• Sabine Little

Sheffield's Inaugural Multilingual Book Day

Updated: May 1, 2018

Sheffield's First Multilingual Book Day took place on Saturday 10th March, at Sheffield's Central Library's Children's section. The day was a huge success, with hundreds of visitors bringing and swapping books, and attending storytelling sessions in a total of 11 languages.

Rima kicked the day off by sharing a story in Lithuanian, and the children started a trend which carried on through the day, where they showed interest and engagement not only in stories told in languages they spoke, but in stories, period.

Early-morning storytelling in Lithuanian

At 11 am, the library virtually exploded with the amazing support from Sheffield's Spanish-speaking families. Children had first dibs on the carpet when Andira shared her book, and many families stayed on for the following Greek storytelling session by Nasos.

Huge support for Andira's Spanish story.

Things got up-close and personal for our Greek story.

The room had a festive feel to it, with many families staying for well over an hour, enjoying several storytelling sessions and taking the opportunity to chat to others about multilingual parenting. Key messages that shaped the day was how much families appreciated giving their home language public status, for children to witness that the language they spoke at home was part of the event, valued, included, and important. Storytelling in the home language was not just something to occur at home, behind closed doors, but in a large, central, public space, and other children and families enjoyed it too - even if it might not be "their" language. It was roundabout this time of the day when a library staff member said: “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people in here [the Children’s Library] before!” Proof that multilingual families are not necessarily minority, but a core group, accessible not only through English, but through facilitating family engagement with the home language/s.

Building on the vibe, a mother attending with her children asked to be involved in the next event, whenever that might be - instead, though, we included an impromptu Urdu story right there and then. Nobody cared that it wasn't scheduled, families already there stayed on. One English-speaking Dad afterwards said: “I’d never heard Urdu before - it’s cool to be able to listen to stories in other languages.” Children agreed, with the ones with the most stamina siting through five languages.

Outside the relative peace of the storytelling carpet, a brisk trade in books took place, with tables set up for those donating or selling books. Storytelling sessions could only be announced by hollering over the general buzz. French and Chinese storytelling sessions with James and Lynn kicked off the afternoon, before Jennifer shared a book in Brazilian Portuguese. Following one German story, due to popular request, I also shared the Gruffalo in German, with both children and parents listening to rhymes as they compared the translation to the original. Madawi shared "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" in Arabic to great success.

"We're going to catch a big one"

Ayşe read a book in Turkish to avidly-listening children, before Yuki finished off the day with two Japanese stories - a modern one which had us all talk about 蝶蝶 (chōchō - butterfly), and a traditional one, for which she brought beautifully illustrated traditional storytelling cards.

Finishing off this post, the Children's Library is home to a lovely Neil Gaiman quite, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which rather aptly describes the feelings around Sheffield's first Multilingual Book Day, a day where, no matter your language, background, or story, families came together to share a day of laughter, fun, books, stories and excitement:

"A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams, and a world in which there is hope."

The day couldn't have gone better, thanks to the wonderful engagement from Sheffield Libraries, the community language schools, and, above all, the wonderful families who attended and supported the event. Thanks to the enormous success, not only will there be more future events, but there are also plans for a multilingual children's section in the library. The small bilingual book section was completely depleted by the end of the event, with many families borrowing books in their home language for the first time. Building on this, I am now working with Sheffield Libraries to establish a larger, multilingual section for kids and teens - read more about it (and an appeal for books) here.