Cultivating Literacy

Cultivating literacy: Being the Gardener of a Grass-roots Literacy Project: Helping Grow the Reading Culture & Offer Access to the Written Culture

Partner with Local Library Associations and National Library Networks

Join the local Library Association. In our case, we are members of ANIBIPA and participate with the Nicaraguan National Library network (La Red). We were recently honored by ANIBIPA with an Award for Excellence at the 4th Annual Anniversary of their En Tu Biblioteca Campaign. Our Association always welcomes workshops provided by Library Science student volunteers and also welcomes collaboration with grass-roots programs, donations of children’s books, etc.

Partner with Local Educators and Schools

Meet with the school superintendents or Education Ministry deputies and teachers and ask what assistance they would like. Usually these requests include that you:

  • Offer workshops, provide needed supplies, offer to attend major school functions as guests, offer to provide the needed small prizes for award recipients at these functions
  • Offer space in the library facility and the talents of volunteers to provide enrichment and reading programs for preschool and grade school students
  • Purchase several of the texts required for the school curriculum and make them available for study sessions
  • Provide craft supplies to students for posters and other class projects
  • Offer after school tutoring in basic reading in the native language and math for struggling students. Very few schools are in a position to offer extra help to challenged learners.

Initiate a Lending Library Facility

Research ways to start a Library in a Box program

  • Go to: then click on Initiating a third world lending library, and SJDS Biblioteca Policies
  • Consider using a portion of a school administration building, part of the mayor’s office, local cultural center, or women’s center. It is not always necessary to build a new structure.
  • Make library spaces as inticing and user-friendly as possible
  • Get to know your audience and collect appropriate reading materials
  • Include as many community-based projects as possible
  • Offer classes for public health information, tutoring, English, and computer use.
    -Usually public health and school officials are willing to provide instruction when given a space and materials to do so. Provide public health information and early childhood educational pamphlets. These can be obtained on the web or for free from various state library associations in your home areas.
  • Seek volunteers willing to help

Provide a Mobile Program That Routinely Visits Each School

  • Provide books in bins and a simple lending system. Info at:, then click on Initiating a third world lending library, protocols for a mobile project
  • Bring other activities as well to engage patrons, such as sports equipment, games, and toys

Encourage Family Reading Time

  • Have receptions for families and ask the children to read to their parents
  • Invite families to Story Hours
  • Invite parents to sessions to hear stories read on tape (an idea for areas with low literacy rates)
  • Consider “fun” book clubs with participation but no sense of being “tested”
  • Offer refreshments during these short events

Use the Work of Known Latino Authors

Encourage the reading of books about these authors and musicians – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and others have current stories about them as children:

  • My Name Is Gabito/Me Llamo Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez/ La Vida de Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • My Name Is Gabriela/Me Llamo Gabriela (Bilingual): The Life of Gabriela Mistral/ La Vida De Gabriela Mistral
  • My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia (Bilingual): The Life of Celia Cruz/La Vida De Celia Cruz
  • One particular book by Isabel Allende tells of her experiences with her grandmother as a child and how that experience is the material of many of her books

Use these sources to encourage children to write from their own experiences either individually or as a writing exercise offered at the library.

Notes: has pages for famous authors with biographies that can be downloaded, translated, and printed to distribute in the library. Adults are also fascinated to read about their favorite authors. Remember, very little information is available on any subject without libraries. See samples below.

Find sources and encourage children to read stories about their own culture and their own view of their culture and other cultures around them.

Encourage the Collection and Use of Indigenous Stories

  • Libros Para Niños and Children’s Press are good sources
  • Collect local oral stories
  • Ask local story tellers to participate
  • Have children listen then write up and illustrate the stories

Use Poetry

  • Encourage poetry by holding poetry readings and poetry contests. Allow children to print, illustrate, and frame their own poems.
  • Use Nursery Rhymes: Mother Goose on the Loose – Bilingual from Neal Schumann is another good source

Note: Reading levels and writing skills are often low as there has been little opportunity to use these skills. Use the skills of artistic appreciation instead of critical judgement here!

Art and Art Activities Related to Stories

  • Provide materials from colored pencils to finger paint, acrylics and oil paint.
  • Provide opportunities for children and adults to paint and to have art instruction classes.
  • Provide art instruction books for budding artists. A favorite book in our library is How to draw Manga!
  • Murals that instruct are useful – a mural painted by children that depicted a local water filter project in a fanciful way served several purposes and helped the children feel informed and empowered in their community.


  • Provide opportunities for children to have their pictures taken and used to make small gifts to bring home to parents.
  • Provide opportunities for children to use cameras, paint, and frame their work to take home (simple paper mat or craft frames work well). Help them write phrases that describe what they drew or photographed.

Provide Music and Musical Activities

Songs on tape: act out stories on tape. Include this activity with adults as well as children for a rousing session.

Most Importantly

  • Provide access and lend out books in any way that works
  • Info at:, resources for more information including publishers that provide excellent Spanish books and materials.
  • Find and provide whatever offers access to information and the stimulus of fun to spark imagination and create lifelong readers.
  • Scholastic’s website has activity pages for their books in both English and Spanish that can be downloaded for free and used in children’s activity sessions.
  • There are several other sites that allow free downloads of activities for children available through Google:



Sample Author Biographies from Amazon

Isabel AllendeBorn in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of eight novels, including, most recently, Zorro, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune. She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, including My Invented Country and Paula; and a trilogy of children’s novels. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Isabel Allende lives in California.

Paul CoelhoThe Brazilian author PAULO COELHO was born in 1947 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist.