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 www.anikadenise.com.

 

 

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!

 

Author Robin Herrera Sees Her Grandma in Herself & Her Storytelling

By Robin Herrera

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see my grandma. Especially now that I have shorter hair, because as long as I knew her, she wore her hair short. Strangely, it wasn’t until a few years after she died that I noticed the resemblance between us.

She was short, too, like me—I’m the shortest in my family at (barely) 5’3”. We both have round faces and eyes that crinkle into small slits when we smile.

Now, years after her death, years after I’ve forgiven her for not telling me how bad her cancer really was, I wish I’d talked to her more. I know only snippets of my grandma’s life growing up in Colorado during the Great Depression. She was the youngest girl of 16 children, the second youngest altogether. Her parents were Joseph and Josephine Herrera. (On a baptismal document I found in my grandma’s things, their name was misspelled as Herreda.) And though she told me she’d left home at a young age, family was clearly very important to her, if the dozens of photo albums she left behind were any indication.

Robin Herrera  img001

When my siblings and I were younger, Grandma told us a story of our uncle Chris (Christobel). One night, near midnight, he was driving across a long bridge. Halfway across, he glanced over at the passenger’s seat to see a woman, dressed all in white, sitting there. She had her face turned toward the window, and Uncle Chris could see her shoulders shaking as she sobbed softly. He reached out a hand to comfort her, but before he could touch her, he looked down at her hands, in her lap. They were skeleton hands.

Though Chris was terrified, he kept driving. Somehow he knew that if he could make it to the other side of the bridge, the ghostly woman would disappear. He drove faster and faster, but out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman slowly turning her head to face him. Chris knew what her face would look like. It would be a skull, and if he looked, he would die. So he kept his eyes forward and kept driving until he crossed the bridge. Only then did he dare look at the passenger’s seat and see that the woman had vanished.

Grandma called the woman La Llorona. I didn’t know until later that La Llorona was a common Mexican folktale, and that Grandma’s tale was just a version of it. But for a long time, I was terrified of La Llorona, and impressed that my uncle Chris had been smart enough not to fall victim to her.

This is one of the few ties to my Mexican heritage that I have. I remember other things, too, like making tortillas on Grandma’s tortilla press, then heating them up and smothering them in butter. When my aunt Lupe visited, she and Grandma would occasionally lapse into Spanish, spoken so quickly that I’d sometimes stand in the kitchen with them, listening in awe. (I’m terrible at learning other languages.) Aunt Lupe, more than Grandma, always called me mija. I didn’t know what it truly meant until I looked it up in college, but I knew it was a term of endearment, because she used it on all the grandkids (mijo for the boys).

When my Grandma died, I felt like I’d lost that last connection with my Mexican heritage. My dad had already died by that point, but he was biracial and, I think due to circumstances in his childhood I can’t ask him about, wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Aunt Lupe is gone now, too, or I would talk to her about my grandma and their childhood together. (Though I’m not sure she’d tell me the truth. Grandma probably wouldn’t have either, to be fair.)

Now, as a writer, I miss my grandma terribly. I like to think she’d be proud of me, and that she’d see a bit of herself in my book, though to my knowledge, she never lived in a trailer park. What I hope she’d see is a portrait of a poor family, flawed but, for the most part, happy. Because that is what I remember most about my grandma. She showed me how to be poor.

Like the characters in my book, we shopped at thrift stores for most of our clothing (and dishes, and various housewares). Every week Grandma went grocery shopping at the local Grocery Outlet, which we called the Canned Food Store, and picked up what was on sale. When she died, her cupboards were still stocked with about a hundred different cans of food. She made sure we never went hungry.

But more than anything, she taught me that being poor wasn’t a terrible thing. I didn’t even begin to realize that I was poor until late in high school, after a conversation with my sister. This will sound cheesy, but Grandma made me feel rich in other ways.

I wonder, sometimes, where I get my love of writing and making up stories. My mother went to school for art, so for a long time, I thought that might be it. But I think it came from my grandmother, who told me stories (though often embellished) of her childhood (and ghost women) from an early age. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites, which she would often tell as a joke if I asked for a story. Of course, you have to imagine it’s being told by a short, round-faced Mexican woman who is being as over dramatic as possible:

It was a dark and stormy night. The soldiers were gathered around the campfire. Suddenly the captain stood up and said, “Diego! Tell us one of your famous stories!” Slowly, Diego stood up and said, “It was a dark and stormy night. The soldiers were gathered around the campfire…” (Repeat forever.)


18405519Robin Herrera was born in Eureka, California. She has degrees from Mills College and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She now lives in Oregon. Her debut novel, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel, was published in 2014 by Amulet Books.