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Libraries throughout Texas and the United States are expanding services to Spanish-speaking communities. Bilingual and Spanish-language programs, along with Spanish-language book collections and bilingual library tours, are at the heart of a growing effort to stimulate a love for books, reading, and libraries among Spanish-speaking patrons. These programs encourage Spanish-speaking children and adults to enjoy books and reading, to learn, and to delight in regular visits to the library.

Why are bilingual and Spanish-language programs important? There are many reasons. Research reveals a strong tie between literacy rates and exposure to books early in life. Children who have access to books develop pre-reading skills that enable them to become proficient readers. Educators say bilingual children benefit from being read to both in their primary language and in English. "The main idea is to connect a child with a book on a subject they love," said Isabel Schon, director of the Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents at Cal State San Marcos. "If Spanish is their language, it has to be done in Spanish."1

Chapter 128.2 of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language states that "For students whose first language is other than English, the native language serves as the foundation for English language acquisition. Cognitive skills transfer from one language to another, and students literate in their first language will apply these skills and other academic proficiencies to the second language." On a cultural level, librarians as storytellers have the opportunity to see that the riches of oral traditions are passed on to future generations. Cuentos, or traditional stories and legends, have been at the center of the Latino family experience for generations. With humor and warmth they express dreams and truths about life and inspire children to cherish their cultures. Library staff are encouraged to discover and retell cuentos beyond those included in this manual.

The publication of professional resources including Library Services to Youth of Hispanic Heritage edited by Barbara Immroth and Kathleen de la Peña McCook and Programming With Latino Children’s Materials: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Tim Wadham have inspired librarians to begin or expand programs offered to these patrons.

Librarians may present bilingual children’s programs whether or not they are fluent in Spanish. Many Spanish-language children’s books are simple enough for individuals with limited Spanish skills to read aloud. More and more children’s books are being published in a bilingual format, and translations of many more books are readily available.

Two excellent web sites with suggestions for bilingual and Spanish-language programming are the El día de los niños / El día de los libros web site sponsored by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at

Here are some basic formats for presenting books and stories in Spanish and English:

  • Read the story predominantly in English and present key words or phrases in the other language. This is the easiest format for librarians with beginning Spanish skills.
  • Read a sentence or page in one language and then read the translation.
  • Read a story from beginning to end in one language and then the other.
  • Present the story by switching from one language to another without translation, always maintaining grammatical correctness in both languages. This format is most appropriate when the reader and the audience are fully bilingual.

If a favorite book or story is not yet available in Spanish, youth librarians may use a Spanish / English dictionary to translate key words or phrases, or may ask a bilingual staff member to assist with translation of words, phrases, or the complete text.

There are many wonderful Spanish-language fiction and picture books for children by authors from Spanish-speaking countries. These books may play an important role in maintaining a child’s sense of cultural heritage. Titles by Spanish-speaking authors are emphasized in the programs from the 2001 Bilingual Programs Chapter by Elida Guardia Bonet. In addition, many books that were originally written in English are available in bilingual formats or in Spanish-language translations. These are emphasized by the authors of the 2002 Bilingual Programs Chapter.

Recommendations of Spanish-language materials are available on the web site for the Center for Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents at and on’s Spanish books page at A list of distributors and publishers of bilingual and Spanish-language children’s books is included at the end of the manual.

And finally, music has been described as a universal language that transcends all barriers of communication. From the merengue of the Dominican Republic to the rancheras of Mexico, música latina is the heart and soul and unifying language of Latin American cultures. Many suggestions for musical recordings for children are included in the programs in this manual. Librarians are encouraged to learn more about musicians and musical genres such as salsa, tejano, cumbia, boleros, and rancheras. A list of recordings compiled by Ben Ocón of the Salt Lake City Public Library for a presentation at the REFORMA National Conference II entitled "¡Música Latina! Collection Development and Listener’s Advisory Strategies for Libraries" is linked to the El día de los niños/El día de los libros web site at

As you look through the suggestions in this manual, choose your comfort level for presenting your programs. You will be delighted as Spanish-speaking children and families in your community express their enjoyment and appreciation for your efforts to reach out to them.

1 Martin, Hugo. "The ABC's of helping youngsters achieve literacy -- the first skill.; Reading by 9; Going Where Schools Can't." Los Angeles Times 22 Nov. 1998: Record Edition P. 2.

Preface | Programs for Toddlers

Page last modified: September 21, 2016