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Review of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
by Anika Aldamuy Denise; illus. by Paola Escobar
Primary     Harper/HarperCollins     40 pp.
1/19     978-0-06-274868-3     $17.99

In her native Puerto Rico, a young Pura Belpré retells folk stories to children under a tamarind tree; when she visits Nueva York in 1921 and decides to stay, obtaining work at the public library as a bilingual assistant, she carries her homeland’s tales with her. When she can’t find on bookshelves the stories she knows and loves, she plants them like seeds by telling them at storytimes, making her own puppets to act them out, and eventually writing them down for publication. Denise’s descriptive language moves between English and Spanish seamlessly, without italics used or translations needed, and portrays a lively Pura: “Her eyes dance! / Her voice sings!” The text contains questions to advance the story line: “But the library needs libros for its shelves. How can more children read Pérez y Martina and other cuentos de Puerto Rico?” The metaphor of planting and growing seeds is carried throughout in both text and illustrations, so that as the biographical details unfold, readers see the seeds of Belpré’s stories take root, grow, and bloom. Expressive digital illustrations in earthy colors portray warm and radiant characters. An author’s note provides more information about Pura Belpré and her legacy, and a double-page spread of back matter includes additional sources.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Alicia K. Long

Alicia K. Long teaches multicultural materials for children and young adults at the University of South Florida--School of Information. She also presents family literacy and bilingual programs in public libraries, and maintains the young adult collection at the academic library where she works. She is the chair of the 2018 Pura Belpré Award committee.

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