Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Librarian Yesenia Villar-Villalobos


By Sujei Lugo

The Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library series is an occasional feature of this blog, featuring interviews with children’s library workers. In these interviews, we highlight the work librarians do for Latinx children’s literature, especially in libraries that serve Latinx communities. In case you’d like to catch up on previous posts, you can find links to them below this article. 

In this new entry, we talk with Yesenia Villar-Villalobos, a Mexican-American children’s librarian in Los Angeles, California.

Sujei: Tell us a bit about your background and identity.

Yesenia: I’m a first-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in East Los Angeles, California. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and raised seven children on menial salaries. While I grew up in poverty, I was nearly an adult before I began to realize the true disparity of resources and opportunities that existed among my high school peers. However, what my parents couldn’t provide for me materially was far less significant than the perseverance and resilience they modeled while struggling to cover the family’s most basic of necessities. In fact, on my path to higher education I lacked an academic role model. Yet, my parents instilled in me what I truly needed: a willingness to endure hardship and uncertainty in order to achieve a goal.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, I never placed much emphasis on my ethnic identity.  Everyone around me was Latinx, mostly Mexican, so it wasn’t something I felt the need to address. However, now that I have entered the library world and function as a minority among my colleagues, I recognize the significance of my identity. I encompass a degree of cultural competency and lived experience that many of my colleagues do not. Because of this, I strive diligently to model cultural competency and advocate for more equitable services to Latinxs.

Sujei: What’s your current position, which type of library do you work in, and what is the demographic of the community?

Yesenia: I’m currently the children’s librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) at the Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library in Boyle Heights. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, our community is 97.7% Hispanic or Latino, 86.5% of which are Mexican. Of the adults ages 25 and over, 38.6% have less than a 9th-grade education. It’s a highly dense working-class community with 71.1% of renter-occupied housing and also of large family sizes, with 14.8% of homes occupied by seven or more residents. The median income is $37,472, and the median income for families is $38,632, an alarmingly low figure considering how large families are.

Sujei: The librarians we’ve interviewed for this series often highlight their childhood reading experiences, including the impact of public libraries. What were your experiences like? 

Yesenia: Books were not something we had in our home. From a young age I developed a love of reading, but I never had the resources to explore books at home. Repeatedly, I would find myself reading cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, and the weekly church flyer. Once, in first grade, I sneaked a textbook out of class and read it cover-to-cover at home before discreetly returning it to the classroom. 

I wasn’t introduced to public libraries until sixth grade when a homework assignment required me to venture to my local public library. Neither my dad nor I had any knowledge about how a public library functioned or what resources were available there. At that time, the library-card application required a social security number. As an undocumented person who had been deported on multiple occasions in his early years in the U.S., my dad initially refused to fill out the application. But I begged and pleaded with him to get me a library card, and he finally gave in. 

That public library card remained unused until eighth grade, when I was sent to the counselor’s office for turning in a book report on a preschool-level book. Back then, the only book I had access to was Captain Kitty by Godfrey Lynn and Elizabeth Webbe, which I had bought at a yard sale for 10 cents. The counselor decided that since I frequently completed in-class assignments early, I would be allowed to visit the school library during class time. I had attended this school for nearly four years, and this was the first time I’d realized we had a library. That’s where I picked up a copy of Blubber by Judy Blume, because that was what a classmate was reading.

I never looked back. I read every book by Judy Blume in our school library. Then I started sneaking out of the house to visit the public library. I would take my backpack, check out as many Judy Blume books as I could fit in it, and then sneak back into my house. I devoured book after book in secret. I went to a third library in search of more Judy Blume books, but then realized I had read them all. I was devastated. At that time, I didn’t know librarians existed. I didn’t know I could ask questions or seek suggestions. I simply roamed the library aimlessly. Fortunately, I continued to find books to enjoy and became a lifelong reader.

Sujei: How can public libraries be more welcoming and engaging for Latinx immigrant families?

Yesenia: Cultural competency is severely lacking in library services. This is not something that can be taught in a single class or workshop, or through training. It takes ongoing effort to learn the customs of a community and find effective ways to communicate with them. This goes beyond speaking the same language. It requires attention to the dialect they use, the interests they share, and their spoken and unspoken needs. For example, when librarians translate materials at our branch, we involve the entire staff to ensure that the translations reflect the languages our patrons use. Spanish translations are plentiful—and there are so many ways to say the same phrase—but is that the phrase our patrons use?

Being relatable is key to extending a welcoming environment. When a branch is located in a community predominated by immigrants, we have to adopt the framework that public libraries may be a foreign concept for some patrons. As librarians, we are fully aware of the power a library offers toward improving the living standards of a community. But if the community is unaware, or worse, fearful of stepping inside the confines of a government building, what good does it serve? 

This is why I practice a type of guerrilla outreach, placing myself in situations outside the library where Latinxs congregate. I provide information in a visually appealing, linguistically relevant, and non-threatening format. I approach people face-to-face and leave myself open to questions. I don’t over-hype our services, since I’m fully aware of our limitations, but I do offer information in a way that entices the community to at least walk into the building. Additionally, I sometimes conduct programming outdoors, as an outreach tool to emphasize that the library is here to serve everybody, and that everybody is welcome. 

The programs I conduct are meant to involve the entire family. Because of large family sizes and limited access to childcare, I envision the entire family working as a unit to create, assemble, and invent. For example, a program I created three years ago using do-it-yourself slime continues to be my most popular family program. It regularly attracts from 100-200 participants. By using inexpensive household items, we allow kids, teens, parents, and even grandparents to engage in hands-on science and create their own toys in an incredibly fun manner.

Sujei: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a Latinx woman pursuing a career in children’s librarianship?

Yesenia: Some common themes that my Latina colleagues and I encounter are a lack of resources, limited cultural expectations, and the lack of representation. 

Let’s start with education. Even though I performed well during my entire K-12 schooling, I never considered college as an option, since I never imagined it financially possible. I began working at the age of 15, and by the time I was 18, I held the position of assistant manager at a retail store. I was earning a salary comparable to that of my parents, but was bored. I went to my local community college and inquired about taking classes. At the time, I had no intention of pursuing a degree, but simply wanted to continue learning. One day when I asked my mom for a ride to school, she asked, “ What are you going to school for? You’re pretty enough to get married.” This was the first time I realized the cultural expectations that my family had for me. Despite my intelligence, I was merely a woman.

After taking the assessment test at the East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC) I got placed in honors classes. While others doubted my capabilities, I began to believe in them. Then, when a financial-aid representative spoke to my honors class about financial aid, higher education started to feel like a more realistic opportunity. While I still hadn’t envisioned a degree as the end goal, I loved to learn and continued to attend school off-and-on while employed full-time. After three years, my counselor notified me that I had enough credits to transfer to a 4-year university for my bachelor’s degree. I had no idea what he was talking about; I had never heard of a bachelor’s degree. But I went home, looked it up in my dictionary and decided I would pursue it. 

Having never considered a profession, I was torn about what to pursue. Teacher? Social worker? Then one morning I woke up and the word “librarian” literally flew out of my mouth! It was so clear, I could see it right in front of my eyes. The library had made such a profound difference in my life. It had opened my eyes to new experiences and opportunities. No doubt my avid reading had improved the writing skills that placed me in the honors class that made going to college a real possibility. As I researched librarianship as a profession, I quickly discovered that it required a master’s degree. It was at that moment that I began to take my academic ambitions seriously. I enrolled in the California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA) with a major in Liberal Studies and a minor in Women’s Studies. I focused my education on the history of minorities in the U.S.— specifically, on the political and socio-economic conditions that hinder minorities from pursuing a higher education. I educated myself about the experiences faced by people like my parents, who are undocumented, under-educated, monolingual, and economically disadvantaged.

When I began library school at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) I was astonished by the lack of diversity. For the first time, my status as a Latina became center stage. Unknowingly, I was one of the few students interested in the information needs of Latinxs. I didn’t apply to UCLA with the intention of becoming an advocate for Latinxs and Spanish-speakers, but this is what developed through my experiences and research interests. Since then, I have encountered mentors that have helped me navigate through the library world and enhance my skills and abilities. While the number of Latinas in librarianship may still be low, I have encountered women who empower and elevate one another other to strive for success.

Sujei: Where does your library acquire Latinx children’s books, bilingual books and Spanish- language books? Which places to get books do you recommend?

Yesenia: Obtaining relevant Spanish literature is a challenge. Spanish publications by Latinx authors often print on such a short run that unless you learn about them immediately, you may lose the opportunity to purchase them for your collection. Additionally, the Latinx community is vast and the vernacular varies from country to country and region to region. In our library system there is a department dedicated to creating the list of Spanish materials available for purchase. We order materials from that list, and never get the opportunity to examine them first. More often than not, we’re unable to read reviews before purchasing. 

I prefer to purchase my Spanish materials in person. In Los Angeles there is a children’s bookstore that sells only materials in Spanish, and which come from countries all over Latin America. It’s called La Librería and it displays books from each country individually. As a librarian, I’m able to select materials in the dialect that best suits my community. In my opinion, this is the greatest children’s bookstore for Spanish materials in Los Angeles, and possibly, California. Although small in size, the selection is so great that I wonder why anyone would buy Spanish books elsewhere. Also, the staff is kind, passionate, and knowledgeable.

Sujei: Your favorite Latinx children’s books? 

Yesenia: I relate to books that reflect my Mexican-American culture. I speak Spanglish, so I prefer to read books that incorporate both English and Spanish. At my bilingual storytimes, in addition to alternating between books written in English and in Spanish, I also read books written in Spanglish. Some of my favorites include Señor Pancho Had a Rancho, written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith, and La Princesa and the Pea, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

Explore our other interviews in this series, linked below. AND, if you’re a library worker serving a Latinx community and would like to share your experiences through an interview, we invite you to contact us! 

María F. Estrella, Cleveland Public Library

Angie Manfredi, Los Alamos County Public Library

Crystal Brunelle, Northern Hills Elementary School, Onalaska, Wisconsin 

Patricia Toney, San Francisco Public Library

About the interviewer: Sujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. Sujei can also be found on TwitterLetterboxd and Goodreads.



Book Review: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré / Sembrando Historias: Pura Belpré bibliotecaria y narradora de cuentos


  Planting in Spanish

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Follow la vida y el legado of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City.

When she came to America in 1921, Pura carried the cuentos folkloricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy.

This portrait of the influential librarian, author, and puppeteer reminds us of the power of storytelling and the extraordinary woman who opened doors and championed bilingual literature.

MY TWO CENTS: Another bilingual favorite to add to the informational biography shelf! Pura Belpré is widely known for the book award created in her honor through the American Library Association. Every year, the Pura Belpré Award is one that recognizes Latinx authors and illustrators that reflect the Latinx culture in their picture books or novels.

Pura Belpré had seeds of determination and passion that followed her from Puerto Rico. That same blessing led her to work in a library and share her stories with children, however, she quickly discovered that many of her own stories, reflective of her Puerto Rican culture, were not readily available to the community. Therefore, she begins to share her stories with children and then begins to write down all her stories for others to read. Soon after, she is telling her stories all around the world. This biographical account of Pura’s life story and life’s work is nothing short of inspirational. Pura unequivocally shares her passion for storytelling to all so that her stories and culture are not lost. Despite losing her best friend and husband, she returns to the library scene while also inspiring others, and sees her seeds of storytelling and Latinx culture, come to fruition.

The sentence structures are concise but impactful as they tell the story, almost in a poetic form, of inspiration and passion as Pura moves to a role within the library. The reader is mesmerized in her storytelling and how certain words stand out with the use of a brushstroke. Words and phrases in Spanish are realistically embraced within the narrative structure, so much that it flows and might go unnoticed. The sharp, bold, multicolored background brings life to the determining force behind Pura’s life and purpose with books and libraries. The illustrator perfectly captures the authenticity of the story through its detailed illustrations and placement of characters and scenes. The illustrations dance around the entire page, which keeps the reader involved as the story progresses. Certain illustrations, like the simple flowers and musical notes, follow Pura as she shares her stories across the pages. The additional final pages also provide extensive references to text and film for further research in Pura’s lifework, as well as Latinx culture, especially the Puerto Rican culture.

Overall, a perfect addition, in both English and Spanish, to your biography shelf, especially highlighting the power of small, yet meaningful actions and how it evolves into a movement across Latinx and book cultures.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • Teaching descriptive vocabulary words and phrases
  • Focus on character traits, especially traits describing Pura throughout the story
  • Focus on the illustrator’s purpose of using certain colors or placement of illustrations to convey meaning
  • This book can also be combined in a biographical unit of inspirational storytellers or librarians.
  • Students can also be invited to research more of Pura Belpré’s lifework, as well as the impact of the Pura Belpré award on books.

To learn more about the Pura Belpré Medal and find the latest winners and honors, check out the ALA’s Pura Belpré Award home page.

Anika Denise Author Hi-res PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anika Aldamuy Denise first heard the stories of Pura Belpré from her titi Rose, who, like Pura’s family, enjoyed sharing the treasured folklore of Puerto Rico. Today, Anika is the celebrated author of several picture books, including Starring Carmen!, Lights, Camera, Carmen!, and Monster Trucks. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Rhode Island. Other new titles coming in 2019 include The Best Part of Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins.Visit her online at



ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Paola Escobar 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 Bogota, Colombia, with her husband and their dog, Flora. Follow her on Instagram here!


img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!


Latinx Book Reviewers Having Their Say, Part 2


This is part 2 in a roundtable discussion with members of our reviewing team. We are immensely grateful for their work. Most of them lead busy professional lives that center around literacy and literature. It only figures that they would have more to say about Latinx kid lit than can fit into a single review. Let’s hear them out.

LiKL: Tell us about yourself as a child reader. How do those experiences color your impressions of the books you read now?

Jessica Agudelo is a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library. Like many librarians, I was a dedicated reader throughout my childhood. I loved stories and even the physical books themselves. One of my greatest pleasures was when the Scholastic Book Fair would come to my elementary school.  I felt such joy browsing the glossy covers, then selecting just the right one to bring home and add to my own cupboard library. My treasured stash. I adored books like Amber Brown and the Wayside School series, and later the Caroline B. Cooney mysteries. I was an adult before I started realizing that my reading life was devoid of authors and characters of color. I didn’t know I needed it. But once I realized it was missing, I made a point to read all I could by and about Latinxs, and other non-white cultures and people. Nowadays, when I read titles like Pablo Cartaya’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, or Celia Perez’s The First Rule of Punk, I feel like I am 11 again, because these authors have so beautifully and honestly depicted the experiences of second-generation Latinx youth, reflecting many of my own struggles and joys. I am also grateful to be in the position to share diverse stories with kids, who can recognize themselves in these books or get a glimpse into the life of someone. In this way, I make up for lost time.

Jessica Walsh in her best-reader glory days! (She’s the smallest child pictured.)

Jessica Walsh is the K-12 ELA Instructional Specialist in an Illinois school district.  In kindergarten, I won a prize for having read the most books in my grade. We didn’t have many books at home back then – we couldn’t afford them–so I relied on my school and public libraries. Later I got books from the Scholastic Book Order and read titles like Beezus and Ramona and the Peanut Butter and Jelly series. Moving on to middle school, I consumed a steady diet of Sweet Valley High and everything by Christopher Pike. I remember staring long and hard at the covers, imagining what it would be like to live those lives. Looking back, I was searching to discover who I was. As the only kid of Mexican descent, I looked different than my peers and my hair wouldn’t do what the other girls’ hair did. (It was the 80s though…so I rocked that perm!) We had little money and I never had the right clothes or accessories. What the books I read had in common, though, were the universal struggles of growing up: conflicts with friends, parents. As I read and consider which books to put in kids’ hands, I think about the books I loved and that instilled in me a joy of reading.

Elena Foulis, Ph.D., leads a digital oral-history program to document the stories of Latinxs in Ohio. As a child, I liked reading, but lacked someone in my life who could point me to good books, appropriate for my age or identity. When I started college, I was in the U.S. and I devoured books that connected me to my roots and reminded me where I came from. I mostly read in Spanish, and later on, multi-ethnic literature in English. I have a graduate degree in comparative literature, so reading from different groups allowed me to learn from different cultures, linguistic backgrounds and histories.

LiKL: What is your reviewing process like? Do you take notes throughout your reading time? Are there sticky flags involved? Are there sticky fingers involved (because: sugary snacks)?

Elena: I am a slow reader! I like to take my time with each book. I pause to imagine the landscape, the characters and the sound of their voices. I write on the margins and highlight important passages. Coffee is always involved, so occasionally, my books have coffee stains. 🙂

Jessica Agudelo

Jessica A: My reviewing process varies, depending on what I’m reading. For picture books, I read once through for an initial reaction to the story and art. Then I read a few more times (at least once, aloud) to note specifics, such as the relationship between the text and illustrations, or narrative strength and nuance. For fiction, sticky notes are a necessity! I don’t like writing in books and hate dog ears (although I sometimes use this technique on the train, when sticky notes aren’t available). I make notes about recurring themes, characters and their notable traits, plot specifics, and stand-out quotes that I might want to include in the review. I also jot down any similar books that come to mind, to offer that additional frame of reference.

LiKL: Your work as an educator, youth librarian, scholar of children’s literature is bound to affect your work as a reviewer. Help us understand the professional perspective you bring to the evaluation of texts.

Elena:  In my studies, I read literature of the Spanish-speaking world and U.S. literature. Although this included canonical works, I was always attracted to writers who spoke from the margins. I liked to understand the perspective of those on the peripheries, those who challenged mainstream culture. I devoured books written by women! I think this experience is valuable to reviewing Latinx books, and as a Latina who has two teen girls, I look for how each author approaches culture, identity and language, and how young women might be empowered by books that tell a familiar story, one that connects to their own experiences.

LiKL: Let’s draw up a wish list for authors and publishers. Which genres, storylines, locations, representations, or other considerations do you pine for in books for children or teens?

Jessica A: More ordinary stories! Latinxs are joyful and resilient, we are not always struggling and suffering. There is beauty in the mundane. I’ve had the privilege of hearing Meg Medina speak a number of times. On one occasion, she mentioned the need for our community to elevate our heroes. I couldn’t agree more. We have an admirable list of icons, but there are so many more Latinx artists, writers, thinkers, scientists, and activists that have influenced American and world history. They should be represented in the books our kids and teens are reading.

Elena Foulis

Elena: I am still hoping to write a book myself! After living in the Midwest for many years, I would love to read about growing up Latinx in that region. We have The House on Mango Street, but we also need the perspective of Latinx growing up in rural areas or smaller cities, and from Central American backgrounds. It’s also important to address current topics that some consider taboo, like mental health.

Jessica W: I would love to see the books I needed when I was younger, such as books about kids with a desire to claim their Latinx culture, because their parents intentionally kept that part of their identity hidden. Growing up, my mother, who remarried, kept me away from my Mexican-American family. We moved thousands of miles away and rarely visited, partly due to the cost of travel. Not until later did she reclaim her heritage, so this meant I never heard family stories, although my father did enrich my life with the traditions of his heritage. I hope that young readers in similar experiences will have someone in their lives–a librarian, a teacher, a mentor–who can place an amazing Latinx story in their hands, which celebrate their culture. If I’d had that, I wouldn’t have continued to struggle with my Mexicanidad, even into adulthood.

LiKL: Now let’s flip the coin. What are your reading pet peeves? Specify the tired tropes, stereotypes, or overused plot machinations that cause you to roll your eyes—or to slam a book shut.

Elena: I think there are too many coming-of-age stories in Latinx books. While these storylines are important, perhaps there can be different ways to tell them.

LiKL: What is your current hot read and which books are at the top of your to-be-read list?

Jessica W: Meg Medina’s middle-grade title Merci Suárez Changes Gears is dominating my thoughts right now. It’s such a powerful, yet humorous, look at intergenerational relationships and the inescapable bonds of family ties. A must-read! Also, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya, Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh, and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico by David Bowles, are all fighting for my attention right now!

Jessica A: Most of my time is spent reading children’s books. Most recently I’ve checked out some wonderful picture books, including a wordless debut by Cynthia Alonso called Aquarium; the beautifully illustrated Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal; and the hilarious (and bilingual) take on the famous cryptid, El Chupacabras, by Adam Rex. I also recently read Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky, a fantastic young adult/adult collection of myths from Mexico retold by David Bowles. Usually I wait until the end of the year to read adult books, and on my to-read list is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras, and The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Those are just a few titles. The full list is much, much longer!

Elena: Anything by Chimamanda Adichie! On my to-be-read- list: Tell Me How it Ends: and Essay in 40 questions, by Valeria Luiselli, and  I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez.

Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library: Interviews with Fellow Librarians: Maria F. Estrella


The Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library series features interviews with children’s librarians, youth services librarians, and school librarians, where they share knowledge, experiences, and the challenges they encounter in using Latino children’s literature in their libraries. In this entry we interview fellow REFORMA member Maria F. Estrella.

Maria F. Estrella

Maria F. Estrella

Assistant Manager, Cleveland Public Library, South Brooklyn Branch, Cleveland, Ohio

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your identity, and your library.

I am originally from Colombia and currently reside in Cleveland, Ohio. I came to the United States approximately thirty years ago, and grew up in a working-class community on the east side of Cleveland. During the 1980s, a small pocket of Latino families lived in my neighborhood, so maintaining our customs and culture was a priority.

I work for the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) as an Assistant Manager. Better known as the People’s University, CPL is a five-star library, recognized by the 2016 Library Journal Index of Public Library Service. Throughout my seventeen years of library experience, I have worked in various capacities. While obtaining my Bachelor’s of Arts and Sciences in Social Work and Spanish, I worked as a Youth Services Department Library Page and in Library Assistant-Computer Emphasis. I then obtained a Master’s of Communication and Information in Library and Information Science from Kent State University, and was promoted to Children’s Librarian, and then to Youth Services Subject Department Librarian. I currently work at the South Brooklyn Branch, one of twenty-seven branches within the Greater Cleveland, where there is a vast Latino population.

What process does your library take to select and acquire Latino children’s books for the collection? Do you have any input in this process?

There are several ways the Cleveland Public Library selects and acquires Latino children’s books for all of our twenty-seven branches and our main library. Our International Languages Department is responsible for the collection development of all Spanish materials, the Youth Services Department purchases diverse juvenile/teen titles, and our Children’s Librarians who serve the Latino community purchase Spanish or Latino children’s books for their collection.  

As an Assistant Manager, I no longer select or acquire juvenile/teen books for a collection. However, while working in the Youth Services Department, I created a Pura Belpré Award Book section, where all Pura Belpré award winners and honors are displayed. Additionally, I was one of two librarians responsible for ordering diverse titles for the department on a weekly basis.  

What type of children and youth programming does your library offer that promotes Latino children’s literature? How frequently?

Throughout the years, the Cleveland Public Library has conducted storytimes during Hispanic Heritage Month and Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros. I have recently partnered with the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center to conduct a monthly bilingual storytime for families. The purpose of the storytime is to spark the love of language and literature in all forms (both English and Spanish) in early readers.

In terms of promoting events and community outreach, what does your library do?

The Cleveland Public Library promotes library events through various social media platforms and printed announcements, such as our monthly Up Next brochure. Our library staff members conduct numerous community outreaches throughout our urban neighborhoods, and we have an Outreach and Programming Services Department. Our library system also has the On the Road to Reading program, which delivers library materials and services to caregivers of young children, birth to 5 years of age. The project is conducted at selected childcare settings, pediatric clinics, and community events.

One cool thing the library acquired two years ago is the Cleveland Public Library People’s University Express Book Bike. The Book Bike’s overall mission is to celebrate both literacy and healthy living, while implementing creative ways to educate, provide library services, and instill pride in our urban communities. The traveling library displays informational services and materials, serves as a library checkout station, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and acts as a welcoming library hub at any outreach event. During the summer, I have the great privilege to ride the bike!

What is the reaction of kids, teens, and families regarding Latino children’s books and programming? And the reaction of your co-workers and library staff?

As a result of Cleveland, Ohio, being very diverse in population, it’s common for our children, teens, and families to experience diverse books and programming. What I love to do the most is introduce children and families to a small piece of our culture by doing simple things like reading a Latino-inspired tale or conducting a Día de los Muertos program. The library staff and co-workers love it, have provided a helping hand, and some have invited me to their branches to conduct a storytime.

Any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino children’s books or in getting your programming approved? What would you like to do in terms of programming that you haven’t be able to?

I have never had any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino juvenile books or programming. Sometimes, I am in shock that my past and present supervisors and our Outreach and Programming Department liked my program ideas, because at times they are a little outside the box! A program that I would love to have is a children/teen Latino writer/ illustrator series during the month of the Día celebration. I would love to illustrate to our Latino youth and their families that all dreams are possible, and demonstrating to them that diverse characters and displaying the Latino culture in books are worth creating!

Do you address issues of prejudice and oppression in your library through and in children’s books? 

As a result of being an almost 150-year-old institution, we don’t censor any material, and we do come across children’s books that portray certain prejudices. As an academic/public library system, we preserve those literary works for scholars to utilize in their research. However, we have marvelous youth-services staff members, who constantly inform themselves on the need for great diverse books for children. Currently, our institution has librarians on various ALA/ALSC book award committees. I had the honor of serving on the 2016 ALSC/REFORMA Pura Belpré Committee, which annually selects a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

Any advice for other librarians/educators who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?

Please do your research, read, and truly be an advocate for Latino children/teen literature, especially since, at times, you may be the only one doing it.

Which are the most popular Latino children’s books at your library?

Anything by Yuyi Morales, Duncan Tonatiuh, Meg Medina, and Margarita Engle.

And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?

There are many books that I love and utilize during storytime and with my children! I love that there is a Colombian character in the children’s book Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. 


The Pura Belpré Award: Continuing Belpré’s Legacy of Lighting the Storyteller’s Candle–Part 2


Portrait by Robert Liu-Trujillo. Read more about the portrait and his projects at Permission to post given by artist.

Portrait by Robert Liu-Trujillo. Read more about the portrait and his projects at Permission to post given by artist.


By Sujei Lugo & Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez

Yesterday, we provided a history of Pura Belpré’s work and the start of the Pura Belpré Award. Today, we continue the post with interviews with Oralia Garza de Cortés, Sandra Ríos Balderrama, and Celia C. Pérez, co-founders of the award and former award committee members.

Oralia Garza de Cortés, Co-founder of the Pura Belpré Award

Oralia Garza de Cortés

Oralia Garza de Cortés

How did you first learn about Pura Belpré and her work? 

As a young mom, I embarked upon a quest to find all those books for children related to my cultural heritage that I could introduce my young daughter to. I discovered that the most knowledgeable children’s librarian who could help me was at the newly renovated (at the time) Carnegie Branch of the Houston Public Library. It was Louise Yarain Zwick who first introduced me to Pura Belpré and her wonderful stories in the early eighties. Years later, while doing research one day at the University of Texas while I was in a library school, I discovered a recording of Pura Belpré telling her stories to the children. I heard the deep, rich inflection in her voice as she mimicked the characters to her classic Pérez y Martina: A Puerto Rican Folktale (F. Warne, 1932) I was mesmerized by her storytelling. Then on a visit to Brownsville one hot summer day, I visited the college library where I happened upon a copy of Libros en Español: An Annotated List of Books in Spanish that she edited with Mary Conwell (New York Public Library, 1971). My quest grew into a passion fueled by the artifacts she had left behind, stories and documents left like clues for me to study closely in an effort to re-weave this rich literary tapestry.

Why did you want to co-found the Pura Belpré award?

There is no denying the power that comes from recognition. Certainly the impact of awards such as the Caldecott and Newbery is undeniable. But the twenty-fifth anniversary awards program of the Coretta Scott King Awards moved me beyond words. As we struggled to establish the Belpré Award through the ALA bureaucratic process, that ceremony sparked my imagination for the potential and the possibilities and served as the impetus for getting the Belpré Award through to the home stretch. We established a set of guidelines that re-defined quality in children’s literature so that the cultural content of the writing and the depictions of Latinos in illustration was as equally important a factor as the other criteria for quality children’s literature. This was critical, as we felt strongly that Latino children needed more positive images of themselves other than the “Speedy González” and “frito bandito” stereotype images that continued to prevail in the media and in the kids’ cartoon networks.

Why named it after her?  

When we started talking concretely about an award, we brainstormed and soul-searched names. Many names were suggested, discussed and argued over. But as names were tossed out, the key question became: What is their contribution to children vis-a-vis literature and libraries? It was our dear colleague and REFORMISTA Toni Bissessar who brought up Pura Belpré’s name. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that if there was any one person with a significant track record of library service for children, it was this amazing pioneering librarian and storyteller, Pura Belpré who also demonstrated the value and importance of outreach as a first step to bringing the children to the public library.

What is the significance or impact of giving this book award to Latino/a children’s books authors and illustrators?

Given the publishing industry’s dismal track record of publishing Latino authors and illustrators, the Belpré Award serves a very useful purpose in leveling that very uneven playing field. Increasingly, we are seeing Latino children’s authors and/or illustrators who have gone on to receive Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Awards or honors as a result of the visibility and recognition they first received through the Belpré Award. Winning the award immediately identifies these authors and illustrators to publishers who want to produce materials on the Latino experience but who may not want to take a chance on new, first-time authors or illustrators. The down side of this, of course, is that publishers tend to play it “safe” and so we may see the same authors and illustrators, oftentimes to the delay of new, innovate talent they could take a chance on. The Belpré Award also serves as a very useful selection tools for schools and libraries needing to beef up their Latino collections. But even more importantly, the Belpré identifies authors and illustrators who children and their parents need to see coming to their schools and in their communities and at book fairs like the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books or the Texas Festival of Books. They are exemplary role models for Latino children to know and emulate. It’s part of how we’re going to grow the future generation of Latino writers and illustrators of books for children, and how other children will get to know about Latinos and their vast culture.

Any future plans with the awards?

The period immediately following the 20th Anniversary Celebración will be a good time to reflect upon the last twenty years and is sure to spark some ideas about the direction and future of the award. This is surely a discussion topic for both sponsors of the Belpré Award to discuss and plan as we continue to work together collaboratively in order to insure its continued success.

As we move on to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré award, can you talk a little bit about the Celebración at ALA Annual? 

The Celebración is quite a unique ceremony that happens every year during the annual meeting of the American Library Association. The Celebración is at once a joyful, colorful, festive, and quite moving and invigorating event. It is a gathering space for the familia of librarians and publishers that come together annually to pay homage to the honorees. The two winning medalists give acceptance speeches, which in many instances move more than a few audience members to tears to hear these authors and illustrators speak from their heart about what the honor really means to them. Children in colorful costumes dance and audience members line up for a chance to get their book signed. It is REFORMA’s way of honoring these honors we consider literary heroes who are creators of a growing sector of a the body of work we call American children’s literature.

What would you like to see in the next 20 years in terms of Latino children’s literature?

Certainly the slim production of titles about the Latino experience is reason enough to insist that we do better by the growing population of Latino children who deserve so many more stories in all genres and formats that mirror their realities. It always amazes me that given what we know today about the well-established precept of books as ‘windows and mirrors’ as necessary for children to learn, we still find librarians and bookstores oblivious to award winning books such as the Belpré and are reticent to buy these books and add them to their library collections or sell them in their stores. But we also need the publishing industry to better understand the necessity and the need for titles with culturally relevant content and the critical role these books can play in the education of readers who may not be familiar with the nuances of Latino culture. With an increasingly segregated America, how else will we learn about the ‘other’ if not through books with main character like Esperanza or Manny Hernandez? These protagonists for young people are the perfect anecdote that serves to counter-balance the omissions notably missing in history books and in the media at large. Finally, publishers would do well to recognize that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. If they are really serious about the future of reading, they would do well to steep themselves into culture and move beyond merely translating the popular books that they are familiar with. Imagine more Spanish children’s book with culturally relevant content! Now that would be change!

Any favorite or memorable moment during these last 20 years of the award?

I distinctly remember Victor Martinez’s parents at the 1998 Belpré Celebration when he won the Belpré for Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida. It was heartwarming for me as I realized that I had come full circle when I discovered that Victor’s parents were originally from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, where I’m from originally. But then seeing the joy and tears and the expression in their faces as their son received the Belpré Medal was all the affirmation I needed, the very reason REFORMA insisted that we have a Celebración as a way to honor and recognize our winning authors and illustrators, welcome their families, and further develop that comunidad necessary for the development of readers to take root.

Any advice for future Latino children’s books authors and illustrators?

Trust your instincts, learn from the past, and impress us with your talent!


Sandra Ríos Balderrama, Co-Founder of the Pura Belpré Award

Sandra Rios Balderrama

Sandra Rios Balderrama

How did you first learn about Pura Belpré and her work?

I learned about Pura Belpré from Toni Bissessar one night on the balcony of a New Orleans restaurant. Toni, Oralia, and I were having dinner after a long day of ALA conference and we began to brainstorm names for our future award. “Vivan los niños!” was one. Naming it after César Chávez was another possibility. The napkin that we were writing the names on had a long list. (I wish we still had that napkin! An archival piece!). Then, Toni asked if we had ever heard of Pura Belpré and she began to explain who she was. We knew, then and there, at that moment, as Toni was telling the story of Belpré, that we found our name. It was a perfect fit.

Why did you want to co-found the Pura Belpré award, and why named it after her?

I met Oralia in 1986 or 1987. I was a children’s librarian in California and she was one in Texas. We met at an ALA conference and this is when the spark that we both held in our hearts and souls, took flame. We shared our frustration of not having the tools to do our work i.e. providing collections that our families wanted and finding storybooks that reflected affirming story and imagery for our story hours. The roots of the award began with valuing effective library service to our communities. As we kept talking, we realized the role of publishers, reviewers of children’s literature, and the perceived lack of Latinx writers and illustrators. We spoke highly of the Coretta Scott King Award books and began to wonder what it would be like to have an award for Latinx authors & illustrators for books that would provide the diverse Latinx experience of/for children in the USA and that would get beyond the stereotypical images and characters. To meet Oralia was serendipitous and our work was synchronous and synergetic! The decision to create an award sprung from those passionate and insightful conversations at the many tables we shared during those years way before 1996.

After learning that Pura was a librarian and that she established bilingual story hours and services at the NYPL, AND that she was the first Latina librarian that we know of, to serve in this capacity – we decided that the vision of the award was aligned with her work. The vision for the award was based on affirming Latinx children, authors, illustrators, books, and storytelling. Her work was about inclusion, and “naming” native languages, culture, heritage, thus, giving her bilingual and bicultural communities the service they deserved. This is also what the award is about – the spirit of service aligned with the richness and inclusion of Latinx in the narrative and illustration of the United States’ experience.

What is the significance or impact of giving this book award to Latino/a children’s books authors and illustrators?

The significance is that we’ve come closer to achieving justice, equity, inclusion, and celebration of a more realistic, genuine, world. We still have a ways to go in the ongoing effort to see that our books are published, however this award, like others, gives a boost of acknowledgement and value. Value. The award affirms the potential and power of Latinx to tell our stories, in our way, in our voice and with our brush. The selections are made by librarians with experience in working with Latinx communities so they have insights into the needs and interests of their patrons. The illustrators and authors, themselves become positive imagery for future authors and illustrators i.e. children who may be artists, poets, and storytellers. I always say that invitation is not inclusion. This award is a table that was sculpted by many people, for the authors and illustrators to sit at with pride, knowing that we value their work and their contributions to the world of books, libraries, classrooms, and living rooms.

What would you like to see in the next 20 years in terms of Latino children’s literature?

We are a dynamic people. We treasure our components of culture and heritage and at the same time evolve within our settings and the times we live in. We are not static in how we define ourselves and how we write /paint/digitize/imagine our stories. I hope the next 20 years brings Latinx children’s literature beyond my wildest dreams! And lots more of it! The important elements to retain are diversity, dynamism, and dreaming.

Any favorite or memorable moment during these last 20 years of the award?

The Celebraciones I have attended always make me tear up when I hear the authors and illustrators speak. For me they embody, bring to this lifetime and this earthly plane, a beautiful dream of my Comadre Oralia and myself, as well as all of the people that helped, struggled, and worked on behalf of justice and inclusion, along the way Without the Pura Belpré authors and illustrators we cannot preserve, disseminate or evolve. Without them, we as librarians and libraries remain irrelevant. We can not say we are global institutions, without these authors and illustrators. I feel proud, that the illustrators and authors represent the diversity of Latinx culture and experience, in the way they tell, write, speak, paint, digitize, collage, craft, create, imagine, and uncover the many stories that, once published, and once in the hands of all children, help to make our world more genuine, true, and complete.

Any advice for future Latino children’s books authors and illustrators?

Peruse the Pura Belpré titles. Enjoy them. Give attention to the story, stories and the questions about a possible story to be uncovered, that pound in your heart and won’t let you rest. Listen to the call of the paintbrush and the easel. We are multilingual and “magic realism” for others is our daily life. Your story and imagery are of great worth. Don’t give up. We are fighting for you in the backrooms of libraries, publishing houses, and selection committees. Aho. Ashé, Adelante!


Celia C. Pérez, Past Pura Belpré Award Committee Member

How did you first learn about Pura Belpré and her work?

I feel like I have known about Pura Belpré forever because the award has been such a significant part of my life in the last few years, but reaching back into my memory, it really hasn’t been that long. I’m not a children’s librarian by training, so I don’t think the award or the woman it was named for were on my radar until recent years. I certainly didn’t learn about the award, much less the woman, when I took a class in children’s materials while in library school! I’ve always been interested in children’s books but it took a while for me to enter that world on a professional level, beyond my own reading for pleasure. In 2010, I enrolled in a post-graduate program with a focus on youth services, and it was during this time that I turned my focus to children’s books by and about Latinos. It was probably around that time that I discovered who Pura Belpré was and her significance in the world of children’s librarianship and literature.

What is the significance or impact of giving the Pura Belpré book award to Latino/a children’s books authors and illustrators?

You know we often think about awards in terms of recognizing the authors or illustrators. While this is, of course, the case with the Belpré, its significance is bigger than that as well. It’s not just recognition of the creators but of a group of people, of the presence of Latinos in the U.S. and of our varied cultures, histories, and experiences. The award puts a spotlight on our stories as created by our people. In awarding it specifically to Latino authors and illustrators the Belpré serves to really highlight the work of authors and illustrators that are often otherwise not especially well-represented or recognized in the worlds of publishing and libraries. It also puts a spotlight on Latino literature for young people in general. It doesn’t just highlight the best of, but also in a sense, can give a picture of what is missing and what the state of publishing is for these types of books.

As a past award committee member, could you talk a little bit about your experience? Criteria people should keep in mind when evaluating Latino children’s books?

My time on the Pura Belpré committee was one of my most rewarding professional experiences. As with all of ALA’s awards, members serving on committees are not able to divulge details of the deliberation process and discussions. However, I can tell you that the committee members I worked with took on the responsibility of selecting the award winners with a deep reverence and thoughtfulness for the process, for the artists and authors, and for the award and its namesake. The Belpré adds a twist to the standard requirement of excellence in that it also requires that the selection be made with even more refined criteria in mind–work that best represents the “Latino experience.” That can be the tricky part because I think it’s important to be able to view that concept, “the Latino experience,” in many ways. It requires familiarity with Latino cultures in an intimate sense, but it also requires that you think about Latinos as we are situated in larger society. What is a Latino? Where do Latinos fit in American society and culture? What are the historical and current experiences of Latinos in the U.S? And how does one accurately depict that experience? Of course, we can’t forget that the term “Latino” includes so much diversity within, so it really is a challenge.

As we move on to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré award, can you talk a little bit about the Celebración at ALA Annual?

The 20th Celebración is going to be fantastic! All Belpré celebraciones are, of course, but this will be a time to celebrate the current winners as well as honor the history of the award and all who have come through in the past twenty years. In addition to speeches by this year’s winners, and I should mention that all the winners and honors for a given year are invited to speak at the Belpré celebración, there will be music and a youth dance ensemble, a book signing by winning authors and illustrators, and an auction of original art by winning illustrators. There will also be a commemorative book that’s being published by Rosen and will include essays by past winners.

What would you like to see in the next 20 years in terms of Latino children’s literature?

I would really love to see the concept of the “Latino experience” broaden in terms of how it’s written and illustrated, as well as how publishers, editors and librarians think of it. We are more than just historical figures and holidays. It’s great to embrace the idea of “diversity,” but we need to evolve in how we think about diversity as well. It’s not enough to say publishing is becoming more diverse if the books that are being published are about the same topics, often placing Latinos and other underrepresented groups in a historical context and not as people you see in your everyday world. I also think there’s a need for more middle grade and YA with Latino protagonists, so let’s up the representation!

Any favorite or memorable moment during these last 20 years of the award?

Every ceremony I’ve attended has been special. I don’t think I ever leave without shedding a few tears and feeling super inspired. It’s festive and joyful and you really get a feeling of being connected to people. My favorite ceremony was the one I was a part of as a committee member in 2014 (shout out to my committee homies and our winners!), but all the ceremonies are unique and wonderful. It’s always free and open to anyone who wishes to attend so I invite everyone to experience it for themselves. I guarantee it will be one of the most fun things you do at the annual conference! Since we’re talking about memorable, I should also note that my favorite speech to date has probably been the one Benjamin Alire Sáenz gave when he won for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Crying like a baby, I was.

Any advice for future Latino children’s books authors and illustrators?

My advice would be the same as it would be for any writer. It’s important to write what comes naturally. I dislike the idea of feeling boxed into expectations of what a Latino author or illustrator should create. Latinidad comes in all forms. Our differences in cultures, upbringings and life experiences can make for a varied and robust body of work, and that’s a great thing!



SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.


FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit

The Pura Belpré Award: Continuing Belpré’s Legacy of Lighting the Storyteller’s Candle–Part 1


Portrait by Robert Liu-Trujillo. Read more about the portrait and his projects at Permission to post given by artist.

Portrait by Robert Liu-Trujillo. Read more about the portrait and his projects at Permission to post given by artist.


By Sujei Lugo & Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez

By now, we are all familiar with the various conversations about the need for children of color and Native children to see themselves represented in the stories they read. However, not many know that these discussions, as they pertain to Latinx children, have been taking place since the early 1920s when Pura Belpré became the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York Public Library system. Clearly, the context for dialogues around diversity were different because it was a different time; however, the urgency surrounding issues of representation, advocacy, and empowerment as they relate to Latinx children have many similarities.

Unfortunately, Belpré’s legacy is not one that is well known. Robert Liu-Trujillo, illustrator of the beautiful Belpré portrait on this post, says “I didn’t hear anything about Ms. Belpré until I was in my 30s. Once I realized that there was a really interesting person behind the award, I was really surprised that I’d never heard of her before. From what I’ve read about her and seen through my research, she was a revolutionary figure in children’s education and storytelling.” Trujillo is right to call Belpré a “revolutionary figure” because she indeed was.

Her innovative use of Puerto Rican folklore to reach predominantly Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican children in New York City revolutionized the role of public libraries in the life of these children. Through her storytimes, her puppeteering, and her written works, Belpré set a high standard for how libraries should tailor their programs and services for the communities and peoples in which they’re located. Her commitment and advocacy to bridge her Puerto Rican community to the library, and vice versa, showcases the roots of critical children’s librarianship and inclusion, and not assimilation, of marginalized voices into the field. Much work still needs to be done to bring Belpré’s legacy to the front and highlight the many ways she’s revolutionized storytelling, librarianship, and children’s books for Latinx children.

The Tiger and the Rabbit and Other Tales    Juan Bobo and the Queen's Necklace: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale    7380556

In “Pura Belpré Lights the Storyteller’s Candle: Reframing the Legacy of a Legend and What it Means for the Fields of Latina/o Studies and Children’s Literature,” Marilisa Jiménez-García discusses the various roles Belpré inhabited and the ways her contributions as a librarian and a writer, for example, can be read as subversive political acts. Jiménez-García says of Belpré as a storyteller, “she occupied as a kind of weaver of history, [she] encouraged children to defy assimilation along with the textual and national boundaries created by the dominant culture” (Jimenez-Garcia 113). In other words, through her use of Puerto Rican folklore, Belpré was teaching young Puerto Rican children to embrace their cultural identity and to challenge dominant narratives that depicted them as less than.

Jiménez-García further argues that “Belpré’s interventions within U.S. children’s literature constitute an attempt at cultural preservation, and even further, as an attempt to establish historical memory within the U.S. for Puerto Rican children” (115). In this way, Belpré used her writing to bring to the forefront a Puerto Rican heritage necessary for the identity construction of Puerto Rican children in the U.S. In The Stories I Read to the Children: The Life and Writing of Pura Belpré, the Legendary Storyteller, Children’s Author, and the New York Pubic Librarian (2013) Lisa Sánchez González writes, “In all of her work—including her work as a public librarian–she aimed to ensure that working-class bilingual and bicultural children had rightful access to what is still too often a privilege: Literacy, and with it, free and public access to good books” (17).

Jiménez-García’s and Sánchez González’s research inform us that Belpré was telling, writing, and performing stories that centered Puerto Rican culture and folklore, that she created a space at the NYPL and made Puerto Rican children the center of it, and that she was committed to making books available to children. In this way, Belpré led her own revolution.

Belpré’s legacy is incomparable, and 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the children’s literary award named after her–the Pura Belpré Award. The award was established in 1996 by co-founders Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Rios Balderrama. According to the award website, the Pura Belpré Award is “presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” By establishing an award that highlights Latina/o writers and illustrators creating works about Latina/o experiences, Garza de Cortés and Rios Balderrama carved a space dedicated to the empowerment and the future of Latinx children. Belpré’s legacy as a librarian, a writer, and a puppeteer demonstrate the importance of storytelling as a means of resisting and challenging oppressive dominant narratives. The Pura Belpré Award allows us to continue this revolution and give Latinx children and youth an opportunity to transform the world around them.

REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) along with the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) are joining efforts to hold a special celebration for the Pura Belpré 20th Anniversary Celebración at this year, ALA (American Library Association) Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The event will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré Award medal and honor winning authors and illustrators, David Bowles, Antonio Castro L., Angela Dominguez, Margarita Engle, Rafael López, Meg Medina, and Duncan Tonatiuh. It will also include book signing, a silent auction of original art by Latinx children’s illustrators, a new commemorative book for sale, The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a keynote by author and storyteller, Carmen Agra Deedy.

Final Save the Date-1

The event promises to be a well-rounded celebración to recognize the award that lay ground to the recognition of Latinx children’s books creators within the youth literature field and the trajectory of the award, its past winners and honors, and the constant supporters of Latinx children’s literature.

For Part 2 of this post, which will run tomorrow, we spoke to members of the Pura Belpré Award Committee to get their insight on the momentous occasion that is the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award. Their interviews provide us with an insight to their motivations for creating the award, to the need of an award dedicated to Latinx children’s books written and illustrated by Latinx, the future of the award, and a look back at favorite award moments from the last 20 years. Tomorrow, read extensive interviews with Co-founder Oralia Garza de Cortés, Co-founder Sandra Rios Balderrama, and past committee member Celia C. Pérez.


SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member ofREFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit