Sixteen years ago a handful of libraries in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas held the first El dÃa de los niÃ±os/El dÃa 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 PÃºblico Press, and Charlesbridge Publishing have added their support through sponsorships that offer discounts and resources for libraries holding DÃa celebrations. The DÃa idea continues to reach more and more children and families and this year hundreds of libraries are holding programs, festivals, and events. But DÃa 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 dÃa de los niÃ±os/El dÃa 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 DÃa as a literacy initiative, as a fun yet relevant concept, would zip across the country, that DÃa 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 DÃa celebrations an annual tradition. I agree with Pat Smith that we need to dream big because I so believe in DÃa’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 DÃa events, watching children having fun with literacy. Probably what makes me most proud is how DÃa 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 RaÃºl Mora Award, and grateful to ALSC where DÃa is now housed. A special shout-out to ALSC’s Linda Mays who has worked with me on DÃa for years.
JL: Share some of the ways that you have seen DÃa being celebrated in communities this year.
PM: DÃa, which means “day” in Spanish is a daily commitment. Literacy is essential in a democracy, and we grow readers day by day, dÃa por dÃa. During April, culminating DÃa 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 DÃa celebration will again be held in a park. The DÃa 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 DÃa as a way to unite community agencies. Dora the Explorer may make appearances at the Northern KY/Cincinnati DÃa celebrations. In the words of DÃa advocate Ana Schmitt at Multnomah County Library (OR), “This April, eight of Multnomah County neighborhood libraries will be hosting literacy-rich DÃa de los niÃ±os, DÃa 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 DÃa celebration in Houston, TX on April 21, 2012.]
JL: A lot of neat things like the DÃa 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. DÃa 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 DÃa celebrations at homes. I want the teaching of the concept on more college campuses, perhaps involving students at DÃa celebrations. We’ll continue to celebrate DÃapalooza on my blog in April 2013, and I hope that the list of DÃa Author and Illustrator Ambassadors continues to grow, talented voices championing DÃa. 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 DÃa advocates, we need to not only Dream Big but we need to take bold action. Since DÃa 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 DÃa.
- Establish more active national partnerships with youth-serving organizations, publishers, media, etc.
- Aggressively seek funding for a national public information campaign about DÃa 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 DÃa this month to help keep the commitment going?
PM: Put April DÃa 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.