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  • Writer's pictureТимофей Милорадович

Best Reader

Updated: Jul 15, 2022


University of Pennsylvania

The giant brown bear was creeping quietly behind the blissfully pink duck, ready to wring his bare paws around her neck and throw her into a pot of boiling stew.

We turned the page.

While I chuckled at the impracticality of a bear boiling water to eat a duck, especially a pink duck, I lifted my head to find Matthew tiptoeing about the room exhibiting the meanest, most ferocious look his cute face could conjure. All the while, little Monica sat huddled next to my arm, honestly afraid to turn the page and find her favorite pink creature in a bear’s “tummy.”

It was one of those moments of my hours spent reading with children at the library when it dawned just how much, as a “grown up,” I was missing.

I remembered the Thursday when Victoria bounded into the reading room, showcasing in her small hands a golden certificate from school. “Best reader,” it glistened. A smile came across my face as I looked into the eyes of the petite 7-year-old who just last year had been held back in first grade because her reading was not up to par.

It was the same smile that had filled my face six months prior, when Victoria joined the reading program and I saw the other volunteers instantly point at me. Our supervisor had agreed with them, knowing I would use my patient disposition and friendly way with children to motivate our new student. I had nodded vigorously, smiling, not only because I was proud of the confidence they had in me, but because nothing would make me happier than taking on the challenge of helping Victoria improve her reading.

After spending the first session responding to an unrelenting stream of questions, I recognized that Victoria’s talkative nature and impatience for answers overshadowed her desire to sit down and read. I treasured her energy and insatiable curiosity and fueled it with my own enthusiasm. Yet, for every interest she presented, I took her to scan the library shelves in search of a related book. I watched her eyes grow with excitement as I tirelessly helped her press through the stories, a journey in search of her answers. Some of the books I chose were difficult for her, but we read through them together, challenging limits and quenching the thirst for knowledge. In books, I told her time and again, she would find all she wanted to know.

Taking her certificate in my hands, I couldn’t help but be proud that part of this glittering piece of paper was likely my doing.

My thoughts were interrupted by Victoria’s chant. “I got the best reader!” she exclaimed over and over, jumping between feet as her arms waved from side to side. Without hesitation, I followed. Holding her certificate up for all to see, I matched my footing with hers as we hopped the length of the room, giggling.

Whether it is victory celebrations or talking in different voices, whenever I am with these kids, I find myself being pulled into their childhood world—a world of simplicity, of undying curiosity, and of pure innocence. It is a world in which if everything is not perfect, it definitely can be. And with a simple “prayer to God” or “kiss on the boo-boo” it will be.

Though I go in each week to be these kids’ teacher, I come out, having been their student. They have introduced me to a side of me I never realized existed.

As I enter college, it is not only my intelligence or my accumulated knowledge, but also the kid in me who will bring success. This child will jump to try every new activity with an enthusiasm that cannot fade. She will ask questions of everything she sees, of everything she hears and of everything she reads. She will dream big and for every step she stumbles upon towards that dream, she will get right back up and step again, this time, a little more carefully. And she will do all this, approach every life hurdle or triumph with a smile- a big, contagious smile.

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