Local Somali Community Bands Together to Create Children’s Book

by Susan Fried

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declared Friday, February 9 “Baro-Af Soomaali Day” during a celebration at the New Holly Gathering Hall honoring the families who created a children’s book for the Somali community. The celebration was the culmination of two years’ work by local Somali families, Seattle Public Schools, and the Seattle Public Library.

Over the past few years, organizations working with the Somali community became aware that many families in the community were worried about the loss of the language and culture and that parents were concerned about their children not being given educational materials that reflected the Somali culture.  

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Two attendees joke with each other at Friday’s celebration. [Photo: Susan Fried]
The book was a joint effort, involving the Somali Family Safety Taskforce, SPL, SPS, and the Seattle Housing Authority.  The project also received support from the Seattle Public Library Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a race to the top Deep Dive Three grant from the Puget Sound Educational Service District and the Community Center for Education Results.

Over a four-week period, local Somali artist and poet Mohammed Shidane worked with four families to create “Baro-Af Soomaali.”  The families were given a group of Somali letters and asked to select some items from their home that illustrated the letter.  The families decided as a group the layout, the illustrative photographs, and the title.  

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Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan takes photos with Friday’s event attendees. [Photo: Susan Fried]
The project allowed the families to explore their culture and language together. The parents and grandparents told stories about their home country of Somalia to their children and grandchildren, and, through the process, the children reported that they were proud to speak Somali. The families and all the people involved in the creation of the book hope people enjoy reading it as much as they enjoyed making it.

In presenting the proclamation, the mayor cited the many contributions of the Somali community to the City of Seattle. “Somali-American families contribute to all sectors of our society, and we believe in ensuring that our public institution, our schools, our libraries, and our community centers are responsive to and reflect the many diverse cultures that make up our City,” she said.

Applewood Books is publishing the book, and Ingram Distribution is helping get the book to libraries and schools across the United States and around the world. The book is currently available on Amazon. Royalties go to the Seattle Public Library Foundation and Somali Family Safety Taskforce to fund similar projects in the future.

Featured Photo Susan Fried