As part of the lead-up to formal Día celebrations in April, I had the privilege of interviewing an author of multicultural and multilingual books for children–the inimitable Pat Mora herself, author and founder of Día! Ms. Mora is an outstanding advocate for youth literacy, and the books in her body of work are a joy to share with families any time of the year. It was my pleasure to ask Pat Mora a few questions.
Q: You’re the founder of Día, and you’re also an author of children’s books. How do these dual roles affect how you think about Día?
Pat Mora: My first published book was A Birthday Basket for Tía, 1992. I quickly became aware how many children did not have books in their homes and how many families, particularly non-English speaking families, had not embraced their literacy role. I also became aware that many book buyers of all ethnicities were not interested in books by Latinas/os. Both realities saddened me.
In 1996, the idea for Día came to me, an initiative that would honor all children—their importance—and connect them to books, diverse books. I was inspired by Mexico’s April 30th celebration of El día del niño. (Contrary to some information on the Web this is not a Latin American celebration, although other countries celebrate Children’s Day.) I hadn’t planned to become an author/literacy advocate, but that is what evolved. Día has required a great amount of my time and energy. I’m deeply grateful to REFORMA and ALSC for becoming my first organizational partners.
Q: Do you see Día’s mission differently in 2015 than when you started it?
Pat Mora: Definitely! When I first began Día and was quickly joined by REFORMA, we were focused on a national April 30th celebration, El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day. As a writer aware of the importance of literacy in our democracy and as a book lover—working with committed librarians, REFORMA, ALSC—celebrating children and books seemed natural and essential.
Soon I became aware of the importance of deepening what had become known as “Día” into a year-long commitment (day by day, día por día) with culminating celebrations held in April across the country. Also, I strongly believed that Children’s Day, Book Day needed to be relevant in all the languages spoken in this country. My organizational partners agreed. Other organizations and publishers are joining us aware that Día unites communities.
Q: As an author, how would you ideally like for your books to be shared in libraries and library programs?
Pat Mora: I write for all children so like any author, I long to see my books shared with all children and rely on families, librarians and teachers to connect my books with young readers. Of course, since I’m of Mexican background and bilingual, I hope that adults will share those realities when relevant. It’s an immense private pleasure when I read a word in Spanish to a group, and a Spanish-speaking child gives me a special smile. We all like to see ourselves and our lives in books. In addition to sharing Mexican culture, I also enjoy sharing my love of family time, the natural world, and poetry.
Librarians have tremendous power: power to coach families unfamiliar or intimidated by libraries and schools, and to help such families become literacy advocates. This is a major interest of mine, librarians as literacy coaches. Also, librarians order and promote books. You select what children will view as exciting and valuable. Buying diverse books is important but not enough. By sharing and celebrating good diverse books, librarians help prepare our children to participate in our diverse country. As I said to a wonderful group of South Carolina librarians last April, all librarians have old favorites (for story time, etc.). My hope is that our hard-working and under-praised librarians are becoming excited about new favorites.
Q: What guidance or advice would you give to librarians who are hesitant to share books that are not completely in English because they don’t feel confident reading them aloud?
Pat Mora: Fabulous question! Spanish is the second most spoken language across our country; there are many others, of course. If we are committed to exciting all our children about bookjoy, we need to meet them where they are, as the saying goes. This is a basic rule for effectively connecting with any audience. Just as we want our children to have the courage to say and read words in a language that may not be their home language (English), we can model that bravery by saying or reading words in the home languages of our students—Chinese, Korean, etc.
Bilingual students and students whose families want their children to become bilingual (many today) can so profit from and enjoy bilingual books. It saddens me that many bilingual books are not being purchased or used because the librarians or teachers aren’t bilingual. Such professionals tell me that they are intimidated by the books. I appreciate the candor and understand the intimidation, but resources (educational resources) are gathering dust. Sigh. Many librarians take Spanish and enjoy their new skill. Others involve bilingual parents in book sharing and language development. For our children, let’s be bold together!
Q: What type of impact do you think the #WeNeedDiverseBooks project will have on Día celebrations, and on children’s literature as a whole?
Pat Mora: The #WeNeedDiverseBooks project is an exciting initiative. Día also started as a grassroots project, and we share many goals. This new project, adept at technology and energized by a young, committed team, is asking important questions and building much-needed awareness.
For years, I’ve written about and spoken about the need to diversify the publishing system from publishers through the award committees. I’ll touch on this briefly when I speak at ALSC’s Day of Diversity at Midwinter.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about celebrating Día?
Pat Mora: The smiling faces of children, families, librarians, other educators and community members delight me. We are celebrating our young (Children’s Day) just as we annually celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Also, we are enjoying bookjoy together. ALSC offers many resources and I have a downloadable booklet of tips to begin your April 2015 planning now, http://www.patmora.com/dia-planning-booklet/
Reminder: 1996-2016, Día’s 20th Anniversary! Together, let’s grow a reading nation!
Amy Koester is Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie Public Library. She is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.