A few days ago, in the run up to World Book Day, we tweeted this image:
It was heartening to see that the tweet got thousands of impressions. In recent years, we have all become more aware of the urgent need to diversify the range of books children have access to. Exercises such as a school library diversity audit are now becoming more and more common, and initiatives such as the amazing Knights Of are going from strength to strength.
We all agree that *all* children benefit from seeing all children represented in key roles in the books they are reading. Against this backdrop, considering linguistic diversity is a little more complex – while more than 1 in 5 children in England are now from a migration and/or multilingual background, making them the single largest minority group, the group is by no means homogenous. A single classroom can include children with 20 or more different language backgrounds, so any school library housing books in other languages will cater to only part of the school population. The curriculum is resolutely English, the language of instruction, the test requirements – they are all English. Library spaces are limited, and so is the budget. Teachers cannot be expected to be multilingual, and would not be able to read the books themselves to engage children in conversations. All these are very valid and logical reasons.
So, what can we do? What should we do? First of all, it is useful to recognise the advantages of giving children access to multilingual books, and while “representation matters” (oh, it definitely matters!), there are additional compelling reasons:
- Representation matters 😉 , but
- What this means is not only that children who speak Spanish, Punjabi, Polish, etc. might see their language in the school library. It means that other children do too.
- It means that the library has a stock of books for parents to come in and do a multilingual story reading activity.
- It means that the school can serve as a “hub” to what is otherwise a fragmented grassroots exchange of books among heritage language families, who don’t always have children of similar ages.
There are more reasons, but we will keep them for another day, because I want to share some concrete ideas on how to integrate multilingual reading into school life.
- Telling parents that the school would gratefully receive book donations in languages other than English, and work with parents and children on creating a catalogue (you could use our book review activity for this) bridges the home-school divide, enhances parental communication, and gives children meaningful ways to bring their home languages into the school community.
- Children can work as multilingual “reading buddies” to younger peer groups, sharing their book reviews, and their enthusiasm.
- Many schools now have staff members sharing books they are reading right now, or “favourite books”. Encourage any multilingual staff members to make their reading in other languages visible through this activity.
- Actively let parents know that reading in languages other than English “counts”, and should be entered into home reading diaries (in my research, I have come across parents who had never even considered doing this, because they assumed schools would not be interested).
- If the school library budget is too tight to buy books in languages other than English, invest deliberately in books in translation – World Kid Lit is an amazing resource for ideas here – and make sure children understand that they were written in languages other than English – children could use the original title (typically given at the front of the book) to search the internet for the original book cover, find out information about the author, etc. (Again, I will plug our book review activity here, which invites children to name the translator)
- Conduct a River of Reading exercise to encourage children to share reading in all their languages, and celebrate it across the school.
- Have a “multilingual reader of the month/week”, to give additional kudos – we have even prepared a certificate for you to adapt and print/send.
We hope the above has given you a few ideas, and be sure to tag us on Social Media (@LostWor_l_ds) if you use any of our resources – we would love to see your multilingual reading corners, book reviews, Rivers of Reading, Multilingual Reader of the Month Award winners, and more!