Today, public and school libraries carry a plethora of children’s books, in every size, shape, color, and genre. Most children’s sections are fun, engaging, and entertaining. They are also nearly 99% filled with English books. That’s not say there aren’t books in Spanish, along with some French and Chinese. However, for the most part, libraries are monolingual institutions.
A woman wearing a hijab walks up to the help desk at her local library with her 5-year-old daughter and starts engaging with the librarian.
“I’m looking for books in Arabic for my daughter,” she begins.
“Our language section is over there in the corner, replies the Librarian, pointing to a small section of books labeled ‘Languages’.
“Yes, I know,” says the woman, “but I’m not seeing children’s learning books in Arabic. I’m hoping to find books that would help me teach my daughter to read in both English and Arabic. However, the couple of books you carry for children are over 30 years old with storylines about living in the desert. None of them talk about going to school, making friends, playing with other children, or really anything about what she does living here. I know I may be asking too much,” continues the woman, “but how nice would it be to have books in dual-text that relates to her peers at school. We just want her to fit in. Her grandmother, who speaks little English, would love to read stories to her.”
“Let me think,” says the librarian. “Actually, there is an 11-volume set of books just coming out that are specifically designed to help a child develop social skills in school. And moreover, they come in dual text English and Arabic.” Would you like them in hardback, soft cover, eBook, print-audio, or audio-eBook format?”
OK, this is a fictitious story, but you get the point. There’s no reason for libraries to be stocking 30-year-old books in Arabic about princesses with magic power. Children today want to see themselves in the books they read. It’s all about feeling included and accepted by their peers. There’s no longer a reason why your Language section should be collecting dust.
As a development team, we’ve looked at this backwards and forwards, inside and out, right to left, and what we found are five reasons why libraries are expanding their bilingual offering. So, get ready. Your language section is about to get bigger.
1: Expanding our Horizons – Language Acquisition
If you haven’t noticed, in the last 20 years your community has grown in diversity of culture, ethnicity, and language. That’s not only true for border towns, but for communities in every corner of the country. If you consider this a momentary trend, you may not have seen our latest immigration statistics. Legal immigration is up 148% over the year before. The real question we should be asking is if our schools and libraries are prepared to teach bilinguals.
One-in-five households speak a second language in the home, yet only 3 percent of literature is non-English. Compare that with Italy where 50% of their literature is non-Italian. For a country that prides itself on its diversity, that’s a shameful statistic.
Moreover, studies show that bilingual children surpass monolingual children in reading and writing when given the tools. Young children between the ages of 3 and 6 can easily learn two or more languages simultaneously. That’s because children use the same part of their brain to learn language as they do to learn to speak. Later in life, we use anther part of the brain that makes it more challenging to learn a second language.
If we know that learning a second language is beneficial, why does the U.S. have one of the highest percentages of monolinguals in the world? The obvious answer is because English is the default language of the world. We don’t need to learn a second language, right? However, if we want to maintain our leadership in the world, we should be encouraging our children to read, write and speak a second language.
2: If you build it, they will come
If you go to the children section of any library and open any book to their copyright page, you’ll see the publisher’s name. Chances are, you won’t recognize the name. Tens of thousands of children’s books are published every year, most of them from one-time self-publishers.
Today, self-publishers rule the children’s industry. Traditional publishers no longer compete with the onslaught of self-published children’s books flooding the market. Technology has opened the door to every would-be writer to publish their own work. On one hand, this is a good thing, giving opportunity to those who would not otherwise write a book. On the other hand, libraries struggle to sift through the millions of titles coming across their desks to find the books their patrons seek.
Taking this business away from traditional publishes has other repercussions. The revenue used to market books now falls on the backs of the Indie writer. In addition, translation expenses are now the responsibilities of the writer. That alone has made it difficult to produce language books even as the demand continues to rise. The result is a void created by traditional publishers who find it unprofitable to publish language books and Indie-writers who don’t possess the skillset and funds to offer a meaningful, marketable collection. However, “The Times They are a Changin.’”
Children Bilingual Books has landed on a profitable business model for developing, publishing, and marketing dual-text books. “If you build it, they will come.” Libraries and schools are enthusiastically buying into the concept of dual-text learning books for bilinguals. With a small commitment, libraries are able to now offer books in languages never before stocked. Every library that has brought the books in is experiencing the same thing. “These are flying off the shelves!”
3: The Workaround
No way around it, translations are expensive. Ask any publisher and they will confirm that translating a book can be as involved and time consuming as writing the original draft. Not only do you need to recognize proper word usage and the author’s intent, but you need to be aware of the word ambiguity that may arise in the target language.
For Children Bilingual Books, we use a low-cost method of production referred to as “The Workaround.” Remember, we’re not translating War and Peace, right? Our books are less than 800 English words and have a vocabulary of a 4-year-old. We take out all rhyme and meter and eliminate ambiguous phrases. The script is straight forward with few “Americanisms.” This enables us to accurately translate the text at a minimal cost. All our translators are native-born speakers we contract from around the world. We use no translating agencies or machine applications.
The result is a quality American-made book we can offer at reasonable prices. Schools and libraries receive a 35-50% discount on all print books. OverDrive is currently offering half off our eBooks to libraries and schools until February 15th. Library Idea offers print audio books at a discount when purchased in language packages.
No other vendor offers early learning dual-text books at these prices across 22 languages.
4: Riding the Range
I’ve always liked the visual of cowboys watching over their herds. The same applies to librarians who exercise their stewardship over patrons. Helping to find books for a patron is fundamental to the position. Librarians not only need to know what is stocked, but where to locate them, and the formats in which they are available.
At Children Bilingual Books, this may be confusing since our books are release in hardback, eBook, soft cover, eBook-audio and print-audio formats. Hardbacks are procured through IngramSpark, soft covers come through KDP, eBooks come from OverDrive, and print-audio books are a product of Library Ideas. Each offers special pricing and packages conducive to the needs of the library’s demographics.
Down the street from our headquarters near Seattle, King County Library System started carrying a couple of books in September 2022. Ask them how many publications they carry now, and you would be astounded. Also ask them how many are on reserve at any given time. Why do they carry so many, you may ask. Simple, because they listen to their patrons. They ride the range.
5: Inclusion, Inclusion, Inclusion
I went to a party the other day. No, not that kind of party. It was a kid’s party. You know balloons, pizza, cake, games. The host knew me well and ensured me that there would be vegetarian pizzas along with the meat-lovers. I didn’t eat any pizza (the kids ate it all), but I thanked her for thinking of those who of us who had certain needs. It was a nice gesture that made me feel included and accepted.
When a patron enters a library and finds books in their native language, they feel welcomed. When a child goes to school and brings home a Vietnamese dual-text book, how do you think that parent feels about his or her school. A recent refugee from Ukraine went into a library and found 11 books in Ukrainian that she couldn’t find anywhere else. After traveling 7000 miles as a refugee from war-torn Ukraine, how do you think she feels being able to read to her 4-year-old son. The right books can make a difference.
In summary, dual-text books currently represent a small niche in the book industry, even if they serve a large segment of the population (66 million plus countless others learning a second language). Children Bilingual Books has dedicated the past 3 years in developing a series of books specifically designed to lay a foundation of languages conducive to our country’s language needs for early learners.
As our bilingual population grows exponentially every year, libraries, and schools struggle to keep up with the demand for learning materials in other languages. As a country growing in the number of diverse cultures, ethnicities, and languages, we look to our libraries and schools to provide the materials that will boost our nation’s literacy to new heights on the world stage.
Our hope is that your library or school will join us in expanding the selection of bilingual books available to our children.