By Sujei Lugo
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, a celebration of children, books, cultures, languages, and community. Throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, various public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, schools, universities, and community centers planned and held different programs to share the celebration and “bookjoy” with children, families, and community members. Once again, I decided to join the “Día Turns 20” party and held three programs at my public library: a frame art workshop using as inspiration Frida Kahlo’s “El Marco” (1938) self-portrait, a “Rhythms Heard Around the World” drumming and storytelling program, and an art bilingual story time.
I want to focus this post on the art bilingual story time, as a way to bring attention to how to incorporate your community and neighborhood into your program while bringing a picture book to life. Last year I did a musical bilingual story time where I read Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López, used guajiras, rumbas, and mambos songs, and each child made and decorated small timbales made out of tuna cans. So which Latinx picture book published in the last 12 months would inspire me to offer a great bilingual story time, along with activities and a craft inspired by it t? At the American Library Association Midwinter Conference held at the beginning of the year, I saw and read a display copy of the picture book Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and illustrated by Rafael López, and, right there and then, I knew I had found the perfect match.
Through an inspiring tale and vibrant illustrations, Maybe Something Beautiful introduces readers to Mira, a girl who lives “in the heart of a gray city” and who enjoys doodling, drawing, coloring, and painting. She considered herself an artist and liked to gift her illustrations to people from her neighborhood. She even taped and “gifted” one of her paints to a dark wall around her block. One day she meets a muralist, and learns the magic of painting murals, and the power of bringing together the whole community to create something beautiful. The book is based on a true story about an initiative by Rafael López, the illustrator of the book, and his wife Candice López, a graphic designer and community leader, as a way to bring people together and transform their neighborhood into a vibrant one.
After reading the book, I immediately thought of the different murals around my neighborhood and how they are reflective of its people: different generations of Latinx communities, artists and activists, local businesses, streets, and heterogeneity. But also a community facing gentrification, fighting for housing, economic, and racial justice. A neighborhood with a sense of community, like the one I saw in Maybe Something Beautiful and one I wanted to show to my toddlers at story time.
I started the Día Art Bilingual Story Time by welcoming everyone, giving Día stickers to each child, and explaining how this was a special bilingual story time because we were celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Día. I explained what Día was, how it started, and how we were joining a nationwide celebration. I introduced my special guest, a local artist and art teacher, who was going to read with me and who was going to serve as the art facilitator. As a warm-up I sang a couple of songs: Buenos Días, ¿Cómo Estás?; Wake Up [different body parts]; and If You Are Wearing [insert color] Today, Say Hooray! Then we started with Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos El Día De Los Niños/Día de Los Libros written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López, where I read the Spanish text and the special guest the English one. I followed with more songs: Everyone Can March; Colors, Colors Everywhere; and Where is [insert color name in Spanish]? Once we finished singing and everyone got back to their spot, I read Maybe Something Beautiful while the art facilitator was setting up the tables for the craft.
After reading the book, I talked a little bit about our neighborhood and murals and did a guessing game with them. I printed out pictures I took of the different murals around our neighborhood and children and adults (adults were really into this) started guessing where the murals were located. Some of them were tricky, but with others, children were excited to shout where they were. I always like to leave the craft as a sort of final surprise and ask them what they think we are going to do. The craft was a mini-mural made out of 4” x 8” cardboard with a brick or wood wall pattern to simulate a real wall they will paint on. At first, I thought of giving them watercolors or tempera, but finally opted for markers because they are less messy for the 0-4 crowd. Children had fun painting their mini-murals and proudly showed their creation to everyone in the room.
We ended the program sharing mini cupcakes, brownies, and coconut macaroons (with vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free options) and all of them had mini flags with the “Día Turns 20” Logo. They all gathered together to enjoy the special treats, to chat with one another, and show each other their mini-murals. Some parents and caregivers reached out to me and expressed how much fun they and their child had. Others used the opportunity to tell me how their child likes to draw on their wall at home, and others told me how now they were worried their child would get inspired to draw and paint on their walls. Rest assured, the kids and adults got together to recognize the power of community and how paintings on the walls do bind us together in a communal experience of recognition. In that sense, any drawing on the house wall is a potential future of community building. Be it a mess or something more detailed, the drawings on the wall are definitely something beautiful.
|Sujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member ofREFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.|