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Une bibliothèque française? Drake Library hosts French story time

Grinnell students and organizers meeting after story time. Contributed by Nadia Langley.

Drake Community Library hosted the first of three weekly francophone story times last Saturday, featuring Grinnell College students reading French picture books to children over Zoom. The series will continue through this weekend and next.

Last week’s event was broken into separate blocks of reading, each handled by a different student, with a scanned copy of the text screen-shared over Zoom so that everyone could see the pictures. After the readings, discussions of the books were held in different breakout rooms, which varied based on the ages and French abilities of the participants, many of whom did not speak French.

Storytime in French is a unique opportunity for the wider Grinnell community, according to Karen Neal, Youth Services Director for Drake Community Library. The Grinnell-Newburg School District only offers Spanish as a foreign language course.

“Other than Spanish, our community doesn’t have access to something like this, so that’s why the College is such a great partner,” she said. “They let us go places and do things virtually that we couldn’t do on our own.”

Although these events are open to anyone, they’re specifically designed to cater to Grinnell’s Congolese community. “French is one of the languages they speak from their country, and I think [the story times are] a way for the children to have an opportunity to be in a French space,” said Inez Dufresne ’21, one of the students involved in the program.

French is an official language in 29 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of which are former African colonies of France.

A poster the library made for the event. Contributed by Nadia Langley.

Yilan Dong ’21, another one of the Grinnell students who read, estimated that more than 20 kids came to the first session. “The children who attended were very interactive even if they didn’t know any French,” Dong said. “It was good overall.”

One of the activities in Dong’s breakout session was asking the attendees what their favorite foods were and teaching them how to say it in French. “A lot of the food that they chose are words that’re used across English and French, so they were really surprised, happily surprised, to find they already know a bit of French,” Dong said. Bilingual favorites included popcorn and cereal.

Participating in these events was one option for the civic engagement component of FRN 295-01 – Special Topic: Noire en France: Racism and Antiracism in Contemporary Metropolitan France, taught in Fall Term 2 by Professor Marion Tricoire. Tricoire and Lia Schifitto, a Mellon Community Engaged Learning Fellow at Grinnell College, developed the concept and suggested it to the library. Tricoire chose the books to be read, which are all by Black authors.

The (digital) first page of one of books that was read. Contributed by Nadia Langley.

Drake Library’s regular weekly story time in English has also been over Zoom due to the pandemic. “Kids are pretty comfortable with the technology even at an age you wouldn’t think they would be,” Neal said. “You know, they can mute and unmute themselves, and I just thought maybe it’d be chaos, but so far, no chaos.”

The other two French story times will be on Saturday, Dec. 5 and Saturday, Dec 12, both from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.

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