Family Literacy for All

Award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez believes family reading can, and should be, for everyone!

We hear about family literacy campaigns all the time and for good reason… they work! When family members read with their children it promotes an increase in vocabulary, better reading skills, quality family time and a general love for books. As I was growing up, my dad was always reading something (he still does) and being surrounded by his books encouraged me to find my own favorite novels. I would discover books in school or the library and then want to talk about them. Living in a bilingual home meant that no matter the book any of us chose, we could all share the same story.
I was lucky. Language was not a barrier to having my parents involved with my love of books. It was an asset. I used this love of reading to develop my own stories. Speaking Spanish and English meant I could express myself in two languages and even get my grandparents (who only spoke Spanish) involved in my own imaginative story telling. This passion for stories led me to eventually follow my dream of writing my own books, but not every family has the opportunity to participate in shared reading.
There are often several barriers to parental involvement and, according to Scholastic’s Teacher & Principal Report, 74% of teachers and principals say they need help in engaging the families of their students in support of the children’s learning. Besides economic and societal hurdles, an often-overlooked barrier to parental involvement is the language gap. In our increasingly diverse society, the language spoken by parents is sometimes not the same language as that of the books their children are reading. Immigrant families face the issue that while the children are becoming proficient in English, the parents are being left out… not understanding or being able to share in what their children are reading at school.
So how can we get these particular families engaged? How can these families become active participants in their children’s education?    
The first step is to promote high-interest books available in both English and the parents’ native language. Choosing bilingual books that feature topics or characters that resonate with the particular families being reached can stimulate interest in both parents and students. Some of these high-interest books for younger children can be bilingual picture books or chapter books that can be read together with the parents. For older students, books that are available in English for the students and available in the parents’ native language can be independently read with family “book-club” discussions to follow.
But the joy of reading shouldn’t be isolated… it should be celebrated and shared. Community involvement is also an important resource in developing active family participation in the educational system. Schools can encourage a bilingual family literacy program with school events that use a bilingual moderator and feature bilingual guests related to the readings being promoted. Showcasing the students’ own writing and artistic expressions can create a further sense of community between families and school. A little outreach toward a marginalized group can go a long way to validate a group’s presence within the educational system. Family members and teachers can work together, regardless of language barriers, to encourage and develop the joy of reading and learning.
Family reading can, and should, be for everyone!

Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of several books including THE RED UMBRELLA (and the Spanish edition LA SOMBRILLA ROJA), A THUNDEROUS WHISPER, MOVING TARGET, RETURN FIRE, and STORMSPEAKER, the seventh book in the SPIRIT ANIMALS: FALL OF THE BEASTS series. Christina is fully bilingual in Spanish & English and she currently lives in Miami, Florida with her family.