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Books Are a Joy on Día


by Lynn Peisner

April 30 is the official day to celebrate children in México. El Día del Niño—Children’s Day—is a national observance that recognizes children as an important part of society, so the day, established in 1925, focuses on the importance of loving, accepting, and appreciating children. Children don’t get the day off, but schools host special events inviting parents to celebrate with their children during school hours. Activities include music festivals, face painting, story-telling, art workshops, and contests.

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Pat Mora, author of fiction, poetry, non fiction and children’s books—and a former teacher—introduced the celebration to the United States 19 years ago, but her interpretation had a twist. It made literacy part of how we honor kids on this day.

Using a noun of her own invention, “bookjoy,” Pat says Children’s Day, Book Day, also known as El Día de los Niños/El Día a de los Libros (Dia), is about connecting all families and children to local resources that will help inspire and sustain the love of reading every day of the year. For Pat, who grew up near the Texas-Mexico border speaking two languages, it’s also about making sure schools and communities offer children opportunities to learn more about all cultures, including Latino culture.

Día is a celebration fueled by local ownership and innovation that is typically held in a library, community center, school, or park, that relies on local resources to connect families to fun opportunities to celebrate children and to enjoy reading. The festivities usually include music, food, craft-making, bilingual storytelling, and, ideally, kids will go home with a good book to read.

This compelling idea aligns with Local Ownership and Innovation, one of the Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s guiding principles in how diverse populations can work together to achieve a shared expectation—that all kids in Georgia will be on the path to reading proficiently by 3rd grade in five years.

Q: Tell us about your vision of what an ideal celebration of Día looks like.

A: First of all, Día is for all children. I love going to celebrations where I see a diverse group of kids and families. Sometimes I will hear that a school or library opts to not celebrate Día because they say they don’t have many Latino families in their area, but this is a fiesta for everyone. The heart of the party is children, literacy, and books.

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Q: What are some ways we can better connect with children in Latino communities and help encourage reading?

A: I sometimes hear teachers say parents aren’t involved enough. We have to ask ourselves, why? Families may not get involved because they’re working or care giving. But they may not get involved because they’re embarrassed because they don’t speak English. I don’t think people realize the depth of that embarrassment. We have to spend a little time helping families understand the power they have to enhance their children’s lives in this country. Teachers, educators, and librarians can say to those families: “I need you. Your children need you.” We have to make these families our partners in the goal to help children read, and we have to do this in a creative and a respectful way.

Q: Why has this been a difficult bridge to build?

A: I think it’s easier for some educators to ignore Latino families—not because these educators are bad, but the common thinking from a teacher might be, “Well, I don’t speak Spanish, they don’t look at me, so I think I should just focus on their children.” We need to do our part to lure families into the classroom and library, and we can’t get discouraged if they don’t come, because they probably won’t at first. But, we can’t ignore them. It takes patience, and patience is hard.

Q: What are some simple ways to put this in practice?

A: Maybe we begin with a friendly greeting. If you don’t know Spanish, to simply say, “Buenos días,” indicates: this is a place for you. Just learning a few key phrases for conversation and to use in signage would be a way of saying “I value you.” Sometimes this is how we can reach out to parents. Maybe the children are learning English, but the adults aren’t, so we can think of ways of establishing relationships with those adults.

Q: What should the main message to adults and families be?

A: When I’m speaking to a group of Spanish-speaking parents, I can see the deep longing in their eyes; they want their children to succeed. Latino parents who are coming from another country tend to say, “Do what the teacher says,” and those parents think saying that is their job. I tell them they are part of the team. I tell them to sit down next to their child and have their child show them a book. Have them tell you about the story in Spanish, and listen to them, or just look at the pictures and tell the story together with your child. Ask them, “What do you think is happening on this page?” Then, say to them, “Now if you can read it to me in English, read it to me in English.” What children want is their parents’ love and attention, so if we can plant the seed that books and reading are one way for the adult and child to be close, then that can be the inspiration to create a habit—sitting with mom or dad, or any family member, every day. It’s not always easy to create a habit, but there are creative ways to get children to eat their vegetables that are good and good for them, and there are just as many ways to help children become readers. Ideally, we can offer literacy coaching sessions for parents, maybe in the evening when there is an activity for the children.

April 2016 is Día’s 20th Anniversary. Let’s start planning now to celebrate throughout Georgia. Please stay in touch with Get Georgia Reading, and share your ideas and plans to connect with young readers from all cultures.

Check out how one community is getting creative with how to tailor Día programming to reach specific audiences. Pinewoods Library, located in the heart of a trailer-home Park in Clarke County is giving kids access to great stories by way of a book donkey.