Shan is fourteen years old. She is not shy at heart, and has come to sing out, “Hi!” when she strides into the room for a lesson, ponytail swinging behind. However, since the beginning of summer, she has been reticent to talk about a book, or anything, out loud. I ask, and she smiles a wide, sweet smile and shakes her head. She’s afraid of being wrong, of explaining concepts without practicing first, and getting it perfect.

Yesterday, she said yes to telling about a book. She had read Crow Boy, an enchanting story about a little boy who starts out shy and scared, and finds his own voice within the voices of the crows he hears around him, and uses those calls to go more confidently in the world. And slowly, with backtracking and pauses and heart-twisting re-starts, Shan told me the story of the little guy who learns to interact with people.

Well, I am a giant sap, and cry whenever I’m emotionally invested. At one point, she looked up, saw my teary eyes. Panicked. “No, what? Why?”

I shook my head, unable to articulate, and knowing she’d be confused, if I said that I was seeing an actual, real Crow Boy moment taking place, that I was seeing a girl stepping out of her comfort zone and into the treacherous gumbo of spoken English.

“I’m happy,” I said. “I’m proud of you. Please go on.”

So she continued through to the end of the book, and I congratulated her when she was done, for surmounting her fear.

At the end of the class, she looked at me. “Thank you for liking me,” she smiled a thousand watts.

“Thank you for being so brave,” I answered.

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