Hello and Hola – with Mardi

Today we’re so happy to introduce another wonderful guest blogger, Mardi!


I am excited to be starting my first full time children’s librarian position with the Contra Costa County Library in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Since graduating first with my undergraduate degree in Human Development from California State University East Bay in 2008, and then with my MLIS from San Jose State University in 2012, I have been working as an on call children’s librarian for the Marin County Free Library and the Pleasanton Library in California.  I have been working with a colleague over the last year to plan and present a weekly story time and craft for our bilingual families.  Previously, I worked as a systems librarian at Innovative Interfaces and as a circulation assistant at the Academy of Art University Library in San Francisco. My volunteer work has included baseball coach, 826 Valencia Street after school tutor, Head Start storyteller, technology trainer for seniors, and all around neighborhood volunteer and mom.  Can’t wait to begin sharing ideas with others here at Storytime Underground.

Plaza Nights – Family Nights Under the Stars 

One of the goals of our library was to reach out to our Hispanic community.  My colleague Silvia had a great idea for a summer program —  change a weekly bilingual story time into a weekly Plaza Night for families to gather under the stars and socialize.


Silvia envisioned evenings that were reminiscent of those she spent as a child growing up in Mexico.  Families would come out to the town square or plaza after work to tell stories, listen to music and be together.  I was excited to help Silvia bring her ideas to life and we got started putting a plan together.  This was my first experience putting together a library program and I had plenty of ideas for activities and crafts.  Silvia and I put together a great series of programs that increased the number of families attending from 15-20 to 40-60 participants.  We learned a great deal in the process and had so much fun!  We also had great help and support from the Head of our Children’s Services, Sara, and Willow and Jessica from our library staff.   Here is how we did it.



Photo Credit: David Stanley

We started with a written plan outlining five activity stations that would remain constant over the summer with minor updates to keep things fresh:


1.  Creation Station – Each week we set up a simple planned craft that families could do together. (We helped families make pinatas, silk flower and wire fairies, mosaic collages, crayon and water color resist paintings, origami paper animals, etc.).  We discovered that the parents also enjoyed making the craft activities each week, and as they crafted they socialized and created friendships with other parents.


2.  Free Play Area  — Designed for babies and toddlers this station included large cardboard blocks, a soft quilt spread out with baby toys, soft blocks and scarves.  For older kids we had jacks, chalk, hopscotch and hula hoops. We also brought the library’s wooden block set outside, and added matchbox cars and a roll of banner paper to the area, so kids could draw roads and build a city for the cars.


3.  Puzzle Place – At this station we set out large floor puzzles of space, dinosaurs, ocean, etc, that were donated.  We spread a large canvas painter’s cloth from the hardware store on the ground to set aside the space as a place to build the puzzles.


4.  Dollhouse Play — A dollhouse with dolls and furniture was a big hit with all of the kids over a wide age range.  We found a simple wooden dollhouse that was being discarded at Goodwill, gave it several coats of paint and found some used dollhouse furniture and dolls on Craig’s List.


5.  Read to a Gorilla  — This station was made by simply moving our large overstuffed gorilla and a bean bag chair outside onto a painter’s cloth and surrounding it with colorful picture books.  We placed a sign around the gorilla’s neck that said:  “Please read me a story!”  We placed a few chairs beside the gorilla for parents to join their kids in reading to the gorilla.


Our Plaza Nights were funded by our local Friends of the Library Group.  We sourced much of the materials from supplies we already had at the library.  What we didn’t have we found from discount sources such as Craig’s List and recycled materials.  Most of the funds were spent on supplies for the weekly craft activity.  The craft activity allowed children and parents to work together and provided a calm, welcome atmosphere for relationship building and chatting with our families in English and Spanish.  Families invited other families and the word spread until our program grew from just a few families to about 40 to 60 people attending each week – many from new families.


Our last night of the summer included decorating cupcakes that we baked, and a raffle of the large pinatas the families had helped us make at several of our weekly craft sessions.  Fun was had by all, and  it was so rewarding to see the families socializing together and making plans to get together outside of the library setting. What began with the goal of providing a safe and welcoming space for our Spanish speaking community to gather with their children, and other Spanish-speakers, created a solid summer program that welcomed families from diverse backgrounds and languages.  This is definitely a program we look forward to doing again next year!

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