Manga books are a hot commodity at Valley Junior High School. So much so that students will often check out the first two books in a series and return to the school library later the same day to check out the third and fourth books.

But not all students could fully participate in the manga craze. A new statewide initiative is changing that, however, by making more books accessible to Spanish-speaking children.

Valley Junior High was one of the first to take advantage of new materials for children and teens, available through the Utah State Library Division’s Spanish language collection. The collection includes a number of Spanish and bilingual print and audiobooks the state loans to school and public libraries. Individuals can access the books through public libraries by requesting an interlibrary loan.

For Valley Junior High librarian Rose Yazzie, requesting a Spanish set of the “Demon Slayer” or “Guardianes de la Noche” was a no-brainer. The 23-book series, which has been adapted into a television series, is widely popular among the school’s students. Yazzie said the book series has been a great way for students to bond with each other, especially at an age where it can be particularly difficult to make friends.

The school also has a large number of children who come from Spanish-speaking homes, and the school’s English-learning classes are about 80% Spanish-speaking children, many of whom have recently arrived in the U.S.

“For a lot of them, having English all day, every day is really tough. So even just having good books in Spanish, I think, is a good gesture for them, to be more included in the school,” she said, adding that students have gone from just sticking with their own language group to branching out and engaging with both other students and the variety of resources the library offers. “I think they feel more comfortable being involved in that kind of thing. And we do we have a lot of resources here, so I’m happy that they’re starting to come in and take advantage of them.”

Yazzie said resources like the state’s Spanish collection help supplement the school library’s small Spanish language publication section.

Copies of manga books in Spanish are seen at Valley Junior High School’s library in West Valley City on Thursday, May 11, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

“Our legislative book fund goes really quickly,” she said. “It’s probably like every public school: we’re working with what we have, and when we have the extra money, we’ll purchase some new ones. Going from our collection of being able to purchase a few things here and there to, ‘I’ve got a whole brand new set of ‘Demon Slayer’ for you guys,’ really boosted the interest for them.”

Karen Liu, the library division’s youth services coordinator, said the Utah State Library worked with school librarians to curate Spanish language collections to better serve Utah’s growing Hispanic and Latino population.

“We know that a lot of our school libraries and public libraries may have some challenging needs regarding funding for foreign language books, which tend to cost more than regular English print titles,” she said. “As a state library, we are very excited to be able to support our school and public libraries and our communities.”

To help address language needs, the state is exploring purchasing and developing collections in other languages, including Ukrainian, Urdu and Farsi. The State Library also awarded $136,500 to 91 public and school libraries last August to purchase materials in Spanish or other languages. Funds for the project were provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act and are administered by the Utah State Library Division.

“Literacy development research shows that it’s easier for us to learn another language when we are literate in our native language. As Utah’s population grows, we want to support our communities in literacy efforts,” Liu said. “We are excited to share these collections and resources with native Spanish speakers, Spanish language learners and dual-immersion.”

Spanish books are seen at Valley Junior High School’s library in West Valley City on Thursday, May 11, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News