections, I noticed the Mule had two Japanese books- her translations are smoother. I am sure they were the only two Japanese books there. Sigh. My sister-in-law works in academia and linguistics, she once told me it is all about the love of books, not which language. Let's hope so.

The Book List
The books I will read to the Japanese first graders? Here is the list:

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle, Harper Collins Publishers 2005

No, David by David Shannon, The Blue Sky Press, 1998

Eats by Marthe Jocelyn & Tom Slaughter, Tundra Books, 2007

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