Here are some general questions from children, and my answers to them.
Q. When did you first start reading?
A. I cannot remember exactly when I first started reading. I just picked it up along the way. But I do remember one early incident: My adoptive mother’s younger sister (my biological mother, as a matter of fact), brought over some picture books for my brother, who is 17 years older than I am. He was reading to himself in bed. I crawled over and asked him to read it out loud. Instead, he pulled the blanket over his head. That aggravated me. I located where his nose was. I took a bite on his nose through the blanket! My mother said, “Never irritate a teething baby. Read to her or she will chew up your books.” I guess that was when I started to get along with books.
Q. What kind of books did you like to read when you were a child?
A. I read whatever I could lay my hands on. My family was sent by the government to live in a village when I just started school. There were limited books available in a village in China back then. Most books were prohibited. When I saw a neighbour with a book, I used to do her all kinds of favour to please her, so that I could coax her into lending me the book.
Q. How much did you read when you were in elementary school?
A. I read the entire local library. Since the Commune’s head office was situated in our village, they built a library that was about the size of a medium-sized convenience store. It was just for show, of course, because not many people could read, including the lady who ran the library. The library rented books at the rate of one penny a day. I was the only one renting books regularly. One penny every day was a lot of money to me, because my family’s income was only ten Yuan (1,000 pennies) a month, therefore, I had to devour books like crazy day and night to get the most out of every coin spent. I remembered once, in a public washroom, I found some pennies in a urinal. What a gift! I scooped up the pennies, washed them clean and ran to the library!
At age ten, I lost both my birth mother and my adoptive mother. Their death turned my world into eternal darkness. Reading was the only way to keep my mind occupied from sad thoughts. Quickly I ran out of money. One day, the head of the Commune was there for his annual inspection. I heard the library lady telling him, “This poor little girl comes everyday. She does not have much money, and her mother has just died.” That man glanced at me with no expression, and then he turned his back on me. Without a word, he waved his hand at the lady. From then on, they let me read free of charge. That was how I read the entire library.
If you ever get into trouble, before you feel bad, think about what I have said: we all stumble and fall in our lives, but we can always pick ourselves up and get back on our feet again. As long as you learn from your mistakes and try to do better next time - and try to make every day better than the day before - you are growing.
A. All the time. Only dolls do not get in trouble. Getting into trouble is part of the learning process for children. In my case, I learn better and gain more from my failures than from my successes. These Little Wen picture books are based on my childhood memories.
A. I only knew I wanted to go to a university because that was what my father kept telling me when he rocked me to sleep in his arms. My father was an artist by profession, but he could not afford to finish primary school. He had no clue what a university was like. However, education has always been his priority in life. He just knew that only special scholars were selected to attend the highest learning institutions, and being one of them would bring a great honour to the family. Back then, all I could understand was “Students in universities are state treasures. Even their washrooms are indoors and heated with a burning stove.” That motivated me! Forty some years ago in China, public washrooms were on the streets and were very cold in winter. It was a dream for a little girl to go to a washroom without a frozen bum. And that was my life goal!
Q. Did you ever get in trouble?
Q. What were you like when you were a little girl?
A. Just like any of you, except a little too much of a handful for a girl. My parents spoiled me, and people around me shook their heads in disapproval. Read my book, Little Wen, which is based on my early childhood memories. The ten stories will give you a glimpse of what life was like in China back then.
Q. Did you know what you wanted to be in the future when you were a child?