This winter, while perusing the aisles at a local book store, I told Tian that I wanted to start reading real stories in Chinese. While she was definitely supportive of this, I know she was surprised when I picked out a series of children’s books about “Diaper Bear” or 尿布熊 (niao4 bu4 xiong2).
The “Diaper Bear” series was definitely meant to be read to kids from 1-4 years old. The topics ranged from bath time to potty training, from forest adventures to sandbox etiquette (side note: I have yet to see a real toy sandbox in China).
But where some might have seen boring subjects, I instead saw clear contexts from which to glean clues for new vocabulary words. I also saw it as an opportunity to gain insight into Chinese childrearing culture. Tian also joked that I might learn a thing or two myself…like what to do if I lose my diaper outside.
It took me about two months to work my way through the series. I often brought a book to read before and after my classes, and it became a running joke between my students and me. They sometimes would ask me to read them part of a story so they could laugh at my pronunciation. I liked the way it lightened the mood and also put me on an equal playing field with them as a language learner.