Book Review: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Author: Anika Aldamuy Denise
Illustrator: Paola Escobar
Publisher: HarperCollins  
Year: 2019
Ages: 4 - 8

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré is a biographical picture book that celebrates the life of the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. Pura Belpré was born in Puerto Rico to a family of storytellers. In 1921, she visited New York City for her sister’s wedding. Pura decided to stay, and after working briefly in the garment industry, she found a job as a bilingual librarian in the New York Public Library. She became the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. After noticing that the shelves of the library did not have books representative of her cultural background, she wrote Puerto Rican folktales. Pérez y Martina, Juan Bobo, and The Three Magi are among her most famous children’s books. In 1982, the New York Public Library awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award for her extraordinary work as a librarian, puppeteer, and storyteller. Not only that, the Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996 to honor Latino/Latina writers and illustrators that best represent the Latino cultural experience in children’s books.

When I saw this book on the shelves of the library I volunteer at, I burst with emotion. I often wondered why there was no children’s book about the incredible Pura Belpré. Finally, we have one, and it is amazing. Anika Aldamuy Denise tells Pura’s life story with rhythm and beautiful simplicity. She blends the English language with Spanish words, illuminating the power of bilingualism, which Pura possessed and used in her career, making Hispanics feel at home at the library. Paola Escobar’s illustrations are splendid and vibrant, and I love them. The color palette she used is colorful the Hispanic community, and yet it is representative of Pura’s historical period.

Without a doubt, this book is a must-have for all libraries in the United States. Pura Belpré broke barriers for Latinos/Latinas when she started working in the New York Public Library. I think children can learn a lot from her life, like how great it is to have bilingual or multilingual skills and how amazing it is to represent and help a community that does not have a voice. I sincerely hope that this book wins lots of awards. Note that this review is of the English version, but there is a Spanish version too.

Rating: 5 stars.

Where to Find it: Local Library and Amazon

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