Bilingual children’s books distributed to promote literacy

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Children at St. Hyacinth Parish listen to a story read aloud on Three Kings’ Day. (Photo by Amalia Oulahan)

“Este es Jorge. Es un monito bueno y siente mucho curiosidad por todo. / This is George. He was always a good little monkey and always very curious.”

After mass on Three Kings’ Day, children at St. Hyacinth Parish, 1414 W. Becher St., came to the front of the church to hear a bilingual version of “Curious George at the Aquarium” read aloud. Following the story, 100 children were given free books.

The book giveaway was coordinated by State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, Alderman Jose Perez, and Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West worked with Voces De La Frontera, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 212, and the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. They partnered with national nonprofit First Book, which distributes new, high-quality books to kids who otherwise could not afford them.

Luz Sosa, a St. Hyacinth parishioner who helped organize the book distribution, explained that Latino children typically receive gifts on Three Kings’ Day. Sosa said that when AFT Local 212 contacted her church, she was happy to participate, recognizing the importance of ensuring young children have opportunities to read.

Zamarripa, who read aloud at the event, also supports that goal, and said books are an accessible, affordable way for children to begin reading. “Especially in today’s age with computers, the Internet, and iPods…it’s so important for kids to go back to basics with reading,” she said.

Voces De La Frontera’s Joe Shansky said the event was a success. “Often, people can’t afford—and, with budget cuts, sometimes schools can’t afford—to get the books they need to give children,” he said. “Today, the message came across about the importance of early childhood education.”

Shansky also emphasized that encouraging young children to read can play a role in closing the racial achievement gap.

Zamarripa agreed. “Latino students have the lowest college graduation rate,” she said, adding that events such as the one at St. Hyacinth are the first step to help Latino children excel.

Zamarripa remembers her childhood reading as an important part of her personal success. She grew up in a single-parent home, and said reading was always a priority. “One of the things [my mother] always made sure to do was take me to the library, to make sure that I got books in my hands,” she said.

This event is the kickoff to a fundraising drive, which will end with Voces De La Frontera distributing more books to local children. From Jan. 6 to Feb. 6, donations will be accepted at firstbook.org/donateVOCES.

“As long as there is community support, events like this can continue,” said Shansky.

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