Sixteen years ago a handful of libraries in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas held the first El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebrations. Quickly the idea of an observance to celebrate children and literacy, particularly aimed at linking all children to books, languages and cultures spread across the nation. Associations like REFORMA, a founding partner, NCTE, and ALSC, provide structure and organization for the celebration, while publishers like Lorito Books, Arte Público Press, and Charlesbridge Publishing have added their support through sponsorships that offer discounts and resources for libraries holding Día celebrations. The Día idea continues to reach more and more children and families and this year hundreds of libraries are holding programs, festivals, and events. But Día started as one person’s dream! I recently asked founder, Pat Mora, to reflect on her idea for a day, a week, a month, and a year that celebrates — and brings attention to — literacy in any and every language.
JL: Not many people can say that they invented a celebration! When you conceived of El día de los niños/El día de los libros, did you ever imagine that it would become such a widespread success? What part of the celebration makes you the most proud?
PM: My friend, Pat Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Library Association, says, “Dream big.” From the beginning, I hoped that Día as a literacy initiative, as a fun yet relevant concept, would zip across the country, that Día would be celebrated in homes, schools, libraries, community centers, book stores. Librarians have certainly led the way, but I’m still surprised at libraries that aren’t making Día celebrations an annual tradition. I agree with Pat Smith that we need to dream big because I so believe in Día’s goals, that by celebrating children and linking all children to books, languages and cultures, we strengthen communities.
I can tear up watching videos of Día events, watching children having fun with literacy. Probably what makes me most proud is how Día advocates work so hard to share bookjoy often reaching out to new audiences. I’m grateful to REFORMA, my first organizational partner and my partner in the Estela and Raúl Mora Award, and grateful to ALSC where Día is now housed. A special shout-out to ALSC’s Linda Mays who has worked with me on Día for years.
JL: Share some of the ways that you have seen Día being celebrated in communities this year.
PM: Día, which means “day” in Spanish is a daily commitment. Literacy is essential in a democracy, and we grow readers day by day, día por día. During April, culminating Día celebrations are held in parks, many at libraries and schools. Some are large community-wide events, and some are quiet yet effective fiestas where diverse families enjoy crafts, stories, snacks.
This year, in Detroit, again a Día celebration will again be held in a park. The Día idea was brought to Detroit by a Mexican consul who had been in Texas. With the help of Latino faculty and staff at Wayne State, the consul used Día as a way to unite community agencies. Dora the Explorer may make appearances at the Northern KY/Cincinnati Día celebrations. In the words of Día advocate Ana Schmitt at Multnomah County Library (OR), “This April, eight of Multnomah County neighborhood libraries will be hosting literacy-rich Día de los niños, Día de los libros celebrations with messages and activities that help connect the Latino community with the library and help parents support their children’s educational success. Under the leadership of the bilingual Spanish staff all eight libraries are committing to have a minimum of four literacy activities for children of different ages, including stations with bilingual staff who can assist with library card applications and information about library services.” Teens will be involved in poetry events. Diverse programs for diverse children and families. [The photograph at right is of Pat Mora sharing bookjoy at a Día celebration in Houston, TX on April 21, 2012.]
JL: A lot of neat things like the Día Ambassadors have been added to the celebration ideas and resources. What else might we see in the future?
PM: I’ve started a list of ideas for 2013. Día celebration planners are often extremely busy professionals, and I try to think of ways to share materials or ideas with them. I’d like to do more to nurture Día celebrations at homes. I want the teaching of the concept on more college campuses, perhaps involving students at Día celebrations. We’ll continue to celebrate Díapalooza on my blog in April 2013, and I hope that the list of Día Author and Illustrator Ambassadors continues to grow, talented voices championing Día. Thanks for being an Ambassador yourself, Jeanette, in this and so many ways!
JL: Today we celebrate the 16th anniversary of Dia. As the celebration continues to grow, where do you see it going?
I’ll talk about where I’d like to see it going. As Día advocates, we need to not only Dream Big but we need to take bold action. Since Día is housed at ALSC, I hope that together we can:
- Motivate all the youth-serving divisions of ALA to creatively and energetically partner with ALSC to promote Día.
- Establish more active national partnerships with youth-serving organizations, publishers, media, etc.
- Aggressively seek funding for a national public information campaign about Día for 2013 and more national funding for mini-grants, etc. Visibility is a way of educating the public, of gaining their energy and support. We’re competing with companies that have huge budgets to sell their products. How do we make books and literacy compelling?
I’m grateful to Aimee Strittmatter and Linda Mays at ALSC who work with ALA’s development office on funding opportunities.
JL: Is there a tip or suggestion you could give to a librarian who is celebrating Día this month to help keep the commitment going?
PM: Put April Día celebrations on your annual planning calendar. I believe in the importance and power of traditions. Think of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Now think of Kids’ Day too. Each of us has the power to help transform our beautiful world into a better place, a place where children of varying languages and cultures thrive, where books depict and share our varying stories for young readers. They are all our children, our future.