Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar, is a lovely biographical picture book portraying the life of New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, Pura Belpré.
Born in 1899, Pura Belpré moved from Cidra, Puerto Rico to New York City in 1921. Months later, she began working at the New York Public Library in Harlem as a bilingual assistant, empowering the Spanish-speaking community with stories and programs in their language. Upon realizing the library lacked any literature written in Spanish, Belpré began writing “the first mainstream Latinx storybooks published in America.” Because of her, families and immigrants who spoke Spanish were able to access the library and its resources, and enjoy the pleasure of reading. The legacy of her contributions endures.
Every year since 1996, the American Librarian Association honors extraordinary writing and illustrations by Latinx authors with the Pura Belpré Award. Elizabeth Acevedo received this award in 2019 for The Poet X, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz in 2013 for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, to name a few noteworthy recipients.
Illustrated in colorful, flowery, and dynamic images, Planting Stories tells Pura Belpré’s story in a format accessible to young readers. Written primarily in English, this book casually weaves Spanish words into the narrative, so that readers can feel a sense of the language without having to be a speaker of it. The context of the words and phrases allow a seamless transition into español, and through the narrative her impact is felt.
This energetic and hopeful book has instilled in me a deep admiration for a woman whose story I had not previously known. Librarians, especially those like Pura Belpré, have always been essential to our communities. May the librarians of today continue to plant and nurture stories in readers from all different backgrounds.
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