Kids’ Books in Languages Other than English and Irish Can Be Hard to Find in Dublin

Arjumand Younus says she has given up looking for good books in Urdu for her young daughters. “I couldn’t find much, either on Amazon or here in the libraries,” Younus said on a recent Zoom call.

She has tried to get them to speak Urdu at home to keep her language skills alive. But every time they struggled with their tongues, Younus relented and let them talk in English, she says. “We should have had a stricter rule.”

Nowadays her kids sometimes watch cartoons in Urdu on YouTube, but it’s far from the world of Urdu stories her mother grew up in.

“When I was growing up, we had these beautiful Urdu magazines that we subscribed to and they came to our house every two months,” says Younus.

All of the city’s libraries have children’s picture books in different languages, Dublin City Council’s website says, but details on how many it has in which languages ​​are harder to come by. A spokesman for Dublin City Council has yet to respond to queries.

According to the 2016 Census, Dubliners speak dozens of languages ​​at home: 96,695 of the 535,806 people (18%) who are “typically resident and present in Dublin” reported speaking a language other than English or Irish at home, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Among them were 1,526 who spoke Urdu – although the most commonly spoken languages ​​were Polish (10,953), Romanian (9,286), Spanish (8,694), French (8,422) and Portuguese (8,297).

But there is little information directing them to places to buy or rent books in these languages ​​for their children. It’s also unclear how libraries decide which books to buy and in which languages.

On Monday, there were no Urdu language books among the bilingual picture books for young children in the bookstalls of the Central Library of the ILAC shopping mall. Some were in Hindi, Bengali, Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.

But on the shelves at the back of the children’s library, the small collection of books for older children contained mostly books in European languages ​​such as Icelandic, Polish and Lithuanian.

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A search of the library’s online catalog will find few children’s fairy tale books in non-European languages. For example, there are a handful in Arabic and in Urdu. However, there are about 90 titles in Ukrainian.

The city’s libraries also have some online resources in other languages ​​for children. They say they have 800 book titles available in over 30 languages, some of them languages ​​spoken outside of Europe.

Fiona Shortt, children’s librarian at the Central Library, says her books for older children are hardly ever checked out, and apart from parents looking for bilingual Mandarin books for their children, there is little demand for others.

Maybe, Shortt says, because they don’t advertise what they have or let people know they can ask for more. “I don’t know if people realize that, but we’re taking buy suggestions.”

Looking for comfort

In March, Dublin City Council published a blog post about the library resources available to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland.

“At the moment we are trying to source and buy Ukrainian-language books for all ages, from children to adults,” it says. Others in the city have also tried to fill this gap.

On Sunday in Artane, in a cozy shed in the backyard of Edel Finn’s parents’ house, there were heaps of boxes full of bound children’s books in Ukrainian.

Finn bought more than 700 of these for children transplanted to Ireland because of the war, she said on Sunday while sitting across from the boxes and holding a cup of coffee.

Her two young children can’t get enough of books, says Finn, and growing up she found refuge in her make-believe world whenever something bothered her.

“I thought about the comfort that a book can bring to a child,” she said.

In May, Finn set up a GoFundMe page to crowdfund the cost of the books. To date, it has raised just over €3,000.

The Ukrainian Crisis Center Ireland helped her bring the books from Lviv to Dublin, she says.

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While Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania, a Polish foundation dedicated to sourcing books for displaced Ukrainian children in Poland, helped Finn buy them from Ukrainian publishers, she says.

During World War II, Polish books and libraries were decimated, the country’s publishing industry was nearly destroyed and literacy rates plummeted, according to the GoFundMe page.

Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania wants to prevent this from happening in Ukraine, so buying books from Ukrainian publishers is a way to try to ensure the survival of the publishing industry there, she says.

Most of the books Finn bought have not yet been distributed. “It’s very difficult when you’re doing it individually,” she says.

She only has time to concentrate on the project on weekends, she says. “So this weekend I focused on taking my bundles of books to the various libraries.”

Bilingual books for younger children in the Ilac Central Library. Photo by Shamim Malekmian.

She’s not sure if she can show up with a book delivery at the Citywest Hotel, where some Ukrainian families are staying, she says.

“I have emailed IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Services] in terms of Citywest,” says Finn. However, the government agency has yet to respond, she says.

On Monday, an exhibition of Ukrainian children’s books welcomes visitors to its children’s section at the library of the Ilac shopping mall.

The welcome sign is adorned with about a dozen small Ukrainian flags and a heart.

Shortt, the children’s librarian, says some Ukrainian refugees stopped by to borrow English-language books to help their children settle in.

Others have asked for Russian-language books for older children that they don’t currently have. “So I emailed reader service again and said, ‘Can you buy a mix of the two?'” she says.

Finn, whose collection includes a variety of books for teenagers and younger children, does not have any Russian-language books either.

“I deliberately chose only the Ukrainian language to support the promotion of Ukrainian language and culture and also Ukrainian authors,” she said.

On the shelves

Finn says she wonders why the need for picture books doesn’t spring to mind when people think of immigrant children, regardless of their nationality.

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Books in her native language keep the door open to a comforting familiar world whenever she needs to escape her new life, she says. “They should have access to something they can just disappear into.”

Some books also address the unique traumas that refugees or asylum seekers face and help them process darker realities.

Finn takes a book from one of the boxes. It is a children’s guide to navigating the war with illustrations of tanks and planes.

She was fascinated, Finn says, by the dark places some Ukrainian writers went and their refusal to sugar-coat the world for children.

Ukrainian-language books in the Central Library. Photo by Shamim Malekmian.

As of September 18, just over 3,300 children were living in IPAS shelters, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Equality said.

They said families have access to local libraries. And “Libraries and members of the public donate adult and children’s books to centers.”

A spokesman for Children’s Books Ireland, a non-profit organization campaigning for young people’s right to read, said it has donated hundreds of books to direct supply centres.

“However, until now these have been in English,” they said.

But they are launching a new guide focusing on wordless books called Imagine that! on Wednesday, which includes a list of recommended text-free children’s books, they said.

“Hoping that children who have difficulty reading or face language barriers can still enjoy brilliant and engaging books,” the spokesperson said.

As part of this, they are giving away visual books to schools that have Ukrainian students enrolled, they said.

Finn and Younus, the mother who is looking for Urdu language books, both say that buying children’s books from non-European publishers would cost very little.

But at the moment there is little information on where parents can get books in different languages, she says.

Not everyone knows what resources are actually in libraries, she says. “You can inform people in different ways.”