For this week, we chose a very special book that came out this year, “Planting Stories: The Life of the Historian and Librarian Pura Belpré.” This story is the result of a beautiful collaboration between American author Anika Aldamuy Denise and Colombian illustrator Paola Escobar, and it is also available in Spanish. For some of you the name Pura Belpré sounds familiar, whether it is because
you read her stories that talk about Puerto Rico’s folklore and oral tradition, or because of the prestigious award named in her honor. Organized since 1996 by the American Library Association, the prestigious Pura Belpré award is given annually to Latinx authors and illustrator.
Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian at the New York public library. This book tells us her inspirational story, and the way in which she planted in New York the seeds of all the stories she heard on the island where she grew up. These stories were told to her “under the shade of a Tamarind tree, in Puerto Rico.” The seeds she plants in the library are an extension of this tree, transplanted in New York City and for all the boys and girls who wanted to hear these stories. Belpré wrote the first book on Puerto Rico’s folktales for the city’s public library. She saw the importance of having access to books in our maternal language and to having representation of our own culture and imagery.
The detailed and colorful illustrations show us this rich world in which
Belpré lived. The 1920s in New York City is shown in detail, building our understanding of this place she went to visit temporarily and where she decided to stay permanently given the opportunities and the promise of the American dream.
Belpré was not only an author but also a storyteller. She would tell and perform Puerto Rico’s stories to children at the library and travel to different places to tell them. Children and families came to the library to hear her bilingual folktales represented with puppets on a stage. This tradition had an impact other storytellers who then continued to create a rich imaginary world for kids at the NY library.
We recommend this wonderful book not only because of her inspirational story, but also because of how important it is to know who she was, where she came from, and the everlasting impact she had in her community.
“The seeds she has planted, the roots that grew shoots into the open air of possibility, have become a lush landscape into which she steps, as though she has never left.”
- For more information on her prestigious award and to the list of authors and illustrators who have won it, visit the Pura Belpré Award website.
- To dive into a bit of her legacy among the world of children’s literature, visit the Latinx in Kid Lit blog, which ran a series of commemorative posts in 2016 when the award celebrated its 20th year.
- Finally, to bring Belpré a bit more to life, check out this trailer for a documentary created by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.
Nos vemos pronto,
Citation: The above image was done by Paola Escobar, and is from the book Planting Stories: The Life of the Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré.