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Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré Book Poster Image
Lively bio of New York's first Puerto Rican librarian.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows a bit about how libraries work. Gives overview of Pura Belpré's life and contribution to New York libraries and children's literature. Spanish words and phrases sprinkled in text, easy to understand in context. Backmatter includes informative author's note, bibliography, and sum up of some of Belpré's stories, characters.

Positive Messages

Implied message that it's good for kids to have access to books and stories in their own language. Folktales have meaning for kids across cultures and generations. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

When Pura Belpré notices that libraries are lacking stories for children in Spanish and folktales from Puerto Rico, she tells them and writes them herself. She's a leader in literacy, literature for kids -- also shining example of immigrant to the United States working hard, making the most of opportunities, using her talents to create positive change in her adopted country.

Violence & Scariness

Subtle placement of stylized image of headstone (with no visible words on it) implies death of Belpré's husband on page where text says, "on a June day ... Clarence stops playing his music."

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, by Anika Aldamuy Denise and beautifully illustrated by Paola Escobar, is a kid-friendly biography of the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. An immigrant who arrived in New York in 1921, she brought Puerto Rican folk tales and stories in Spanish to young readers in lively storytimes -- with puppets! -- and in books she published. The American Library's annual Pura Belpré Award, which recognizes outstanding works of Latino and Latina authors and illustrators, is named after her. 

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What's the story?

PLANTING STORIES: THE LIFE OF LIBRARIAN AND STORYTELLER PURA BULPRÉ traces Bulpré's life from when she left her native Puerto Rica for New York City in 1921. She first finds work in a clothing factory, then becomes a bilingual librarian in Harlem. When she find none of her treasured Puerto Rican folktales on the library shelves, she writes her own and gets it published. She also shares folktales with puppets during storytimes at various branches throughout the city. She marries African American composer and violinist Clarence Cameron White and stops working at the library, but then returns years later.

Is it any good?

This lively picture book biography is a fun, engaging story whether you've ever heard of Pura Bulpré or not. Paola Escobar's illustrations are a big part of why. Her stylized pictures in a warm palette of coral and yellow with green and blue accents are full of movement, excited diverse kids, and visual metaphors, such as plants and trees growing in the library reading room to symbolize the flourishing of the story seeds Bulpré planted. The delightful endpapers offer wallpaper-like spreads featuring the main characters of Bulpré's first published folktale, rez y Martina, about a refined cockroach and her dashing mouse suitor. 

The actual storyline is very spare. For example, there are no details of what Bulpré did during her break from working at the library -- between her marriage as a young woman and when she returns with gray hair in 1961. But kids won't care. The bottom line is she makes reading, storytelling, and libraries look like a whole lot of fun. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the folktale Pura Bulpré tells in Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré. Why is it important to hear and read stories in your own language?

  • What's the difference between a folktale and a story written today? What are some of your favorite folktales? 

  • What does it mean that Pura had "a wish to plant her story seeds throughout the land"? How is writing or sharing a story like planting a seed? 

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