Había una vez… /  Once upon a time…

Noche de Cuentos was born in 2010, when the then-ALA President Dr. Camila Alire began Family Literacy Focus, an initiative that encourages families in ethnically diverse communities to read and learn together.  This initiative awarded $3,000 to the five ethnic affiliates of ALA to implement family literacy models in libraries that serve Native American, Asian Pacific American, African American, Chinese American, and Latino communities.

As a result, REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, created Noche de Cuentos @ mi biblioteca “to promote and preserve the art of storytelling within our Latino communities in the U.S.”  Each year since then, in order to promote Noche de Cuentos, REFORMA has partnered with sponsors to offer yearly mini-grants to libraries implementing Noche de Cuentos events. Learn more about those programs by visiting this page.

Camila Alire, 2009-2010 president of the American Library Association, talks about the Family Literacy Focus Initiative.

“It was important to me, as an academic library administrator, to be seen as an ALA president for all the association and not be identified solely as an academic library person.  Besides frontline library advocacy as a focus, I wanted another one that would resonate with the entire association.  That is why my second focus was literacy.  However, my challenge was that I didn’t have a background in literacy.

Camila Alire

“My literacy initiative was a result of early discussions with author/poet, Pat Mora (creator of El Dia de los Ninos, Dia de los Libros literacy initiative); former children’s librarian now public library director, Patty Wong; executive director of one of the largest state library associations – Texas Library Association – Pat Smith; and myself.  It was in those preliminary discussions that the vision for helping public and school libraries deal with the illiteracy challenge our country developed.

“Early in my presidential-elect year, Dale Lipschultz, Director of the ALA Literacy Office, showed me data that demonstrated the unbelievably high illiteracy rate among all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.  It made so much sense to me that the ethnic affiliates were the best conduits to design and implement something like the Family Literacy Focus (FLF) program.  And they did!  The FLF program came from grassroots librarians representing each of the ethnic affiliates working together to design the program.  These minority librarians brought to the table backgrounds in youth services, literacy, as well as in their particular culture.

“I am so proud of the colleagues who were involved in the design of the FLF project.  They have pushed for sustainability of the FLF program and pressed within their respective ethnic affiliate boards to continue the funding of the mini-grant process.  All five ethnic affiliate boards have either funded the mini-grants through their own funds or they have received outside funding to support them.  This demonstrates their commitment to sustain the program.

“[If librarians want to start a Noche de Cuentos program,] all they have to do is to commit to doing the program; this commitment must come from the library administration as there are some costs.  However, the program design, ideas, examples of resources are all available on the REFORMA website for any libarian/library to adopt and adapt to their local needs.  As I mentioned above, the 2012 REFORMA Executive Board has made mini-grants available.  See Noche de Cuentos Minigrants.”

Author and storyteller Lucía M. González, 2010-2011 president of REFORMA, talks about the Family Literacy Focus Initiative.

Lucia Gonzalez with Perez and Martina puppets
Lucia Gonzalez with puppets Perez and Martina

“In order to be successful and reach the targeted community, family literacy programs must be culturally relevant and be specifically tailored to the character of each community.  Being that there are over 50 million people of Latino heritage in the U.S., there is a great need for programs that value and integrate the elements of the Latino culture as a way to reach the community and to help them gain the skills necessary to succeed in the larger society.

“After two years, I feel this is only the beginning.  We have a long way to go in order to create awareness and an understanding of the importance of oral tradition as it relates to literacy.  The idea of Noche de Cuentos as a literacy initiative is that the oral tradition of a people, their folklore, is the cradle of literacy.  The Latino community is very diverse, but we have a very strong oral tradition.

“Storytelling as an art form is very alive in most of Latin America and Spain.  There are storytelling festivals and conferences in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Spain.  There are even continental festivals, festivales lationamericanos, held in those countries.

“I hope that our Noche de Cuentos will allow our Latino storytellers to know about our brothers and sisters that are telling in Latin America and for the Latin American cuenta-cuentos (storytellers) to get to know us here.  REFORMA, through its national reach, can provide that bridge.  REFORMA can also support a sustainable program by acting as a clearinghouse of information about storytelling and storytellers in the U.S. and Latin America.  The sustainability of the program depends on our capacity to promote Noche at the national level through our national website, events, and conferences, while also providing guidance and leadership in support of storytelling in every community.

“When organizing a Noche de Cuentos event, it is important to understand that it is a program based on the orality of the culture.  I recommend that librarians become familiar with the world of storytelling, and that they read some of the resources on the subject that are recommended on the Noche brochure.  It is also important to work with the community and invite them to be the tellers of their own stories.  We have a tendency to want to program for the people instead of ‘with the people.'”


American Library Association. (2010. January 5). ALA, President Dr. Camila Alire launch Family Literacy Focus. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2010/january2010/alire_ols

Gonzalez, L. (2010, January 7). World Storytelling Day celebration: Noche de Cuentos @ mi biblioteca. Retrieved from http://www.luciagonzalezbooks.com/news/detail.php?novid=42

World Storytelling Day. (2009). World Storytelling Day: A global celebration of storytelling. Retrieved from http://www.freewebs.com/worldstorytellingday/