Access to bilingual books for Somali newcomers is very difficult. Somalis make up a small percentage of the population in the United States. The majority of Somali students come to the United States from refugee camps. These students often have limited school experience. Many do not read and write in Somali, although they may speak Somali and Arabic fluently. Some parents are able to read to their children in Somali and/or Arabic. One of the most researched areas in literacy instruction is the connection between parents who read to their children and their children’s literacy. Reading aloud is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Only 30% of children from households where the primary language is not English were read to daily compared with 51% where the primary home language is English. It is critical to support English learners and their parents. Making bilingual books available creates an opportunity to for parents to help improve their children’s literacy skills.
Research in bilingual education makes it clear that maintaining and supporting a student’s native language is a critical component to the overall language learning of the student. It impacts their ability to process higher order thinking in their native language, in addition, it supports learning English skills. One of the largest Somali populations in the United States is in Minnesota. Thus, the Minnesota Humanities Commission received funds to develop and produce bilingual books in Somali and English to encourage literacy in the Somali community.
Here is just a sample of bilingual books for teachers to purchase and use in their libraries or ESL classrooms. The Minnesota Humanities Commission published many of these books, yet, others come from different publishers. (These are affiliate links.)
Wiil Waal: a Somali Folktale is a story where a father decides to follow his clever daughter’s advice when asked to present a Somali wiseman with a special symbol. This has astonishing results.
Qayb Libaax/The Lion’s Share is a story about a lion who wants a share of meat that he did not help hunt. This is a folktale about the misuse of power.
Dhegdheer, A Scary Somali Folktale, is all about a witch who terrorizes people. Dhegdheer causes great fear wherever she appears.
She gobbles up anyone who crosses her path. Can a widow and her son escape her?
Elizabeth Laird traveled across Somalia and throughout the land people shared stories passed down from one generation to the next. The Ogress and the Snake and Other Stories from Somalia is a collection of stories that make a great introduction to the land of Somalia.
Zamzam survives horrific experiences during the war in Somali. She and her family manage to escape and eventually come to America. Through My Eyes is a story of compassion and the importance of eliminating stereotypes to promote social justice. Join eleven-year-old Zamzam as she navigates her way through her new country while embracing her Somali values.
Somali folklore contains many stories with Igal Shidad. In this story with the legendary Igal, Igal walks throughout drought-stricken Somalia looking for a safe place for his family and animals. He confronts many obstacles, but discovers his prayers to Allah can be answered without him even realizing it.
The following two books are not from the Minnesota Humanities Commission. The first Vegetables is part of a series of board books meant for toddlers. The My First Bilingual Book series includes: A Day, Opposites, Numbers, Colors, Home, Indoors, Feelings and more. These books are also offered in numerous other languages i.e. Farsi, Japanese.
When I Get Older: The Story Behind the “Wavin’ Flag” is the story of the life of the Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, singer, and songwriter K’NAAN.K’NAAN tells about growing up in Somalia and moving to the U.S. and then Canada. He was 13 years old when his family left Somalia in 1993. He now performs around the world and there are twenty-two versions of the song, “Wavin’ Flag” which hit #1 in nineteen countries.
Finally, this Picture Dictionary: English/Somali by Milet is one of the only children’s bilingual Somali/English dictionaries I have found. I have not seen it in person, but felt I should include it here so you know it is available.
(There are affiliate links in this post. I will earn a small portion from each sale made after clicking a link.)
For more tips on working with students from Somalia see my post here. This post provides teaching tips for working with Somali students. In addition. information about the history and culture of Somalia are included.