'Somali Stories' encourages children of Somali heritage to learn language

It's story time at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville.

Toddlers from all over the Twin Cities are gathered to hear some children's stories, as they've never heard them before.

"Just hearing their heritage language gets them super excited. It just brings me lots of joy," said local Somali children's book author Deqa Muhidin.

Muhidin is reading children's books to the group in their mother tongue in the first of a month of weekly activities called Somali Stories. Muhidin says she started the program last spring to help young Somali children, many of whom were born in the U.S. only speak English, become literate in their native language.

"A child who does not have their heritage language included in public spaces, whether that's school or public libraries, has a void that could lead to lack of confidence and we already know what research says about kids who lack confidence. They are more likely to take drugs or have behavior issues," said Muhidin.

Muhidin helped launch a Somali Heritage Language Program in Minneapolis Public Schools last year to help the 4,000 students in the district who self-identify as Somali become more comfortable with their language.

Now she's reaching out to children as young as 3 to get them used to hearing Somali in a way that keeps their attention.

"It's important for my nephew to understand that his culture is really important. To see it outside of his home and with his community members. Also to see a teacher who is Somali that he really connects with," said Qorsho Hassan, who brought her 2-year-old nephew to Monday evening's event.

Muhidin believes preserving Somali language and culture will lead to a storybook ending for all involved.

"I want them to walk around their homes with books asking their parents to read to them. I want the parents to know there are resources in public libraries and in bookstores that are written in their mother tongue and to be able to do that with their kids," said Muhidin.

For more information on linguistically diverse children's books, click here.