Hialeah Literacy Fair, library, a learning hub for bilingual families

Jeremiah Sanchez, 5, of Hialeah, points with excitement as a magician does a trick during the annual Literacy Fair at JFK Library in Hialeah.
Jeremiah Sanchez, 5, of Hialeah, points with excitement as a magician does a trick during the annual Literacy Fair at JFK Library in Hialeah. For the Miami Herald

Families came out by the hundreds on Saturday to hear Spanish authors read excerpts from their novels, while kids recited their own poems, went airborne in an outdoor bounce house, and got butterfly wings and super-hero designs painted on their faces during the annual Literacy Fair at Hialeah’s John F. Kennedy Library.

During the Fantasy Theater event, magicians selected kids from the audience to help them with their tricks involving props, such as a magic jumbo pencil used by characters in a popular children’s book. Even Hialeah police officers aided the magicians with their pranks, but still, the message to youngsters and their families from the performers and organizers was clear: They can check out books free of charge from their local library, to increase literacy while having fun.

Workshops for adults centered on health awareness and positive parenting.

“The literacy fair has been operating since 2003, with the library acting as a hub to provide people in the community with access to resources, all in one spot.” said Meghan Martinez, literacy director for the city of Hialeah.

The bilingual library is always full of people, regardless of whether there’s an event, she said.

Many of the families in attendance were first- and second-generation U.S. citizens or residents, who often venture to the JFK Library to read some of the thousands of books, which are available in both English and Spanish. Others use the free Internet to send emails, look up recipes or communicate with their friends and relatives from their homeland.

A kid’s corner acts as a classroom and learning center for children; all the age-appropriate books are kept there, as well as space for video learning. On Wednesdays, kids who are too young for Pre-K or kindergarten listen as a teacher comes in to read stories aloud for an hour, which the kids have picked out. Afterward, the children make arts and crafts pertaining to the main subject or moral of the story.

“We come here two to three times a week,” says William Colon of Hialeah, whose 4-year-old son, Nari BMX, a local YouTube celebrity, is still too young for school.

Hialeah is one of the largest Spanish-speaking communities in the country, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting nearly 95 percent of people residing in the City of Progress are Hispanic or Latino. It also has the highest percentage of Cuban and Cuban-American residents of any city in the United States.

When asked what makes Hialeah special among cities in Miami-Dade, Sandra Camacho, media liaison of the Children’s Trust, responded: “It’s Hialeah’s diverse culture and close-knit ties that make it unique.”

The event was sponsored for the fourth year by the Children’s Trust, which was created by voter referendum as a support system to help children and families in Miami-Dade County.

To see upcoming events at Hialeah’s JFK Library visit: http://www.hialeahfl.gov/ and search “Calendar of Events,” or call 305-821-2700. The library’s address is 190 W. 49th St., Hialeah.