American librarians celebrate El día de los libros (“The Day of the Book”) on April 30th as an extension of El día de los niños (“The Day of the Children”), which is celebrated in much of Latin America. Pat Mora, an authoress of books for adults, teens, and children; poetess; presenter; and literacy advocate proposed the holiday.
The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland – which was then the headquarters of the League of Nations and where many organs of the United Nations continue to be headquartered – proclaimed June 1, 1925 to be the International Day of the Child. [To put its own stamp on it, in 1954 the United Nations proclaimed November 20th to be Universal Children’s Day.] Since then, various countries have adopted different days as Children’s Day.
Mexico and a number of other Latin American countries began to celebrate April 30th as El día de los niños. In March of 1996, while being interviewed in Tucson, Arizona, Ms. Mora found out about annual El día de los niños celebrations in Mexico.
She suggested combining the holiday celebrating children and childhood with promotion of literacy and bilingualism, thus creating El día de los libros.
With assistance from members of REFORMA, The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, Ms. Mora further developed her concept and began to plan for the first celebration, to be held on April 30, 1997. [Note that REFORMA is a separate corporation, but is affiliated with the American Library Association (A.L.A.).] Other organizations, including MANA del Norte, a women’s group in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and librarians, including Oralia Garza de Cortés and Veronica Myers, quickly offered their support.
REFORMA members later voted to endorse this celebration and became a founding supporter and leader in promoting the initiative throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. On April 30, 1997, the first El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebrations were held in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; and El Paso and Austin, Texas.
It is often referred to simply as Día. The word día is Spanish for day, but the A.L.A. also uses it as acronym for diversity-in-action. Ms. Mora also calls it Children’s Day, Book Day.
Later in 1997, the Texas State Library (T.S.L.), under the direction of Jeanette Larson, who was then the T.S.L.’s Continuing Education and Consulting Manager, produced a planning booklet to help librarians develop local programs to celebrate El día de los niños/El día de los libros. James Larson designed the first Día logo.
In 1998, the William Keith Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant to allow the National Association of Bilingual Education (N.A.B.E.) to develop a plan for a national campaign to disseminate information on Día. By 1999, schools and libraries across the U.S. hosted their own celebrations. According to the A.L.A., they were “creating bookjoy for children from all backgrounds.”
In 1999, Ms. Mora and her family established the Estela and Raúl Mora Award in honor of their parents to promote Día. The next year, the first Mora Award was presented to Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas.
The A.L.A. formalized its support for Día in 2001 when the Association for Library Service to Children (A.L.S.C.), an A.L.A. division, applied for and received a W. K. Kellogg Foundation (W.K.K.F.) grant to promote the concepts of Día. As a result, the A.L.S.C. produced a tip sheet for librarians who wanted to begin holding their own events and a brochure that librarians could distribute to parents.
The Kellogg Foundation awarded a second grant to ALSC in 2002 to produce and distribute another Día brochure, in Spanish, for parents. In 2002 and 2003 the W.K.K.F. also funded Día projects in North Carolina, Texas, and Arizona.
In Texas, the grant funded a statewide model and resources for Día. The University of Arizona hosted a meeting of a Día National Advisory Committee. By 2004, Día had become a tradition in many schools and libraries and found its permanent home with the A.L.S.C.
In 2007, Target became the first official national sponsor of Día, providing funding for libraries to receive complimentary bilingual brochures about Día and mini-grants to help establish or enhance local programs at eight libraries. In 2008, Dora Marquez, the young Latina heroine of the Nickelodeon cartoon Dora the Explorer, was featured on the Día poster, bookmarks, and brochures, bringing Día into the main stream of popular culture.
The A.L.A. states, “Other national sponsors and partners have included the National Council of Teachers of English, Reading Rockets, and publishers like HarperCollins, Children’s Book Press, and Cinco Puntos Press. Support from these sponsors has included distribution of posters and other promotional materials, discounts for libraries purchasing bilingual resources, and the development of guides to assist in program development.”
In 2011, celebrations of the 15th anniversary of Día, which would be its Quinceañera if it was a girl from Latin America, were bigger than ever. More than 300 libraries reported their activities through the A.L.S.C. Día database and librarians celebrated at a party at the A.L.A. Annual Conference in New Orleans. Also, in 2011 the Dollar General Literacy Foundation supported fifteen mini-grants of $4,000 or $6,000 for the expansion of Día in libraries that demonstrated a need to better address the diverse backgrounds within their communities.
The A.L.A. stated, “Eager to point out that the importance of literacy, books and reading should not be relegated to a single day, promoters of Día adopted the motto ‘Día! Today and Every Day of the Year.’ The celebration has grown up around the April 30 events, with many libraries conducting programs and events for much of April and May, as well as throughout the year.”
In preparation for 2012 Día celebrations, the A.L.S.C. added additional content and reorganized the Día Web site, with additional support from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, and continues to sponsor Día-related webinars.
 Some countries continue to celebrate International Children’s Day on June 1st, including Cambodia, China, Colombia, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Since Jamaica was one of the few countries left that did not have a National Children’s Day, on May 6, 2012 Governor General Sir Patrick Allen proclaimed every third Friday in May would be National Children’s Day.