To better serve the growing Spanish-speaking population in Dallas, TX, the local school district’s library media services director, Gay D. Patrick, put out a call for volunteers. Since 2006, this group of intrepid school media specialists, the Luminarias committee, has been developing an annual list of 20 of the best bilingual and Spanish-language books for children. Their goal is to help fellow librarians curate quality materials to meet the needs of the young Hispanic community in Dallas, while staying true to the culture and the language.
“One of the main reasons we started this awards committee was because we noticed all of the state lists and reading programs that kids were expected to be engaged in only have English-language titles,” Maryam Mathis, current committee chair and library media specialist at James Bowie Elementary, tells School Library Journal. “Our bilingual students wanted join in, but couldn’t always fully participate because of the language barrier. Now the Luminarias books count toward the “Readers are Leaders” [a Texas literacy program] goals.”
Notes Patrick, “In some areas, in one year’s time, the Hispanic population increased from 25 percent to 75 percent. After a successful Día de los niños program, one of the district librarians had organized, we kept discussing the need to serve that community better. Many of the media specialists wanted to deepen the collection, but they were afraid to order Spanish materials because they couldn’t read [them].”
The Luminarias committee aimed to change that. Now, its 10 to 12 librarian members—with the aid of bilingual teachers—begin the search for titles every spring, in order to have a final list available for the annual Texas Library Association conference.
Librarians in the district that don’t speak Spanish are grateful for the list, and feel a level of confidence knowing that it has been vetted by other librarians in their district, Mathis says.
To be chosen, each book has to have at least two positive reviews before consideration; be published three years before the reward year; have three positive reviews from committee members; and most of all, have great kid appeal. The selected books must be either completely bilingual or in the Spanish language. Translations of English titles are also considered.
As Mathis explains, “We realized that our kids are part of two cultures. Though the Legos Ninjago books are not from their home cultures, these students are still part of the American culture. The children love that series, and the translation is good.” Potential candidates for the book list are usually tried out on bilingual classrooms as read alouds for kids’ stamp of approval, she notes.
Once the top 20 titles are selected, each elementary school in the district receives a set of 20 new books for their preschool-to-third-grade collection.
Access to Spanish-language titles and translations has been the biggest hurdle for the group. Committee member Elvira Aguirre, a media specialist at Adelfa Botello Callejo says, “Sometimes we pick a book that is a big favorite—but it’s out of print. We want to make sure that they are available for district acquisitions team and anyone else who would like to a copy.”
The committee often relies on blogs like Mommy Maestra and Latinas 4 Latino Lit, and small publishers such as Lectorum and Cinco Puntos Press. One member even scouts for children’s books in Mexico City while visiting relatives.
The Luminarias list evolves and expands with every passing year. In 2006, there were 13 books in all, a mix of nonfiction and fiction titles. Currently, there are 20 top selections, with a supplemental collection of books that are also recommended as good examples of Spanish-language titles. In 2011, the committee rolled out a list of upper elementary picks for grades 4–8, including chapter books in Spanish. Mackin and Follet share the Luminarias selections on their websites, and the librarians also include links to classroom activities and suggested resources on authors and illustrators via Symbaloo and Livebinders. With each set of books, the 160 Dallas schools also receive posters to promote the collection.
Aguirre celebrates the books with her students by having her classes read the titles and then vote on their favorites. Mathis says many of the librarians have labeled the spines with a Luminarias or a medal sticker, to bring attention to their eligibility for the Readers Are Leaders program.
Parents also continue to be fans of the list. Aguirre shares, “They are thrilled to have these titles available and they often come to school to select books reading at home with their kids.”