What do you do when the demand for books in your language outstrips the supply? Write and publish your own! Come celebrate Seattle's community-created Somali counting book, "Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga" at a free public event from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, March 29 at the NewHolly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. S. in Seattle.

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, Seattle Public Library Director Marcellus Turner, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and Seattle Housing Authority Executive Director Andrew Lofton will join the festivities from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to honor the book's diverse project team of Somali families and supporters. The program will be followed by dinner and book signing. Everyone is welcome.

The innovative collaboration involved five families who live in the NewHolly and High Point neighborhoods, the Somali Family Safety Task Force, Seattle Public Library, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Housing Authority, local teaching artist Amaranta Sandys and co-facilitator Maryan Abdulle. The book was published by Applewood Books, and will be distributed by Ingram Content Group.

In 2017, this same team of collaborators co-created and published "Baro-Af-Soomaali," which used photographs of everyday items found in Somali culture to teach children the Somali alphabet. This book became Third Place Book’s 5th best seller last year and the families were invited to do a reading at their Seward Park location.

This new bilingual children's board book centers on counting, from 0-12, and highlights family-created artwork featuring fruits and vegetables. "Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga," which means "learn to count in Somali", gives Somali parents the opportunity to share their culture as they teach their young children how to count, in both Somali and English.    

The book, written during the summer of 2018, grew out of the realization that Somali language board books simply weren't available. The Somali publishing industry is comparatively small, few distributors handle Somali books and the stock of books readily available for purchase is very limited. The Library has approximately 200 books in Somali. Less than half are children's books.

"The participating families were so excited to write a book that is specifically for the Somali community, as well as the wider community!  They learned about art techniques and experienced some of what it takes to create a book from start to finish," said Farhiya Mohamed, Executive Director of Somali Family Safety Task Force, who recruited the participating families and helped lead the project. "Everyone was so proud and inspired to participate."

"Seattle Public Library has a deep commitment to equity and community engagement and this project was the result of listening to the Somali community and working with together on a solution to a shared problem," said Marcellus Turner, the Library's executive director and chief librarian. "The community wanted family engagement opportunities and more books in their language. Collaborating on a Somali book responds to those needs in a fun way, builds a sense of community and expands our vision of how to serve the public in meaningful ways."

Five workshops, which were attended by five Somali mothers and their 13 children, were held over the summer in a meeting room at the NewHolly Branch. The families got to know each other and shared Somali food. The participating families decided on the layout and title, and made all other major decisions about the project. They also created 100% of the artwork in the book.

Superintendent Denise Juneau of Seattle Public Schools shares "We’re fortunate to have a community of diverse cultures and backgrounds represented in our schools that we can all learn and benefit from. This family-generated children’s book highlights the talent of our school families. We are excited to have it available in every elementary school library and know that every family will be able to enjoy it."

After several rounds of edits, the final draft was submitted to the publisher in November. The first print run of 1,000 books will be distributed to the community partners and each participating family will get five books apiece.

The book will be available in print and as a free PDF download from the Library's website this spring. It will also be marketed and distributed by Ingram to libraries, schools and retailers nationally and internationally, and is also available from Amazon.

The book was funded in part by the Seattle Public Library Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle Housing Authority and Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.