After mailing my divorce papers to my mother in the United States, five years went by before I heard from her attorney that the application for permanent residence for me and my two sons were finally being processed. On the chance that our application might be approved, I began preparing my sons, then sixteen and eighteen years old, for life in an English-speaking country.
Ten years earlier, after their father left Brazil to return to Guyana, my sons had stopped speaking English. To ensure that they did not forget the English language, I continued to speak to them in English. Later, when they started high school, it helped that English was part of their school’s curriculum. They both excelled in English grammar and vocabulary.
To get them to practice speaking in English without making it an onerous activity, I set up one-hour reading sessions once or twice a week, depending upon my work schedule. They had to be engaging stories for adolescent boys their age. In Fortaleza, finding the popular English Classics, in the English language, proved to be a challenge. But I did manage to find some of my favorites:
- Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
During our reading sessions, we took turns at reading out loud. Their reading proficiency in English surprised me. Whenever we came upon a word or expression that they did not understand, I translated it to Portuguese. To determine their level of comprehension, I ended each session with a brief discussion. While I did not get them to comment on the story in English, I was satisfied that they were hearing themselves speak the language. From my own struggles in learning to speak Portuguese, I knew what an important step this was for them.
Happily, they enjoyed the stories and looked forward to our reading sessions. While preparing this blog post, I asked them which story was their favorite.
Without hesitation, my younger son said, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
His older brother couldn’t decide. “I enjoyed them all,” he said.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the last book we began reading together. By then, there were so many other pressing matters to attend to regarding our immigration process that we never completed the book. As in real life, we did not know what lay ahead for us, beyond the wardrobe, in our future adopted homeland.