Aren’t we so lucky? Beautiful important books just keep on coming! And today I’m thrilled to sing a grateful Happy Book Birthday to Annette Bay Pimentel’s latest picture book: PURA’S CUENTOS: How Pura Belpre Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. I’ve always been such a fan of libraries and librarians…so books about them are going to definitely find a place on my shelves. And we are lucky for another reason…one person who leaves a comment and shares this post will win a copy of this amazing book!!
Doesn’t that cover just invite you to pull up a chair and read this story? Here a little bit about the book from the Amazon page:
A lyrical, vibrant tribute to the amazing life and legacy of Pura Belpré, a lauded storyteller, librarian, and pioneer of bilingual story-times
Pura’s abuela always has a cuento to share. She crows ¡Qui-qui-ri-quí! for Señor Gallo, booms Borom, Borom for Señor Zapo, and tells of a beautiful cockroach who loves a mouse. Pura clings to these stories like coquíes cling to green leaves.
When Pura grows up and moves from Puerto Rico to Harlem, she gets a job at the library, where she is surrounded by stories—but they’re only in English. Where is Señor Gallo? Where is Pérez the mouse? Where is Puerto Rico on these shelves? She decides to tell children the tales of her homeland in English and in Spanish.
Lyrically written, with lively illustrations, Pura’s Cuentos captures the exuberant spirit and passion of Pura Belpré: celebrated storyteller, author, folklorist, and the first Latina librarian in New York City. A pioneer of bilingual storytimes, she welcomed countless new families to the library, formed cultural bridges in her community, and broke the rules by telling stories that weren’t printed in books—at least, not yet.
And we are lucky for another reason! The lovely and talented author, Annette Bay Pimentel, stopped by to chat and share some of the story behind the story – I always love when we get a chance to find out what inspired a writer to write a particular story.
Pura Belpré was a visionary librarian who worked in the New York Public Library during the Harlem Renaissance. She noticed lots of Spanish-speaking kids in the neighborhood whom she never saw in the library. She pioneered Spanish-language and bilingual storytimes at the library, introducing the kids to the library, and the librarians to a new audience of kids.
Our family lived abroad for several years. When our daughter was kindergarten-aged she was in a school in Bosnia where nobody spoke English. We knew that was the best way for her to learn Bosnian, but it nearly broke our hearts to see how hard it was for her to go every day to a place where she struggled to make herself understood. Then her very wise teacher suggested I do a weekly storytime in English to the whole class. Those few minutes a week changed everything for our daughter. I hope my book honors the librarian who did that for so many children!
As I researched, I was lucky enough to meet a few people who had worked with Pura Belpré. One of them, Carmen Reyes, also from Puerto Rico, worked alongside her as a library aide when she was a young mother. When her children finished school each day, they would come to the library and do their homework where she could keep an eye on them. And, of course, when Pura Belpré did storytime, the Reyes kids joined in.
Ralph Reyes is a grandfather now, but he remembers vividly listening to her stories.
“Some stories she told in English but for the most part they were half English and half Spanish. If the group was mostly Spanish children she’d tell the entire story in Spanish. Spanish was my first language, so hearing stories in Spanish was a real treat.
Pura Belpré took our Puerto Rican culture and made it come alive. She transformed the concrete jungle of New York City into a place where imagination could just explode. In the South Bronx, cockroaches and mice were pretty common—and unpleasant. But she transformed them into Perez the Mouse and Martina the Cockroach. She made my entire world spring alive.
We are sensitive to the world when we are young. Books and stories gave me a place to escape to, and helped me see the world as a wonderful place. Hooray for children’s imaginations! Hooray for libraries! And hooray for the librarians, like Pura Belpré, who bring children and libraries together, and show both of them that everyone has a story that matters.“
ME: Oh my goodness, Annette! This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us…and a huge thank you to Ralph Reyes for sharing this family photo with Pura and his thoughts about how important Pura and her stories were to the entire community.
Dear friends, you know the drill. Authors and illustrators and publishers need our support. Please buy the books that you love if you can, review them, tell friends about them, and ask your library to purchase copies for their collection. For sure, every library needs to have a copy of this book!
I hope you all have a wonderful week. Please don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway…and please share the post on your social media to spread the word. Please share what was the name of the first book you took out of the library? And what was the name of that library and where was it?