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A tale in two languages

Whitehorse library hosts weekly bilingual story time

It’s all fun and stories … and a lot of enjoyable effort to help young visitors to the Whitehorse Public Library get the best early literacy start they can.

And it’s all in a day’s work for Sarah Gallagher.

The outreach librarian at the Whitehorse Public Library has been entertaining infants, preschoolers and their caregivers in English and French every Wednesday morning since mid-January with the library’s first eight-week bilingual storytime program.

“I can’t believe it gets to be my job,” Gallagher said with a smile during a Feb. 12 interview at the library as she described the storytime routine, which includes a greeting, action songs and stories.

It’s a tried-and-true routine typically followed for any storytime event the library hosts — regardless of language.

The library has hosted storytime in its English format for decades. The decision to bring a bilingual storytime to the library came after piloting a French storytime program in 2023.

As Gallagher pointed out according to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, 25 per cent of Whitehorse residents speak French.

And the library has many engaged visitors who are French and enjoy the selection of materials available in French.

So having a French family literacy program in the form of storytime seemed like a natural fit.

After running the program in the fall and getting feedback, though, officials at the library decided to make it a bilingual offering.

“One thing that we heard a lot was, ‘Oh, my husband kind of wanted to come, but he thinks his French is not as good. Or, ‘You know, I speak French, I spoke French growing up, or I went to French immersion and I want my kids to be exposed, but I was afraid I wouldn’t understand what was going on. So we thought we could just broaden it a little bit,” she explained.

A typical storytime will see about a 50/50 split between English and French, but Gallagher noted the library is flexible to what families are looking for.

When a family brought their little ones a couple of weeks ago in an effort to expose their kids to more French, that particular day focused more on French, for example.

Listening to stories, hearing rhymes and singing songs in any language seems to be a hit with preschoolers regardless of their first language.

As Gallagher described, early childhood is ripe for language learning.

“The age between zero and five is when you’re building those neural pathways for life,” she said.

She went on to point out that in many parts of the world, it’s not unusual to grow up speaking and learning in multiple languages.

While the routine of a storytime may seem fairly simple, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure those attending get all the early literacy benefits they can from the program.

Gallagher said she’s been fortunate to have a number of resources to use in planning for the program.

Staff at the Moncton Public Library in New Brunswick, for example, shared their experience in running a bilingual storytime program when Gallagher was planning what the Whitehorse program might include.

Local French organizations like Les EssentiElles and Partenariat communauté en santé, among others have also been key along with a number of other online resources that recommend books.

“I talk to other librarians, (look at) best-of lists, and then try it and then (it’s) trial and error,” Gallagher said, also highlighting the effort at the library to feature books showing diversity.

The “sweet spot” she said are in books that are northern and have a great story.

Stories that invite kids to participate (maybe they’re asked to make sounds like those of the animals in a particular story), feature opposites (think a bear and mouse, such as those featured in Maurice et Léopold) and may call for actions are a big hit. It’s also a bonus if the caregivers bringing kids to storytime enjoy the books.

Based on feedback to a particular story, Gallagher may decide to keep it in the repertoire of storytime books.

“Early literacy is important for lifelong learning,” she said. “Introducing your kids to the library is important for community building, lifelong learning, school readiness and language skills. And all of our storytime programs here have an awareness of that.”

And while those may all be good reasons to come to storytime, perhaps a family just needs one — fun.

“That’s one great reason to come and the only reason you need to come,” she said.

Families are welcome to drop-in to the library for bilingual storytime every Wednesday morning from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. until March 6.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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