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St. Paul library translates children’s book into Ethiopian languages

By CALLIE SCHMIDT | cschmidt@pioneerpress.com | Pioneer Press

In an effort to serve St. Paul’s growing immigrant community, the city’s library system has translated a children’s book into Amharic and Oromo. The two Ethiopian languages are spoken by large immigrant populations in St. Paul.

A reading of the Amharic version of the book “Teach Me to Love” by Denise Brennan-Nelson will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the Highland Park Library. Mayor Melvin Carter will attend a reading in Oromo at the Rondo Community Library at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 and hand out a limited number of books to guests.

Since its beginning more than 100 years ago, the library has welcomed immigrants and promoted equity — values that are still in place today,” Carter said in a prepared statement.

The St. Paul Public Library translated the children’s book “Teach Me to Love,” by Denise Brennan-Nelson, into Oromo, left, and Amharic, two major Ethiopian languages spoken by immigrant populations in St. Paul. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Public Library)

The St. Paul Public Library also released two bilingual children’s books in English and the Karen language in 2015 — a first for a Minnesota public library.

The books “Elephant Huggy” and “The Hen and the Badger” were written by St. Paul Karen authors, according to the library. The city of St. Paul has the largest and fastest-growing Karen population in the United States.

Patrons from St. Paul’s refugee and immigrant communities have expressed a need for more books they can read to their children, said Pang Yang, the library system’s community services coordinator. There are an estimated 16,000 Ethiopian immigrants in Minnesota, the vast majority in the metro.

“What we often see is that in several of these refugee communities, there’s just literally no books in their language,” Yang said. So the library started contacting publishers.

Sleeping Bear Press of Ann Arbor, Mich., said it was interested in partnering with the library to translate a book.

“We landed on the book ‘Teach Me to Love’ because it’s so adorable and cute, and it’s just a really beautiful book with a lot of depictions of families and friendships,” Yang said.

Community members and library staff who speak Oromo and Amharic gathered for at least five months in regular meetings to translate the book. Each word was dissected to make sure its correct meaning, spelling and nuances were reflected.

Yang hopes the library’s efforts will inspire other communities to try similar projects.The St. Paul library system has also established a storytime program, reading books for pre-kindergarten children in languages such as Amharic, Oromo, Chinese, Hmong, Karen, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“We wanted to provide these children with an opportunity to develop some social skills and receive some early literacy messages that we give so that children are prepared for kindergarten,” Yang said.

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