I was so happy to find this new #OwnVoices picture book biography at my local library in time to share it with you during Women’s History Month.
Title: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
Written By: Anika Aldamuy Denise
Illustrated By: Paola Escobar
Publisher/Date: Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)/2019
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: librarians; storytelling; biography; Puerto Rico; bilingual – Spanish and English
It is 1921. Pura Teresa Belpré leaves her home in San Juan for a visit to Nueva York/Words travel with her: stories her abuela taught her. Cuentos folklóricos Pura retold in the shade of a tamarind tree, in Puerto Rico.
Planting Stories recounts the life and achievements of the extraordinary Pura Belpré who was the first bilingual assistant at the New York Public Library and who shared the stories of her childhood with the children of her adopted city.
Links to Resources:
- Ask a relative or older adult neighbor or family friend to share stories from their childhoods or from the places they grew up;
- Make and share stories using puppets;
- It’s spring! Time to plant a garden! Still too cold where you live? Visit the conservatory at a local botanical garden or even a florist.
Why I Like this Book:
In Planting Stories, Denise shows how one person’s idea, to share the stories of her beloved abuela from her homeland, Puerto Rico, grew into books and story hours for Spanish speakers in New York City, helped welcome this new population into libraries, and grew into a legacy of bilingual literature. I loved learning that Pura Belpré brought the Puerto Rican folktales that she’d learned from her grandmother with her to New York. I think this notion of using aspects of the past to enrich the future is an important one to share with kids. I think that kids will be surprised to learn that one librarian could have such a lasting impact on children’s literature, especially as, I suspect, most of them would not recognize Pura Belpré’s name. Finally, I think Planting Stories includes several themes that teachers and librarians can use in classrooms, including the importance of children seeing their own cultures reflected in books, the use of non-italicized Spanish terms sprinkled in the English text and how we can figure out meaning through context, the many things we can learn from elderly relatives and friends, and how newcomers can enrich their new homes.
Escobar’s vibrant and detailed illustrations help provide context to Pura Belpré’s story and further Denise’s analogy of stories growing like plants with many flowers evoking Pura Belpré’s tropical Puerto Rican childhood.
A Note about Craft:
Like seeds, stories can grow and multiply, as Denise shows us in Planting Stories. Although gardens and plants aren’t always the first images that come to mind when we think of libraries, I love this analogy, as it shows connections between storytelling and finding one’s place in the world, be it the natural world or an unfamiliar city. What analogies can you use in your writing to tie a story together or to help readers better understand or relate to its subject?
Visit Denise’s website to discover her other picture books. Per the jacket flap, Paola Escobar is a Columbian illustrator, working and living in Bogotá.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!