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Hempstead libraries launch bilingual story time

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, left, and

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, left, and Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana kick off a bilingual story time program on July 17 at the Freeport Public Library. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A dozen or so kids sat cross-legged on the floor, waiting for story time to start. In a few minutes, they would hear about the adventures of a mother duck and her eight little ones, in English and Spanish.

The presenters, Erin King Sweeney and Sylvia Cabana, took turns reading "Make Way for Ducklings" aloud — Sweeney in English, Cabana in Spanish.

The Hempstead Town officials kicked off the Bilingual Story Time/Tiempo de Cuentos Bilingües last week. at the Freeport Public Library. Two more story times are planned, at the Wantagh Public Library and the Seaford Public Library. The dates haven't been set yet. 

Sweeney, a councilwoman, and Cabana, the town clerk, worked together to develop the bilingual literacy program. The story times, Sweeney said, acquaint Hempstead's Spanish-speaking children and their families with summer reading as well as foster an awareness about learning English.

“Hopefully, it will start a lifelong love of reading,” Sweeney said. “Whatever excites them, as a community, we should be cultivating that interest.”

The tale of the ducks was a favorite of Sweeney's children.

“It’s just a special place in my heart and I knew the book very well, so it’s easy for me to read it,” Sweeney said. “It brings home the importance not just for children, but for the entire family.”

The picture book details the Mallard family's zany search for a home in Boston with the helping hand of a rotund, friendly cop. 

"Why don't we build a nest?" the mother duck asks her ducklings. 

A boy nodded yes while the other children stared wide-eyed as Sweeney and Cabana paged through the book's drawings of the Mallard family's navigating Boston's dangerous mid-20th century streets with the help of the officer.

Glenda Zepeda, 33, of Freeport, brought her three children because she said it helps reinforce to them an appreciation for both English and Spanish. 

"The reading …was beautiful, Zepeda said, "and I saw that they were very engaged."

Many of the children had brought along their own favorite books, including "Biscuit Wins a Prize," and "The Story of Ferdinand." Later, they had the chance to pick out a book to keep. The books came from The Book Fairies, a nonprofit in Freeport that collects new and used reading materials for those in need throughout the New York metropolitan area.  

Freeport resident Christian Frye's 5-year-old son eagerly picked up his own pop-up picture book from the collection of donated reading materials. Frye said she attended the reading session to support her young son's interest in reading but also to help him learn Spanish.

"He has a desire to learn how to read, so I want to keep feeding that," Frye said.

CORRECTION: Bilingual story times are planned for the Wantagh Public Library and the Seaford Public Library, but the dates haven't been set. An earlier version of this article gave incorrect dates.   

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