A Day to Cheer for Students and Books

Educators promote literacy year-round but the celebrations bloom in spring with NEA’s Read Across America, National Poetry Month, School Library Month, and next week, El Día de los Niños, El Día de los Libros.

“Children’s Day, Book Day” is a year-long commitment to celebrating all children and to motivating them and their families to be readers. Known widely as Día, the literacy initiative is a collaboration of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), First Book, REFORMA and other literacy organizations. Children’s Day, Book Day celebrations and book fiestas are held in libraries, schools, homes, and community centers on or near April 30th.

Pat Mora, author and former educator, founded Día in 1996. Inspired by the Mexican celebration of El dia del nino and World Book Day, she wanted to create a celebration of both children and books. NEA Today spoke to Pat Mora about Día and how educators can get involved.

How can schools, libraries and educators get started?

First people need to be committed to starting the tradition. Even if it means that on Día you simply say to your classes and students, today is your day! Let’s read some books of your choice – books for you, and about you. It’s exciting when students hear that a day is all about them. This is why we have holidays – we have Mother’s Day, we have the Fourth of July. We have holidays to bring attention to something or someone and to celebrate them. And that is what Día is about. It’s about bringing attention to children and books and celebrating them.

But we always celebrate children, don’t we?

I get that question a lot and my response is yes, some children. It’s a hard truth but some of our children are never celebrated. That’s why on this day we band together so that all children will have at least one time and place in their lives when they are honored, told they matter, and that they are important. I’m a product of the middle class and so are my children, so this isn’t an issue for us, but it still feels wonderful to have a day that singles you out for commendation. That feeling is magnified for the kids who don’t come from similar situations, who might come from crowded households, or have parents who are overwhelmed, or feel alone. One thing I will do at the beginning of a Día event at school is ask all the kids to stand up so we can clap for them. Being applauded – maybe for the first time – is so powerful for kids.

What is “bookjoy”?

I coined the term bookjoy to convey that it’s not enough for kids to know how to read. That’s often how we define literacy. Children should also delight in the joy of reading and that’s what we’re trying to celebrate as well. Their relationship with books. It’s about their intense pleasure in reading. That’s bookjoy.

How do we encourage bookjoy among students who would rather have a device in their hands than a book?

We have to know our kids — know where they’re coming from and what they value. When you have a group of students immersed in technology, we have to figure out a way to connect reading with what they value. Reading is experiential just as technology and gaming is experiential. What’s the game about? How can a book enhance that knowledge and tap into that sense of excitement and wonder?

Why do you use both Children’s Day/Day of Books, or El Día de los Niños, El Día de los Libros in the name of the event?

To me the heart of it is children and books because too many young children don’t have books and aren’t read to. They don’t see their parents reading and don’t see books in their homes. As we celebrate Children’s Day, I want to celebrate Book Day because we need to advertise the power and pleasure of reading. We advertise toys, movies, sugary snacks and cereals to kids. Why not books? A book can change a child’s life, and it is critical to our democracy to have readers.