Bilingual Programs Chapter

By Paola Ferate-Soto

¡Navega lejos con libros!


There are probably as many ways to present bilingual programs as there are personalities, presenters, and audiences.

Sometimes librarians feel a great need to translate familiar English rhymes into Spanish. The familiarity is beneficial for English-speaking children attending bilingual storytimes for the first time. They don't feel as insecure in the new language environment. For Spanish-speaking children, this can also be positive because it introduces to them children's songs of the North American culture in a way that they can understand. And the next time they hear them in English, they will remember what the songs and rhymes are about.

However, if a program consists only of translations of English rhymes and songs, librarians may be doing the children a disservice. Latin American culture is filled with songs, rhymes, hand games, riddles, and poetry. These should also be introduced to Spanish and English-speaking audiences as you will be giving them the gift of their own culture. Many of our Spanish-speaking patrons come from families in which they heard none of these. In some cases, their parents, and their grandparents before them, may have had very little formal education. The rhymes and songs and the love for reading may never have been passed down because the parents were constantly working. For us as librarians and educators, passing down these songs and rhymes in Spanish is just as important as passing down Mother Goose rhymes. They help Spanish-speaking children maintain a sense of their own culture, and the children's background is enriched. This can be done even if you yourself are not a Spanish speaker, either by having guest presenters or parents or teachers in the audience present the rhymes and songs, or by playing CDs or tapes during the program.

Something to consider is that the sense of poetry and meter cannot usually be successfully translated from one language to another. It is a very talented person who can translate a rhyme. Although there is a time and a place for using translations, many times the best solution is to choose a rhyme in the other language that has the same idea or theme, but that is traditional to that language. For example, for a unit on farms, librarians might do a better service to the children by using the traditional song, “Vamos a ver mi granja” rather than translating “Old MacDonald” into Spanish. It has very different music, but the main idea of the various animals and the sounds they make is the same.

By the same token, many people ask whether it is best to use English books that have been translated into Spanish or original Spanish works. As children's librarians we are accustomed to the 32-page picture book format, in which the story does not crowd out the pictures. This format is not necessarily used in original Spanish language children's books, which can be wordier and have fewer illustrations. An example is La calle es libre by Kurusa Monika Doppert. The difference can be intimidating and challenging for librarians who have not worked with that format. However, one must take into account that in Spanish-speaking countries children and parents read these books, and so the format may not feel strange to your audience.

Something else to consider is that even if the English title is a great work, some translations may not be the greatest because they have grammatical errors in Spanish. For example, El gato ensombrerado (The Cat in the Hat) has some grammatical mistakes and simply does not flow well in Spanish, although ¡El Gato con sombrero viene de nuevo! (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back) does justice to the original.

Dr. Isabel Schon is a great resource if you are not fluent in Spanish and need to know which translated books are good to use for your programs or for collection development. She has written several books on the subject and also has a web site, Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents,, on which you can search recommended titles both in English and in Spanish. Whenever possible, a mix of both original Spanish children's books and English books that have been translated into Spanish is the best solution. Original Spanish books will have the natural cadence of the language, and Spanish translations of English works will help your readers become familiar with titles that their English-speaking peers know.

But how does a librarian present a Spanish bilingual storytime if you yourself don't speak Spanish? There are several ways that to do this. The easiest solution is to look for library staff or patrons to assist with storytime. Librarians can work with them and select the materials to be presented together. When presenting the program, librarians may read a page in English and the staff member or volunteer can read the same page in Spanish consecutively; or one could read a paragraph or line in one language followed by the reader of the second language. Some presenters also choose to read the whole book in one language and follow it with a complete reading in the other language. When using this approach librarians will especially need to consider the audience's reactions. If working with monolingual audiences, where either the children are only English or Spanish speakers, or when the audience includes a bit of both, the children can became distracted whenever a particular language group is not being addressed for a long period of time. Yet another way for librarians who speak little Spanish to present bilingual storytimes is to present the bulk of the program in English and add some basic songs and rhymes in Spanish.

Some presenters write the rhymes and songs on big posters for everyone to see and follow along; others provide handouts. This is a great way to involve parents, and it takes away the fear of forgetting unfamiliar words. Librarians may wish to try presenting storytimes in different ways to discover the most comfortable approach.

While the programs provided in this chapter are designed for families with children of various ages, librarians may want to offer some programs for specific age groups. Manuals from past years' programs that would work with this year's theme are listed below. Texas Reading Club manuals since 2002 are available online at the Texas State Library and Archives web site,

Buena suerte and have fun!

Programs for Toddlers

Juegos de agua para campeones / Water Play for Champions” by Alexandra Corona and Paula Gonzales, from Reading: The Sport of Champions!: 2006 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Pinta tu mundo en el parque y cerca del mar / Color Your World at the Park and By the Sea” by Rose Treviño, from Color Your World.Read!: 2004 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Programs for Preschoolers and School-Age Children

Pachamama (Madre Tierra) / Mother Earth” and “Charcas, Mares, y Océanos / Puddles, Seas, and Oceans” by Consuelo Forray and Maureen Ambrosino from Go Wild.Read!: 2005 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Pinta tu mundo con el transporte / Color Your World with Transportation” by Rose Treviño from Color Your World.Read!: 2004 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Sapos cachones y ranas saltonas / Horny Toads and Jumping Frogs” by Paola Ferate-Soto, Josefina Rodriguez-Gibbs, Nohemi Lopez, and Maricela Moreyra-Torres from Read Across Texas: 2002 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Programs for Families

¡Tierra a la Vista ... Una Isla! / Land Ho! ... An Island!” by Consuelo Forray and Maureen Ambrosino from Go Wild.Read!: 2005 Texas Reading Club Manual at

Las ranas, los sapos, y los cocodrilos / Frogs, Toads, and Crocodiles

Navegando en buen y mal tiempo / Sailing in Sunny and Rainy Weather

Navegando en la tina y otras costumbres para por la noche/ Sailing In The Bathtub and Other Night Rituals

Viajemos en barco / Let’s Travel by Ship



Texas Reading Club 2007 Programming Manual / Sail Away with Books!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011