When a trip to attend her sister’s wedding takes Pura Belpré from Puerto Rico to New York, a temporary visit becomes a permanent stay as Pura becomes enchanted with the opportunity to start a new life in New York. After finding work as a librarian, she begins to share treasured stories learned from her grandma about her Puerto Rican heritage. Pura’s formal storytelling as a librarian changes to informal storytelling as she travels the country with her husband, musician Clarence White, but when she visits the library again decades later, she finds her stories have contributed to and inspired a blossoming literary culture. Aldamuy Denise achieves the difficult and uncommon feat of sharing a fact-filled, historical biography as an interesting yet substantive story for kids. The book communicates a positive lesson about how one librarian starts sharing her stories when she doesn’t find books reflecting her own heritage on the shelf. These stories are presented refreshingly real. For example, the tale of a beautiful princess cockroach is not altered into a character more appealing to a mainstream audience. Aldamuy Denise’s story is at times almost poetic, as Pura’s first job in a garment factory “is cold floors and hard edges” instead of “soft, fertile ground where seeds take root.” Escobar’s colorful illustrations help keep the story playful and engaging with bright buildings, idealized libraries, and stylized characters, though the significance of the flowers scattered all throughout is not immediately clear, and the flowers become distracting.
This is a meaningful story of heritage, immigration, and carving a path for others to follow. I loved learning about Pura Belpré and her love of storytelling and work as a librarian. The inclusion of Spanish words that can be understood in context adds an authentic touch, and the illustrations are also very unique and bright.
Anika Denise is the author of Pigs Love Potatoes and Bella and Stella Come Home, both of which were illustrated by her husband, Christopher Denise. The Denises live with their three children–and pet frog–in Barrington, Rhode Island. www.anikadenise.com
Paola Escobar, the illustrator of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, grew up traveling from town to town in Colombia. From a very young age she liked to draw the stories her grandmother Clara told about her ancestors, the countryside, and animals. Today, Paola is an illustrator who is passionate about telling stories of her own, having published with SM Spain, Planeta, Norma, and more. She lives very happily in Bogotá, Colombia, with her husband and their dog, Flora.
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