Celebrating Children and Books: El día de los niños / El día de los libros

by Pat Mora and Rose Zertuche Treviño

Part I—Día’s Beginnings

by Pat Mora

What might sound lighthearted—planning a literacy celebration that involves children and their diverse families—has serious motivations. Can we dream big enough to want a nation of readers? Can democracy thrive in a country with serious literacy challenges? Are all the children in our schools and libraries discovering that books are fun, comforting, and also serve as sources of information, ways to make sense of the world?

These questions matter deeply. "Bookjoy," the private pleasure that true readers savor, is something to share, and every child deserves to find a good home in books. This desire prompted the founding of El día de los niños / El día de los libros (Children’s Day / Book Day) more than 10 years ago. Along with energetic and committed librarians and teachers, I wanted kids and their diverse families to experience literacy in all their home languages as fun and welcoming.

On a sunny, desert day in March 1996, while visiting the University of Arizona in Tucson, I learned about an annual tradition of celebrating April 30 as El día del niño, the Day of the Child. Hmm, I thought, remembering my own children’s question: "Why do we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and not Children’s Day?" Hmm, what if literacy advocates linked a celebration of children with a celebration of literacy, and together we created El día de los niños / El día de los libros?

With the support of librarians, especially members of the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA), by 1997 cities including Santa Fe, El Paso, and Tucson held their first, now annual, celebrations.

Día is currently housed at the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and administered in cooperation with founding partner REFORMA. Thanks in part to additional support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, ALSC's Día Web site offers librarians complimentary tip sheets and bilingual brochures as well as the opportunity to register their events or search for events in their area. In addition, the Texas Library Association received funding for an online tool kit.

Día’s Goals

Aware that we have many fine literacy celebrations throughout the year, organizers from around the country wondered if all our children and their families were feeling included, especially families who don’t speak English, that haven’t themselves had public or school library experiences, and children who aren’t seeing themselves in books. Such families from all over the world, living and working here, want their children to do well in school. Día can be a bridge.

We quickly realized what you already know, of course. Día isn’t just April 30—it’s every day of the year, and it honors every child. Día’s goals include a daily commitment to honor children and childhood; to promote literacy, the importance of linking all children to books, languages ( all languages), and cultures; to honor home languages and cultures; to involve parents as essential members of the literacy team; and to promote library collection development that reflects our plurality.

Put Día on your planning calendar, and next April 30, connect with old and new friends, with all kinds of wonderful families coming together to celebrate children and books.

Part II: Celebrating Día

by Rose Zertuche Treviño

Looking for ideas to celebrate children and books? Look no further. El día de los niños / El día de los libros, or Día, is the perfect event to connect the two. Children are our future, and those of us who serve them know how important it is to bring books into their lives. Books bring enjoyment, excitement, drama, mystery, and much more. Here’s your invitation. Please RSVP yes for April 30!

The Books

Día is a celebration of children and books, so don’t forget the books! A display of children’s books is an important component of the program and should be prominent. At the start of your celebration, highlight the books and remind children that they can be checked out. Select a variety of books for children of all ages and in different languages. Bilingual books are an important addition to your display. (See Día Web Connections for links to suggested book lists.) Check your new books section as well for titles just published.

The Celebration

A Día celebration can consist of one or several activities. Below are a few ideas to get started:

  • Día’s Parade of Books: For this activity geared toward young children, you’ll need to prepare a few flags in advance using colorful tissue paper and crepe paper streamers attached to wooden dowels. Children can take turns holding a flag or a favorite book from a display you’ve prepared and will follow you through the library on a Día march. After the march, read a few stories, recite rhymes, sing a few songs, and do some fingerplays. If your group is made up of Spanish speakers, you may want to try a storytime in Spanish or in English and Spanish. (See Día Web Connections for links to a Spanish storytime lesson plan.
  • Latin American Arts and Crafts Program : Engage in a Latin American craft using ideas from books in your collection. Display these books and encourage children to check them out.
  • International Food Show : Mimic a popular TV Food Network show using cooks from the community. Presenters could be parents or other community members who prepare a simple treat showing ingredients and steps along the way. A display of cookbooks would be ideal.
  • Latin Dance : Teach children how to dance the Mexican Hat Dance, La raspa, or more popular Latin dances. If you have two left feet, contact someone in the community to lead the group. If possible, have a stack of books, CDs, and DVDs about Latin dance ready for checkout.
  • Cuentos y más : Invite a Spanish-speaking storyteller to join you in a bilingual storytime featuring stories, games, music, and more.

Even More Ideas

Blend local culture into your celebration. Here’s a short list of what libraries in cities across the country did last year:

  • The Maricopa County District Library hosted performances of Childplay’s adaptation of Pat Mora’s book Tomás and the Library Lady.
  • In a south Texas school, the high-school band took part in a Parade of Books, and classrooms decorated AV carts with the theme of a favorite book.
  • The Kalamazoo Public Library in Michigan hosted a Mexican dance troupe.
  • In a New England school, a schoolwide rally was held, and children chanted cheers about literacy. Children then "planted" poems they had written in front of the school.
  • At the Santa Fe Public Library, a theater group spun tales of fun and fancy while teaching kids and adults about the art of puppetry.
  • In Virginia, Salvadoran singer-songwriter Lilo Gonzalez and his trio performed at the Arlington Public Library.
  • Berkeley Public Library featured musician Asheba and the splendid clown Chiquy Boom.
  • Broward County Libraries in Florida held festivals that featured children’s performers, storytellers, authors, hands-on crafts, and free books.

Día Web Connections

Pat Mora, Día’s founder, is a poet and author of books for children and adults. Rose Zertuche Treviño is the youth services coordinator of the Houston Public Library in Texas and a member of the ALSC Board of Directors and the REFORMA Board of Directors.

Originally published in Book Links Jan. 2007 (vol. 16, no. 3)