Who was Pura Belpré?

Storyteller's Candle

I’ve come across mentions of the Pura Belpré awards a few times in recent months. There are lots of children’s writing awards, mostly named after literary figures, so I hadn’t taken time to find out who Pura Belpré was.

Then I read “The Storyteller’s Candle/La Velita de Los Cuentos,” written by Lucía González and illustrated by Lulu Delacre. This picture book is historical fiction that highlights Belpré’s impact on Latino children and families. It features text in both English and Spanish.

In 1929, two children, Hildamar and Santiago, are enduring the biting New York City winter — a harsh change from there native Puerto Rico. On their cold walks to school they gaze at the grand public library building, wondering what’s inside. Their aunt tells them it’s not a place for Spanish speakers.

Enter Pura Belpré, the city’s first Latina librarian.

She visits Hildamar and Santiago’s school to tell stories and perform a puppet show. She invites all the children to the library, saying, “La biblioteca es para todos.”

The library is for everyone.

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3 Children’s Books to Read After You’ve Seen ‘Selma’

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights marchers’ arrival on the steps of the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” about struggle for African-Americans’ voting rights, you should. If you have seen it, here are three books to read with your kids (or for yourself!) next.

1. “John Lewis in the Lead,” written by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews

This picture book biography provides more detail on the life of one of the main characters in “Selma”: John Lewis, a 25-year-old organizer who went on to become a U.S. Congressman representing Georgia. When watching “Selma,” it wasn’t apparent to me that Lewis had been at the lead of a range of other nonviolent resistance actions before stepping onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This book is a good introduction to those other events in the Civil Rights Movement. The narrative is unfortunately written rather passively, but I liked seeing illustrations by Benny Andrews, an African-American artist about whom another picture book bio was recently published.

John Lewis in the Lead

2. “March” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I mentioned “March: Book One” in my February diverse reading post. I haven’t read  Book Two. Both are graphic novels, also about the life of John Lewis, but for older kids and adults. Book One covers Lewis’ youth, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and his involvement in Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins. Book Two focuses on his involvement in the Freedom Rides, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the March on Washington. There is supposed to be a third volume in what will then be the “March” trilogy, and I’m guessing it’ll feature the march from Selma to Montgomery.

March! Book one March Book Two

3. “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley

This middle grade book tells us, in first person about the experiences of the youngest participant in the Selma march. The drama of the movie “Selma” is all about the attempts to march, but in Blackmon Lowery’s narrative we get to see details of the march itself, like where they slept and what they did when it rained. I was impressed that the voice sounded like a teenage version of the author, although she is of course far from that age now. I also liked getting to read about her impressions of some of the other participants, like Viola Liuzzo, an activist housewife who was shot by the Ku Klux Klan shortly after the march.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Your turn: What are your favorite books about the Civil Rights Movement and its many participants?

Reading Sad, Dark Books to Children

Jill Eisenberg, a literacy expert, wrote a post on the Lee & Low blog this week, called “Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (And You Should Too).”

Some people believe children should be protected in a bubble from the harsher parts of life. But the reality is that many, many children, both here in the U.S. and around the world, experience trauma and tragedy.  Those who don’t will nonetheless encounter challenges sometime in their lives.

Eisenberg acknowledges the popularity and value of light and humorous stories for kids but makes the case for not excluding heavier subjects from what we read to children:

Using books with dark themes or settings in the classroom can give students the language to express their emotions, models for how to discuss and engage on these topics with adults and peers, and a safe space to explore difficult topics. When students read about characters struggling with abuse, bullying, or poverty, they also see how the characters found strength and resources to cope and thrive.

Check out her full post here. She also shares questions to ask when selecting sad or dark books, as well as recommended titles.* I’ve only read one of her suggestions, so I’ll be checking some of the others out soon.


*Given where the article was posted, Eisenberg’s recommendations are all from Lee & Low, a publishing company that focuses on diverse children’s books.

Interview with Kate Schatz, author of Rad American Women A-Z

Yesterday I reviewed “Rad American Women A-Z,” an alphabet book written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Today I’m sharing a video interview I did with Kate last weekend. I enjoyed hearing how she chose the women and also how kids have reacted to the book so far. Hope you enjoy it, too!


I’m linking up with Alyson Beecher’s Nonfiction Picture Book challenge today. Find more great nonfiction picture books on her post and other bloggers’ links.

Rad American Women A-Z: A Perfect Read for Women’s History Month

Rad American Women A-Z I’m sure it’s no accident that “Rad American Women A-Z” came out at the start of Women’s History Month. Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, this alphabet book introduces readers to American heroes from political activist Angela Davis to anthropologist/writer Zora Neale Hurston, with a truly diverse collection of women in between. The opening offers a broad definition for the term “rad” in the title:

What does it mean to be “rad”? Well, it means a few things. “Rad” is short for “radical,” which comes from the Latin word meaning “from the root.” So a radical person can be someone like Ella Baker, who did grassroots organizing. A radical can be a person who wants to make big changes in society, like Angela Davis and the Grimke sisters, who fought to end discrimination of all kinds. Radical can also be used to describe something that is different from the usual, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial or Ursula LeGuin’s innovative science fiction. “Rad” is also a slang word that means “cool” or “awesome.” Like when flashy Flo-Jo ran faster than any woman in the world, or when Patti Smith takes the stage to rock out.

Each rad lady gets a one-page biography, complemented by a cut-paper portrait in bold colors. Some of the names, like Billie Jean King, were familiar to me, but lots were new, too, such as  Jovita Idar, who fought for free, bilingual education on the Texas/Mexico border in the early 20th century.

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama. Miriam Klein Stahl’s cut-paper illustrations from “Rad American Women A-Z.”

Something I love how Schatz tackles the ever-difficult “X” page: “It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.” It’s true that there are many women throughout history whose stories we’ve missed, but “Rad American Women A-Z” has 25 worth learning. Get yourself a copy and pass it on! (It’s currently only available through City Lights Books, the publisher.) And be sure to check back tomorrow, when I’ll post a video interview I did with the book’s author, Kate Schatz.

Two Picture Books About … Queens of Music

Mahalia and MelbaMahalia Jackson and Melba Liston had a number of things in common. One was their love of music. Another was their talent.

Mahalia sang gospel. Melba played trombone. Both stood up for the rights and dignity of African-Americans.

These exceptional women are celebrated in the books, “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens,” written by Nina Nolan and illustrated by John Holyfield (2015), and “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison (2014).

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My diverse reading from February

I read 20 books last month. Fourteen were by or about diverse characters — that’s 70 percent, an improvement from last month. Twelve of those were for children, shown below. They are picture books unless otherwise noted.

February diverse reading

Top row: “A Little Piece of Ground” by Elizabeth Laird (middle grade); “A Place Where Hurricanes Happen” by Renée Watson; “Freedom on the Menu” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin” by Chieri Uegaki

Middle row: “Harlem’s Little Blackbird” by Renée Watson; “Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone” by Katheryn Russell-Brown; “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” by Nina Nolan

Bottom row: “Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People” by Monica Brown; “Soccer Star” by Mina Javaherbin; “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko; “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts

The two adult books on my diverse reading list in February were “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith and “MARCH: Book One” by Congressman John Lewis. The latter is a graphic novel about Lewis’ involvement in the civil rights movement and would be great for teenagers as well as adults.

March! Book one

In case you missed it, my We Need Diverse Books resolution this year is 50 books. I’m almost halfway there already — maybe I need to bump it up?

What diverse reading have you been doing?