Today our publisher, Holly Hartman, and I were talking about how sad it is that so few Americans speak a second language. We speculated that the positive impact of everyone speaking an additional language would have an enormous impact on our learning lives and, in particular, on our economy. We took turns praising those we knew from Europe and around the world for whom fluency in a second…or third or fourth… language was considered quite normal.
At Unite for Literacy, we are working hard to celebrate the diversity of family life in the United States. Our efforts are designed primarily to support small children to see themselves in books and, by so doing, to learn to love books and reading. That means ALL small children, no matter what language(s) they may speak at home or at school. So, our various narrations represent our efforts to make it easy for kids to connect with our books and grow to envision themselves as avid and capable readers when the time comes to start school.
According to a report issued last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation called More Children in Immigrant Families, nearly 18 million children in the U.S. live in immigrant families, a 26 percent jump from the previous decade. Most often, that means these children grow up speaking a language other than English at home.
Now, our library was created to do one thing—provide all children with picture book abundance to support them in loving books and reading. But as so many of our patrons have discovered, our books can do so much more.
For example, it is our hope that the English narrations in our books provide non-English speaking youngsters with an opportunity to learn what the majority language of their new home country sounds like, along with an opportunity to learn a few interesting words and gain some insights into our foreign culture. Of course, English language learners of any age in other countries are welcomed to learn something about English from our books. Plus, that cuts both ways. Our book narrations offer native-English speaking children a chance to initiate an understanding of other languages.
Currently, our books are ALL AMERICAN! By that I mean they feature life in the U.S. In addition to the modest support we offer language learning, our books provide children from around the world with insight into exactly what life in America is like. Some of our books may be familiar and comforting to families from other countries, but some may indeed be eye opening. For example, our commitment to equality and equity in the U.S. might cause some interesting conversations in families whose culture does not include the gender, racial or religious equality we strive for.
Someday soon, we hope to find the funds and talent that will allow us to create additional libraries that focus on countries other than the U.S. Then all children will have an opportunity to read about the diversity of life in wonderful places, worldwide.
Together we can do that if we all just Unite for Literacy!