Bringing reading to kids

Fiesta de Libros takes to a mall to give children access to literature.


If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain, as the popular saying goes. This same concept comes alive most weekends in the form of books that make their way from libraries and bookshelves into the hands of small children in an unexpected place — the mall.

Fiesta de Libros takes place the second and fourth Saturday from February until October in a space adjacent to the children’s play area in Plaza Fiesta, one of the most popular spots in the local Latino community.

The program was created four years ago by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, with the mission of promoting literature and providing free books in English and Spanish to Hispanic youth under 17.

“We recognize that reading is fundamental in children’s education, and through this program we want children whose families aren’t able to get to the public library to have easy access to free books,” said Laura Murvartian, founder and director of Fiesta de Libros.

The idea came to her after a visit to New York, where she observed people reading in the park and participating in various educational and cultural activities.

“When my congregation (UUCA) asked me about what kind of service would be of use for the Latino community, I suggested this program,” Murvartian said.

The nonprofit group gets book donations from local businesses and organizations, among them The Institute of Mexican Culture, the DeKalb County Public Library system, The Westminster Schools and Comcast.

“It is with immense pride that The Institute of Mexican Culture aligns itself as part of Fiesta de Libros. This program encourages literacy, a love for learning, and accountability for making choices that propel future success,” said Gabriela Gonzalez-Lamberson, executive director of The Institute of Mexican Culture.

Last year several students from The Westminster Schools donated books to the program that they had written themselves, Murvartian added.

In addition to access to books, the program offers story time, book exchanges, audio books and chess.

Sandra Vicente, from Guatemala, and sons Jason and Joshua, ages 4 and 7, respectively, attend Fiesta de Libros frequently. They recognize that reading promotes imagination and helps develop intelligence. They also believe that the possibility of having access to books while out shopping or grabbing a bite to eat on the weekends is a great opportunity.

Every child who attends Fiesta de Libros takes home a free book. By the end of 2014, the program had given away 7,300 books, said Murvartian. Fiesta de Libros has been such a hit that Plaza Fiesta has donated a commercial space that will be inaugurated soon to allow the program to expand to Sundays.

“Our long-term objective is to encourage children to read and to keep reading through adulthood and eventually pass it on to their own children,” Murvartian said.

credit: Atlanta Journal Constitution