A Letter to Readers: ¡Celebremos!: 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to this special issue of The Horn Book Magazine commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award and, more generally, Latinx literature for young people. As the 2020–21 vice president/president-elect of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and as past president of the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA), it is a double honor for me to write this welcoming letter.

The year 1996 marked the beginning of a longstanding partnership between ALSC and REFORMA as co-sponsors of the Pura Belpré Award. The award is presented annually to “a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” Awards are given for narrative and for illustration, with honor books in each category.

The first award recipients were announced at the ALSC membership meeting during the 1996 ALA Annual Conference in New York City. The awards were presented in August 1996 at the first REFORMA National Conference in Austin, Texas. That year, my first book, The Bossy Gallito / El gallo de bodas, was a Belpré Honor Book for both text and illustration. It was a privilege for me to be part of that first Pura Belpré Award Celebration, la Celebración, and to share the stage with winners and honorees Judith Ortiz Cofer, Gary Soto, George Ancona, Lulu Delacre, Susan Guevara, and Carmen Lomas Garza. It was a day that broke barriers, opened gates, and made history in the field of children’s literature. In the words of Newbery and Belpré Medal–winning author Meg Medina, it was an award that would “help turn the eyes of readers” to their work.

The attainment of the long-awaited dream was ten years in the making. In their introduction to the twentieth-anniversary commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award 1996–2016: 20 Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Ríos Balderrama, cofounders of the award, tell the story of how they came together in 1986 to “carve out an inclusive vision for literary America.” Joined by visionary supporters and leaders in the profession, they worked to create a “permanent space within the American Library Association, thus ensuring the Belpré Award into perpetuity.”

Among many milestones in the history of the Pura Belpré Award are the publication of two commemorative books and a video. The Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating Latino Authors and Illustrators covered the first ten years of the award. The book was created with input from ALSC and REFORMA members, and was edited by distinguished children’s librarian Rose Treviño, who was a member of both organizations and the first Latina librarian to serve on the Newbery committee. For the same occasion, Scholastic produced a video featuring interviews with Belpré authors and illustrators. The twentieth-anniversary book was a joint labor of love made possible by the visionary leadership of its editor, the late Teresa Mlawer, a REFORMA member who was a lifelong supporter of the award and a pioneer publisher of books in Spanish for children in the United States.

Great beginnings come impregnated with great possibilities. As the Pura Belpré Award turns twenty-five, history is in the making. Through the years, many Belpré committee jurors made bold selections that caused some to question the age-appropriateness of their selections. Examples of these have included narrative award winners An Island like You: Stories of the Barrio (1996), Parrot in the Oven: mi vida (1998), Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2013), and The Poet X (2019). This year denotes the expansion of the award to include a category specific to young adult readers (ages fourteen to eighteen) as we celebrate the creation of new partnerships with ALSC/REFORMA/YALSA.

I would like to conclude with an invitation to readers to attend the Pura Belpré Award Celebración, held each year (this year virtually) during ALA’s Annual Conference. The event brings together librarians, publishers, editors, distributors, writers, artists, and, most importantly, children to celebrate each year’s winners. The event concludes with all attendees joining hands or arms as they sway to the song “De Colores.” This song has become the Celebración’s tribute to a world where everyone is included and where the greatest loves are made of many colors, y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores me gustan a mí.

May this special issue of The Horn Book Magazine be an inspiration to all readers, and a journey of discovery for those not yet familiar with the story of the Pura Belpré Award or its lineup of winning titles representing the richness of the Latino cultural experience in the United States.

Lucía M. González
Library Director, North Miami Public Library

From the May/June 2021 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: The Pura Belpré Award at 25.


The Pura Belpré Award 25th Anniversary Task Force is currently planning events and celebrations. To learn more, visit reforma.org/pura-belpre.


Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Kristy South
Administrative Coordinator, The Horn Book
Phone 888-282-5852 | Fax 614-733-7269

Lucía M. González

Lucía M. González is the library director of the North Miami Public Library. She is the incoming president-elect of ALSC, a REFORMA past president, and a Pura Belpré Award honoree for The Bossy Gallito / El gallo de bodas (1996) and The Storyteller's Candle / La velita de los cuentos (2009), both illustrated by Lulu Delacre.

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