Author Spotlight

It’s a Great Dia!

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 Píºblico 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 Raíºl 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:

  1. Motivate all the youth-serving divisions of ALA to creatively and energetically partner with ALSC to promote Dí­a.
  2. Establish more active national partnerships with youth-serving organizations, publishers, media, etc.
  3. 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.



  1. Laurina Cashin

    Thanks for the interview, Jeanette!

  2. Jennifer

    In order to give credit where credit is due, it would be good to also mention that the origin of Dia de los Ninos is in Mexico, where they have celebrated it since 1925. Therefore, if it was “invented” anywhere, it was there. It is a wonderful thing that it has crossed the border and has now expanded to our nation as well.

  3. Jeanette Larson

    Actually El dia de los ninos originated at the first “World Conference for the Well-being of Children” held in Geneva, Switzerland in August 1925. Various countries chose dates and Mexico and many other Central and South American countries chose April 31. A number of sources credit Turkey with originating the idea in 1920 but there were also some limited Children’s Day celebrations in the US going back to the 1860s.

    Pat discusses how she got the idea for bringing the Mexican celebration to the US and expanding it in the history section on her website ( and in many other articles and documents. This interview was specifically talking about the celebration of children and bilingual reading and literacy in the United States. In addition, other organizations have declared various days as “children’s day,” including President Clinton proclaiming Children’s Day to be held in October and President Bush proclaiming National Child’s Day as the first Sunday in June. That is one reason we are very specific in using the entire name for this celebration: El día de los niños/El día de los libros. We can’t celebrate children or reading too much!

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