When Long Beach Public Library closed in mid-March over COVID concerns, it lost one of its more popular programs for kids, a bilingual storytime called Cuentos y Cantos/Stories and Songs.

Luckily, pivoting to video was a no-brainer for the two Youth Services employees who created the concept.

Luisa Leija and Sheridan Cazarez launched Cuentos y Cantos in January 2018 after seeing the need for a bilingual and bicultural offering from the library and came together to create it in just a few months, selecting the books, translating songs from English to Spanish and vice versa, adapting and creating stories for what would soon become a hit among families all over Long Beach.

After launching Cuentos y Cantos at the Main Library, the two split up to offer the storytime at different branches to reach even more families. And, at the Museum of Latin American Art, the pair brought in the program for visitors of the museum’s monthly festivals.

“It has been and still is one of the most successful programs at Main Library,” said Leija. “At one Cuentos y Cantos session, we had over 100 people in the audience.”

Now, those 100 people in attendance have translated to more than 700 views of each of the two, most recent YouTube videos on the library’s channel. Devotees can expect to see a new storytime each month.

Joshua Sanchez, Family Learning Center Coordinator, filmed Cuentos y Cantos’ first foray into digital storytelling the same day the library announced its closures, while also editing and creating the music and subtitles. By March 24, Cuentos y Cantos had posted its first storytime on YouTube and, the second appeared April 10.

“Whether it be Cuentos y Cantos or other resources, we hope to provide more relevant content to the community remotely, during these extraordinary times,” Leija said.

For Leija, creating bilingual programming was a goal even before she was hired. Reflecting the culture and language of the Spanish-speaking community is part of her personal mission statement. With her background in writing, storytelling, Xicana art practices and youth development, Cuentos y Cantos is an opportunity for her to weave all these threads together.

Cazarez, whose skills with translation and creativity as an artist set the visual tone for storytime, from the banderitas to the color scheme, said he’d been wanting to start a bilingual storytime for a while, but it wasn’t until Leija entered the picture that they were able to make it happen.

“Cuentos really came together once Luisa was hired, she was the missing ingredient and she does a great job in bringing in culturally relevant material and intentionality to Cuentos,” said Cazarez. “She consistently puts into perspective how necessary programs like these are, both to reflect and support Spanish speaking communities in Long Beach.”

“I think the community response has fueled us to keep delivering high-quality programming during this time,” Leija said. “While the library is closed to the public, we plan to continue creating content for the community to access at home.”

There are several ways you can access LBPL’s digital content, including Cuentos y Cantos.

Stay tuned to LBPL’s Facebook page, where Cuentos y Cantos will be posted on a monthly basis, alongside a new storytime every Thursday. LBPL has also created a guide including all its online resources, from entertainment options like Kanopy to online learning tools at longbeach.gov/library. And, visit the LBPL’s YouTube channel here.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].