Bilingual Storytime Presenter’s Guide

I am so excited to share this guest post about bilingual storytime today! I am even more excited because the writer is a youth services librarian from my hometown library, Sacramento Public Library!  So many exclamation points!

This post is a great follow-up to my Bilingual Storytime Resources as its written by someone who actually does these types of programs. Please welcome Adilene (Addie) Rogers, a bilingual outreach youth services librarian in Northern California. You can often find her blogging about bilingual storytimes on her blog, arguing with someone on twitter @latinxlibrarian or taking artsy pictures of her corgi, Shakespeare.  Take it away, Addie!

¡Hola y bienvenidos! I have been creating bilingual storytimes for almost 5 years and it is still by far one of my most rewarding library programs. It feels great being able to share the joy of reading to a child in their native language or to see a child explore a new language. While an English storytime is still wonderful by all means, a bilingual storytime brings with it the opportunity to engage new families that may not be familiar with storytime or with the library. So for those of you who have ever wondered how to start a bilingual storytime, or for those who may already be seasoned pros, here are a few tips and tricks.

Can I do a bilingual storytime if I don’t know Spanish?

One of the biggest questions that I get asked is “Do I have to speak Spanish to present a bilingual storytime?” The answer is no, but you will need a little help. You can present a bilingual storytime with the help of a partner often that would be a bilingual staff member or a bilingual volunteer. The librarian will handle the english portion of the presentation while the bilingual staff member will help with the Spanish portion. Remember, this is NOT a Spanish class. Your job is not to teach Spanish. Yes, children will pick up Spanish along the way, but you are not there to teach you are there to support parents as they help develop their children’s early literacy skills.

There are two ways to present a bilingual storytime:

One PresenterTwo Presenters
One presenter presents in English and Spanish.

One presenter presents in English.

Second presenter presents in Spanish.

If you are not bilingual, then you would opt for two presenters. Keep in mind that in order for you to have a bilingual storytime at least one of your presenters should be fluent. I know that we may want to try and teach ourselves some simple phrases and words in Spanish to try and have a bilingual storytime, but unless you can answer a caregiver’s questions or concerns in the other language fluently, it is far better to get someone else to help. If your partner is a native speaker, that will also help when it comes to adding traditional Spanish songs and rhymes.


When it comes to reading your books, you have a couple options. You can read one book in Spanish and then the same one in English. You could read a bilingual book which would require you read the English part first and then the Spanish part afterwards. If you have two presenters, I usually recommend bilingual books but you can also have one person read the English version of a book while the other reads the Spanish version. When you have two presenters, I usually have each presenter have a copy of the book because it makes it easier to read.

There are a lot of great Spanish and bilingual books out there. You can usually find out about the newest books through Spanish publishers and book vendors. Jbrary’s Bilingual Resources listed some great resources where you can find book reviews.

Bilingual Storytime Outline

Once you have your reading format down you can choose how you would like to outline your storytime. I usually follow the outline below:

  1. Spanish/English Opening song
  2. English scarf song
  3. Spanish scarf song
  4. Spanish Fingerplay
  5. Transition song
  6. Book 1
  7. Movement song Spanish
  8. Movement song English
  9. Transition Song
  10. Book 2
  11. Parachute or fingerplay
  12. Spanish/English Closing song

I do my best to keep my storytimes 50/50 when it comes to the distribution of English and Spanish, but this can change depending on your audience. I always recommend that you do a good amount of traditional Spanish songs and NOT just translations because it will help native speakers in the audience feel more comfortable if they hear songs they are familiar with. I do my best to translate everything I say in one language to the other which means I do a lot of talking, but it helps the parents who may not be comfortable with English only. If you have two presenters, you follow a very similar format except that when you read your stories you will have someone else reading the story in the other language as well. You will also notice that I only do two stories and that is because Spanish stories are often a lot longer, plus if you are doing it with a partner, you are technically reading 4 stories so it is best to stick to just a couple.

Música y Movimiento

I do a lot of music and movement in my bilingual storytimes and that is because it is less intimidating to learn a new word or phrase through a song or rhyme. I use shakers, claves, bells and, my favorite, the parachute which is a great way to get people up and moving! I am fortunate enough to have a projector by which I put the lyrics up on the screen. For traditional Spanish songs I do not usually do the song in English, the reason being that it can be difficult to find a translation that both fits the rhyme scheme and translates well.  I also recommend CD’s for those of us who may be a little shy to sing in Spanish, but keep in mind that even if you mess up, the audience will be happy to teach you the proper way to say something. Music and movement could be a whole blog post by itself, but the biggest take away I suggest is using instruments and props to emphasize movement and couple that with some Spanish vocabulary. For example, when I use the parachute I say “Arriba, Abajo, Adentro y Afuera” which is just “Up, Down, In and Out”. Simple movements that can be done together as a group.

Lastly, bilingual storytimes take practice. It can be especially hard if you are working with a partner because that requires good communication between both presenters. When I present with someone else we always go over our songs, books and rhymes beforehand. It will help maintain an even flow and make it easier for whoever is translating. A bilingual storytime can be a wonderful addition to any library’s programs and your families are sure to enjoy it!

4 thoughts on “Bilingual Storytime Presenter’s Guide

  1. This post is such perfect timing. We are partnering with a local group that will be leading a Spanish/bilingual storytime for the first time this July as part of our Summer Reading Program offerings. Thanks for all the helpful info!

  2. Wow! This is so cool! One of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with doing a guest post on my favorite storytime resource!

    When Addie and I worked together, we had no Spanish speaking librarians in a predominantly Spanish speaking area. No bilingual storytime. Addie said “This isn’t right! This comminity NEEDS a bilingual storytime!” So she started one as a page. Not only that, but she trained every single person at our branch so that we all felt comfortable doing a bilingual storytime! Then she started training people at all the other branches to make sure they all offered bilingual storytimes too! Addie is such a rockstar! San Jose Public is not the same without her 🙁

    1. Wow, that is a testament to her passion and skills! I feel honoured to feature her here as a guest blogger. Thanks so much for your kind words to both of us 🙂

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