Hillsboro Library boasts preschool books in Spanish, Hmong, Russian, Tagalog, Chinese and more.

Libraries across Washington County will have access to thousands of new children's books for non-English speakers, thanks to Hillsboro's two libraries.

Last month, the Hillsboro Public Library purchased 2,000 new books for preschool-aged readers who don't speak English at home, using a $25,000 grant from Early Learning Washington County.

 "Young people get sucked into American culture, but they still want to identify as their own culture," said EJ Payne, a project specialist with the library who purchased the books.

The idea, she said, is to help young people keep a foot in their cultural identities.

"We want people to feel like their cultural identity is as important as their American identity," Payne said. "That's especially true for new immigrants. We want them to feel welcome."

About 900 of the new books are in Spanish, Hillsboro's second-most-spoken language, but other titles include Vietnamese, Hmong, Russian, Tagalog, Urdu, Chinese and dozens of others.

For many non-English speakers, children's books can be difficult to come by, Payne said. Often the books are decades old, or are more advanced than the children are capable of reading.

"We had some girls come into the library and they saw a table of books in Hmong, and they got really excited, because they had never seen books like that before. It was so cute," she said. "We want children and families to be proud of who they are and learn about other cultures, too."

Libraries should be for everyone, Payne said, no matter what language they speak.

"If you don't see things that you are familiar with — like people that look like you, or a language you're familiar with — that is a barrier," Payne said.

To help illiterate parents, a few of the books are wordless, Payne said.

"Preschoolers will often want to tell you a story when you are reading to them, and this opens it up for parents who aren't able to read in English or Spanish," Payne said. "This way, they can still read with their kids."

The books are geared toward preschool-aged readers. Payne said the library plans to add more advanced books over the next few years.

Payne said the books are great for adults, too.

"If you want to learn a new language, you want to start at the preschool level. One woman I spoke with is Pilipino but doesn't speak Tagalog. Now she and her kids can learn the language together."

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