REFORMA Brings Books, Backpacks, and Support to Unaccompanied Minors

REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project distributes Spanish-language books to unaccompanied immigrant children from Latin America, many in detention centers, while spreading the word about library services.
Book Donation 271 REFORMA Brings Books, Backpacks, and Support to Unaccompanied Minors

REFORMA president Silvia Cisneros (r.) with Border Patrol Officer Lopez. Cisneros delivered 300 books to the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center on behalf of the library organization. Photos courtesy of Silvia Cisneros.

For months, librarians Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía M. González, and Patrick Sullivan have spearheaded a program to put appropriate books in the hands of unaccompanied minors entering the United States. The trio, active members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) affiliate REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos), presented the Children in Crisis project proposal to the REFORMA executive board and membership during ALA’s Annual Meeting in June. The group voted unanimously to support the project.

Children in Crisis aims to aid provide literacy support for the unaccompanied children who have been arriving from Latin American countries by the thousands. Many of them have been relocated to detention centers across the country as they await immigration processing and the final decision about their futures from international lawmakers.

REFORMA launched the campaign—with Garza de Cortes, a Latino children’s literature consultant in Austin, TX, and Sullivan, emeritus librarian at San Diego State University, serving as cochairs—to raise funds for the purchase of Spanish books and backpacks for Spanish-speaking immigrant children from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

The first phase of the drive, from August 11–22, resulted in enough funds and donations to deliver 300 books to children in the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center. “The passion that our members have to assist and educate our children about the importance of reading and libraries is big,”  says Silvia Cisneros, president of REFORMA and a senior youth services librarian at the Santa Ana (CA) Public Library, who delivered those books on September 10. “When we launched this campaign, there was response within minutes.”

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Spanish-language books were donated and purchased from publishers and distributors, such as Lectorum, Bilingual Publications, TOMO Books, and Libros Books.

For many of the children, the REFORMA outreach is their first encounter with librarians and library-related programs. “We’re trying to get the message out that libraries are safe, secure places to go for books and information, and many have Spanish-speaking librarians,” Sullivan told a reporter for a piece in American Libraries. “In the countries that these children are coming from, in many cases, the library systems are pretty rudimentary if they exist at all.”

The Children in Crisis Taskforce website details the purpose of the ongoing drive. “This Web page was created by a task force of Spanish-speaking and bilingual/bicultural librarians to help other library staff and community members more effectively assist the unaccompanied refugee children who are being processed,” it states. “Our goal is to get books into the hands of these children, ensure that they have access to storytime materials, and to make all the recent arrivals aware of the wealth of library resources that are available to them.” The website also provides resources for librarians working with this population and a recommended storytime booklist.

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Cisneros shows one of the labels REFORMA members put in each book given to a child. The translation reads, “A book is a companion that gives you light and shelter.”

The books were donated by the publishers and distributors Lectorum, Bilingual Publications, TOMO Books, and Libros Books, and through the funds raised by REFORMA members—mostly librarians who serve Spanish-speaking communities. A personalized label in each book given to a child contains a message thought up by children’s librarian and author González: “Un libro es un compañero que te da luz y cobijo” (“A book is a companion that gives you light and shelter”).

Cisneros says that this experience has marked her forever. She was especially moved by volunteers’ interaction with an 11-year-old boy who had been traumatized by his experience crossing the border.

“[He] came to the center and went directly to a corner. Three people approached and tried to convince him to join the rest of the families to eat and choose his clothes, but he seemed to be very afraid,” Cisneros told SLJ via email. “I asked one of the staff members to offer him a book. He immediately stood up and followed her to the box of books. We took books out of the box and had him pick, he choose a chapter book and began to read [right away]. Two hours passed and he was lost [in the] story, and at [one] point he smiled.”

Along with de Cortes and Sullivan, Cisneros will continue to oversee the project for the immediate future. The organization hopes to provide books to another Texas site before going on to the next phase of the project. That will consist of raising and distributing money to various local chapters of REFORMA in regions where children are being sheltered. The chapters are expected to purchase backpacks and books for donations.

Donations may be made to the Children in Crisis website.

See also:
East Harlem Bookstore Launches Book Drive to Aid Unaccompanied Child Immigrants

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