Friendship by Mina Javaherbin
Grandma was my buddy! We hung out together, played together, and even got into trouble together. One thing we both loved was reading. Born over one hundred years ago in Iran, when fewer than 15 percent of the world population could read and write, my grandma was an avid reader. She read every day and told me stories every night. She had been orphaned at a very young age, and I believe her ability to read helped her cope with life’s challenges. It influenced her children as well: my father, her son, regularly read to my sister and me in both Persian and English. He enrolled us in bilingual schools and subscribed to Persian and English periodicals. I remember being excited for the next National Geographic magazine to arrive in the mail all the way from America.
One fond memory of my childhood summers is when my mom would take my sister and me to the Yusef-Abad Library. The modern facade of the building, the white walls inside, and the scent of book pages instantly soothed away our long ride through Tehran’s hot streets. I returned my previous books to the children’s librarian, who patiently replied to my many questions and showed me how to navigate the card catalog. Book in hand, I sank into one of the fashionable orange beanbags in the children’s corner, which became my personal Persian flying carpet as I traveled across the book pages. When it was time to leave, I checked out a bagful of books, and the librarian wrote my name on a card she kept at the library and stamped the due date inside the book. I still recall the sound of the due-date stamp and the smell of its ink. This ritual meant Mina Javaherbin is taking home a new adventure. She must return to the library before the due date. Hurray!
Card catalogs and due-date stamps may be gone, but I’m still a grateful library patron. The library is an ode to humanity’s universal book culture. It represents that human-specific trait of sharing and building knowledge through writing and reading. Libraries and bookstores, in the Iran of my childhood, mainly carried books by Iranian authors and illustrators. However, since I attended a bilingual school, my first-grade teacher, Miss Anahita, introduced the class to international luminaries such as Hans Christian Andersen, Astrid Lindgren, and Jean de Brunhoff. The only American picture book I recall from my childhood was an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz bought for me by my mom’s mother (not the grandma from my upcoming book). Later in life, while studying architecture in Los Angeles, I finally became acquainted with American picture books at the Rizzoli Bookstore, which carried them alongside its art and architecture fare. Like Rizzoli, I also think of picture books as art.
My grandparents, parents, librarians, and teachers cultivated my love of reading, but what I loved more than reading stories was making up my own. It’s fair to say I was telling stories before I could read or write. Not older than five, I used to sneak out of my afternoon naps and ride my red tricycle in the yard. As the entire family rested during the siesta, I invented stories and whispered them in singsong while pedaling around our rose garden. At the sight of a worthy listener, such as a garden worm, I would brake and tell them my tales. They listened attentively, and we became friends.
As long as I told stories, I was never alone. So I wrote my stories in my notebooks. I wrote often. I wrote every day. And I don’t recall a time that I didn’t write. Writing to me was like brushing my teeth: it was something I did, and I never gave it a second thought. Of course I noticed my good grades in my writing classes, but no teacher or parent made a big deal about this fact since my math, art, and science grades were just as good. By the time I had to leave Iran, I had dozens of notebooks full of poems, stories, and plays. I left all those friends behind and emigrated far from my home and everything I knew and everyone I loved. I didn’t write in America for a long time. I felt truly lonely. I missed everything and everyone dearly, the kind of missing that happens to people who go through war or revolution and are suddenly torn from their homes. One day I decided that I deserved to be friends with myself again. So I bought more notebooks in America. The first poem I wrote was about my first buddy and friend, my grandma.
Mina Javaherbin has written several award-winning picture books, including Soccer Star, illustrated by Renato Alarcão, and Goal!, illustrated by A. G. Ford. She lives in Southern California.