Cyber Biblioteca: The Urbita Family Literacy Project

By Gabriella DeLeon-DeHaan

A library is also a place where love begins

Rudolfo Anaya

It wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to authors who shared my culture, such as Rudolfo Anaya.  I grew up in the isolated Mojave Desert town of Barstow, California in a time before there was easy access to the internet.  However, I never felt lonely because I was always surrounded by my family and books.  For entertainment, we would sit out in the yard around a campfire in the evenings where my father and grandfather would tell stories about our family’s rich history.  They would also read classic books to us after dinner, such as Homer’s The Iliad.  I remember that my mother used to take my sister and me to the public library as a reward on Fridays.  We always looked forward to the presentations and activities that went along with each story. These experiences are what motivated me to create similar family engagement activities for my students and their parents.  Through the Urbita Family Literacy Project, I want to teach parents how to connect with their children through literature and to share the gift that my family gave me. 

As a dual language teacher and English Language Facilitator in the San Bernardino City Unified School District in San Bernardino, California, I am constantly searching for resources to help my students and their families.  Research shows that children’s literature is a critical element in helping to develop a positive cultural identity and an understanding of the complex world in which we currently live. Bring Me a Book is founded on the belief that “reading benefits not only the individual reader, but also, humanity as a whole.  The benefits of reading—superior analytical thinking, an expanded vocabulary, social-emotional strength and resilience, leading to a greater ability to overcome adversity—create a literacy ecosystem that ripples across humanity (Bring Me a Book, 2022).” 

Few books in Spanish available to students.

However, it is often challenging to find quality bilingual children’s resources.  As bilingual educators we often have to create our own materials, lessons, and workshops in order to have what we need for our classes.  Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have the support of Dr. Barbara Flores, Dr.  Esteban Diaz, my colleagues in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, and professional organizations such as CABE (the California Association For Bilingual Education). The dual language students, parents, and educators in the San Bernardino City Unified School District need access to quality, culturally relevant books to improve biliteracy skills—and I have spent over twenty years of my career working to design and facilitate programs to help our students have access to equitable resources in order to achieve academic success. 

To this end, I developed a program to improve the literacy rate of our dual language students by developing a love of reading through increased access to bilingual books. One of Bring Me a Book’s community partners is Bookelicious, a free reading platform and children’s bookstore intended to help kids choose books by age, interest, and reading level.  The company’s platform offers book recommendations from the Bookmoji algorithm, the ability to browse by subject, and even helps children find titles in local libraries.  They also offer book collections at discounted prices to parents and educators.  In addition to working with Bring Me a Book I was invited to work as a consultant for Bookelicious.  I worked on curating their titles in the verticals for their Latinx Collection.  Once again this was a unique opportunity to ensure that my students had access to authentic bilingual resources.

As a result of my work with both Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious, our school was selected to join the Bring Me a Book National Consortium and, along with the support of our principal Sarah McCain, I designed a project titled “Cyber Biblioteca: The Urbita Family Literacy Project.”  Through the Bring Me a Book Foundation, the students at Urbita Elementary received a grant of $5,000 to purchase books.  The grant was divided across one transitional kindergarten and two kindergarten classrooms.  Together with my colleagues Cheryl Florez and Angie Rodriguez I implemented the Urbita Family Literacy Project.

At Urbita Elementary School the students each had access to individual Chromebooks.  Through Bookelicious each student was able to set up a free online account and, with the help of teachers and parents, create a Bookmoji.  The Bookmoji is a character designed by the students and it uses technology to match kids with books based on interests generated by its algorithm.  After creating a Bookmoji students use the website’s recommendations to build reading wish lists.  Then the students’ reading wish lists are fulfilled either by donations from Bring Me a Book or other community partners.  The students can also use the World Cat link to find copies of their reading selections at local public libraries.  The students were able to order their books and build personal at-home libraries. 

When the book orders arrived we held celebratory events for the students and during the course of the 2021-2022 school year our students developed a love of reading through book choice and reader agency.  Some of these events included participating in a live Read Across America event that was organized by program specialist Marcia Hunter and the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s Literacy Task Force.  As a member of both the Literacy Task Force and a consultant for Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious I was able to partner with children’s book authors to hold live online read-alouds for our students in SBCUSD.  The students also participated in a campaign with the theme of “Reading is My Superpower.”  We even held an event for an international “Dia de los ninos” (Children’s Book Day) celebration where the students took turns sharing their favorite bilingual books.  On the last day of school we held a final book party for the students to present their favorite books from the school year and to make recommendations to add to our classroom library for the new class.

 In June, I represented CABE at the Early Literacy Support Block Conference for California.  During my presentation I talked about the success of this project and the importance of students being able to see themselves represented in literature (it is for this reason that I started writing my own books and have created projects such as this one so that the contributions of our community are not erased from history).  At the end of my presentation, I gave the attendees links for free resources from Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious that can be used to fund their projects.  It is my hope to inspire others to construct their own literacy projects and to expand a love of biliteracy without borders.  In a world that can sometimes feel so divided, books are the great educational equalizer that can teach us to love and respect each other’s cultures.  

NOTE: In 2023, an expanded version of this article will be published in CABE’s Multilingual Educator.

© 2022 Gabriella DeLeon-DeHaan