Parents seeking an enticing and mentally-engaging experience for their tots and toddlers will find a friend in Sheridan Cazarez, host of the Cuentos y Cantos bilingual storytime at Burnett Library.
Cuentos y Cantos is about 30 minutes of brain-engaging fun for kids ages two to five, although all ages are welcome to join in on the book readings, sing-alongs, fingerplays and more.
Last week’s storytime audience had around 20 people of all ages including Janet Vargas and sister Kimberly who brought two-year-old Matteo, Paula Rodriguez and her 10-month-old Audrey, as well as nine-year-old Gisselle who happened to wander in while looking for books.
“[He’s getting] exposure to other kids and the teacher setting. He was scared so this helps him get ready for preschool,” Janet Vargas said.
Cazarez is the early literacy reading program specialist for Long Beach Public Library. In this role, he focuses on getting kids five and under ready for preschool and kindergarten. However, at Cuentos y Cantos, he proves to have other talents, including a keen ability to translate English and Spanish and switch between the two, as well as a surprisingly good singing voice for someone who spends a lot of time in libraries.
“She loves listening to him,” Rodriguez said about her daughter Audrey while she played with a stack of books. “I wanted to expose her to books. We speak Spanish to her at home so I wanted to continue that and do something fun with her.”
The bonus of these storytimes is that while the kids are having fun doing fingerplays like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in both Spanish and English, they are also learning and increasing their fine motor and language skills.
“[Fingerplays] helps kids memorize the songs, they become familiar with them and they pass it onto their kids,” Cazarez said. “It gets them excited about songs, things that rhyme, and it gets those language centers in the brain ready to read, and every culture has them.”
Cazarez works with children who are in the critical period for language acquisition. He says the public seems to appreciate the library branching out into different languages and that many of the storytime attendees are parents trying to keep Spanish in the household.
“A lot of the people who have been coming to this are first-generation children of immigrants,” Cazarez said. “So their children are the second generation born in this country and that’s typically where the language is lost.”
Countless kids books are published every year and only the biggest hits are translated, leaving a vacuum for Spanish materials. And, according to Cazarez, many of the translations are too simple for Cuentos y Cantos, which consists mainly of his own translations of English books and songs.
On the other hand, Cazarez says translations can be tricky and don’t compare to authentic Spanish material, like the books he brought from Guadalajara earlier this year.
“It’s a whole different world view,” Cazarez said. “They talk about different things, their books for kids are about different subjects. Often times they include a lot of culturally contextual limericks or rhymes.”
So for parents interested in introducing their little ones to both English and Spanish, whether it’s to sustain your heritage or prepare for a future in the international city of Long Beach, the public library is happy to help.
Cuentos y Cantos will be held every Tuesday at 3 p.m. until Oct. 23. For more information, visit the Long Beach Public Library’s website.