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UA to host Latino literacy conference

Haley Herfurth

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The School of Library and Information Studies will host the third annual Celebration of Latino Children’s Literature conference today and tomorrow in Gorgas Library and Alston Hall.

The conference will include appearances by several esteemed Latino authors and illustrators, such as Monica Brown, Rafael López and Carmen Tafolla, as well provide opportunities for attendees to learn about Latino children’s literature, literacy, and librarianship in the form of small, breakout sessions.

The conference’s keynote address will be delivered by Oralia Garza de Cortés, a respected scholar of Latino children’s literature.

In conjunction with the conference, there is a free event at the Tuscaloosa Public Library tonight at 7 p.m. There will be performances and book signings by two of the authors, as well as refreshments, free books for children and book sales.

Jamie Campbell Naidoo, assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies, founded the conference with a colleague while teaching at the University of South Carolina. After being held in South Carolina for two years, Naidoo said he moved it permanently to Alabama because he saw a local need from both librarians and teachers wanting to meet the needs of a growing Latino population in their area.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Tuscaloosa has seen a 240 percent increase in the Latino population in the last 20 years. The center is now referring to states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and North and South Carolina as the “New Latino South” because of the influx of Latinos into the area.

Because of the rapid rush of Latinos into Southern schools and libraries, Naidoo said that the conference was founded to help educators find good resources to serve the growing population in classrooms and libraries.

“Many teachers, librarians, and other educators are at a loss for how to meet the literacy and informational needs of these children,” Naidoo said. “At the same time, non-Latino children in these classrooms and libraries are making friends with Latino children whose culture may be very different from their own. Teachers and librarians often don’t know where to find high-quality books about Latino cultures that they can share with their children.”

Naidoo also added that he hopes that by showcasing Latino children’s literature, programs and practice for meeting their needs, conference attendees will “gain a greater understanding of the diversity of the Latino population and the wealth of resources available to serve their informational and literacy needs.”

Laura Dover, a senior majoring in philosophy and Spanish and a co-founder of Hispanic Jumpstart Program, said it is “crazy” that Latino children often do not have the opportunities to learn English before entering or during school.

Dover has worked as a tutor for the past three years, working with area schools from the elementary to high school level. While she works with many international students, she tutors many Latino children, some of whom speak no English at all.

“They have their own communities, and there is never a push to learn the language,” Dover said. “It’s a huge investment in a community to make sure children have equal opportunities in education.”

Naidoo said the conference would be useful to any student in social work, education, library science, human environmental sciences or with a specific interest in Latin American Studies would gain valuable information from the conference.

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UA to host Latino literacy conference