Making Readers: How Libros para Todos Inspires Children to Love Books
By Fredric Dannen
In his adventure story El libro salvaje (The Wild Book), author Juan Villoro recounts the tale of a teenage Mexican boy whose summer vacation plans have been thwarted by his parents’ marital problems. The boy, Juan, is unhappily deposited in the huge book-filled home of his uncle Tito, an eccentric bibliophile. Juan soon finds himself curiously captivated by a mysterious book of secrets and learns about the magic of reading.
Villoro’s tale neatly evokes a nonprofit San Miguel de Allende-based outreach program called Libros para Todos (LPT), now entering its fourth year. Created in 2013 by Susan Neulist as an adjunct to the San Miguel Literary Sala, LPT is aimed primarily at Mexican children, especially in rural communities. Like the boy in Villoro’s story, the majority of Mexican children know how to read books but simply do not. LPT’s mission, to instill the love of reading, is as straightforward as its method. LPT chooses a book, distributes it free to hundreds of children in rural communities, and then brings the author to meet and speak to the children about the book they have just read. Children discover that reading can be an enriching, life-enhancing experience, and the excitement shared by both the children and the authors is palpable. Daniela Elena Franco, recently appointed director of LPT, notes that in Mexico, indifference to reading outstrips the inability to read. “Although there are more literate people in Mexico now than ever before,” she says, “fewer books are being read. Mexico is a country that has stopped reading. LPT’s mission is to address that problem and get the new generation of children to learn to love books.” She adds, “It is important for kids to read, not only to improve their communication skills, but to learn how to think creatively and to feel empathy for people very different from themselves.”
The books that LPT distributes are inspiring stories written by Mexican nationals or residents, authors whom young people can regard as role models. In 2013, the chosen book was Cajas de cartón by Francisco Jiménez, the account of an itinerant Mexican family’s escape from poverty. Viola Canales’s award-winning The Tequila Worm, the coming-of-age story of a young girl from a Latino neighborhood on the Texas-Mexico border, was the choice for 2014. Last year’s selection was Juan Villoro’s El libro salvaje. Villoro spent four days in the San Miguel area speaking to children about literature, reading, and education.
LPT currently serves 550 students in 10 rural schools. Franco says the goal for 2016 is to enlarge the number of schools and distribute books to around 800 young people. This year LPT will provide workshops for the schoolteachers themselves, demonstrating more effective methods for getting children to enjoy reading.
“LPT’s motto,” Franco adds, “is Creando Lectores” (Making Readers). The organization’s websites are www.creandolectores.org (in Spanish) and www.makingreaders.org (in English). The websites provide more information and an easy means of making a donation.
This year’s Steinway Series to benefit Libros para Todos
Each year, the Bellas Artes presents a quasi-monthly concert series in its upstairs auditorium featuring the theater’s nine-foot Steinway grand piano as a solo or ensemble instrument. Highlights of last year’s Steinway Series included a recital by pianist Ken Bichel, a concert featuring guitarist Gil Gutierrez and pianist Gabriel Hernández, and a song recital by countertenor Don Krim. This year, all Steinway Series concerts will benefit Libros para Todos, the San Miguel outreach program aimed at getting young Mexicans to discover the joy of reading. The first event in this year’s series will be an extravaganza called “Tango: Celebrating an Artform in Music and Dance,” featuring the Argentinean vocalist Alicia Rappoport; pianist Alexander Pashkov; performers on bandoneon, violin, and double bass; a pair of prizewinning tango dancers; and the stage direction of Joseph McClain. “Tango” recently completed a sold-out tour in Australia. Tickets are 400 pesos and include a free tango lesson at the Arthur Murray Dance Center at Salida a Celaya 59. Advance tickets may be purchased at a discount on the website SteinwaySeries.com.