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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Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

Pancho Rabbit and Coyote

It’s a good sign to me when I finish a picture book and immediately start writing down questions for the author, or Googling their name to find out their biography, their motivations for writing kidlit, and titles of their other works.

So it was with “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote,” a 2013 book written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. (I reviewed “Dear Primo,” also by Tonatiuh, last month.)

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