From Passion to Publication

The most recent books by authors in the Sidwell Friends community are not by alumni or parents but by a pair of Middle School sisters—a 5th grader and a 7th grader who love learning Chinese. 

Even before she formally began to study a foreign language at Sidwell Friends, China intrigued Ava ’27. In pre-K at Sidwell Friends, she attended the School’s Heritage Festival and was captivated by Chinese language and culture. “They had a calligraphy station where you could practice Chinese characters, and there was Chinese food, and they gave a little lesson about Chinese culture,” she says. “I decided I wanted to practice Chinese.” Her enthusiasm was infectious: Ava’s younger sister, Ariana ’29, also fell in love with all things Chinese during her early days at Sidwell Friends. 

Now the two are each the author of a children’s book intended to introduce kids to basic Chinese vocabulary, characters, and pronunciations. Ariana based her book, Ana, on her own life; it covers the main character’s school, her favorite restaurant, and her hobbies. Ava’s book, A Shopping Adventure, is inspired by actual events—a trip with her dad during which she begged for a rather expensive pink bathing suit! 

The books aren’t just fun tales. They also serve a larger purpose. “I’m really fortunate to be able to go to a school where I was exposed to different cultures at such a young age, and I know not everyone has that privilege,” Ava says. “I wanted this to be a learning tool, so everyone could have that opportunity.” To that end, in addition to storytelling, each book includes a vocabulary guide and even a QR code on every page that allows readers to hear the girls speaking the text aloud. That was important, they say, since tone is so critical in Chinese. 

The girls also hand-wrote all of the Chinese calligraphy. “The hardest part was probably the characters,” says Ariana. “I was new to calligraphy and still learning how to do it, so it was really complicated, although it was definitely worth it. It’s a really exciting and beautiful thing to work on.”

Ava agrees. “I was really meticulous about my characters because I didn’t want to type them; I wanted to give children realistic expectations,” she says. “But I also didn’t want to write the wrong character, so I had to make sure each one was perfect. I would write three sentences a day, and they would take me an hour to write.”

Ava and Ariana are already finishing up more Chinese books, which will be out soon, as well as similar works in Spanish and French. It’s quite an accomplishment for two people who don’t even have their driver’s licenses yet.

“Never be discouraged because of your age,” Ariana says. “You can do anything when you put your mind to it.”


 

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