Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
“[this] story about Pura Belpré is pura alegría—pure joy!”
¡Qué celebración! Planting Stories is indeed a celebration of the life and legacy of Pura Teresa Belpré. What a treat to get to know the story behind the woman who inspired the prestigious American Library Association award given annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator. Like Pura Belpré herself, the first Latina librarian at the New York City Public Library, this award is given to the work that best captures the Latinx cultural experience in children’s literature.
Born in Puerto Rico, and raised on the stories her abuela (grandmother) shared with her, Pura Belpré immigrated to the United States as a young woman— arriving at first to attend her sister’s wedding and then deciding to stay. Working for a brief time in a garment factory, Pura then finds a job at the public library as a bilingual assistant. After discovering the absence of books and stories that reflected her childhood—“But where are her abuela’s stories? Not one folktale from Puerto Rico is on the shelves,”—Pura began to tell her own cuentos—by candlelight—to the delight of children. A beautiful storyteller in her own right, Anika Aldamuy Denise tells us how each story Pura shared was a “seed ready to plant and grow” in all that were listening.
Paola Escobar’s warm and colorful illustrations are intimate and welcoming. Through these lovely illustrations, the reader becomes a member of Pura’s audience as she makes her stories come alive (in English and Spanish) through puppetry (which she makes by hand): “Families come to hear folktales en inglés y español, to watch Pura’s puppets dance across the stage of her stories.”
We learn that Pura then becomes an author, writing children’s books like Pérez y Martina, about a beautiful Spanish cockroach (cucarachita) and handsome mouse (ratoncito). According to the Author’s Note, Pura’s books “became the first mainstream Latinx storybooks published in America.”
Pura marries a musician and through their life and travels together, Pura continues to plant her story-seeds across the land. After her husband dies Pura returns to the library and sees how “the seeds she has planted, the roots that grew shoots into the open air of possibility, have become a lush landscape into which she steps, as though she never left.” To her delight, Pura saw how her stories inspired so many others to tell their stories. What a legacy.
In reading Planting Stories children everywhere will not only learn about the life of this remarkable woman, but will be encouraged to tell their own colorful and rich stories from near and far.
¡Felicidades, Anika y Paola! Your story about Pura Belpré is pura alegría—pure joy!