Editorial: (Re)Claiming Our Literature (May/June 2021)

Welcome to our celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award, founded in 1996 by REFORMA and the American Library Association to honor Latino and Latina creators of children’s and young adult literature whose work “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.” But before I pass the editorial on to consulting editor (and my neighborhood’s children’s librarian!) Sujei Lugo, let me make a brief note regarding nomenclature: the award criteria use the term Latino, but you will find that our contributors use several different terms to mean not-always-exactly-the-same thing. For me, that is all part of the riches this award was created to honor. Felicidades (and felicidades, italicization of non-English words being another question we won’t propose to settle here) y gracias to Sujei and all our contributors estupendos, including Eric Velasquez for use of his portrait of Pura Belpré below. ROGER SUTTON

I first heard about Pura Teresa Belpré because of the Pura Belpré Award. At some point during my years working as an elementary school librarian in Puerto Rico, I encountered the picture book Juan Bobo Goes to Work, with its shiny silver sticker on the cover. This 2002 Belpré Honor Book for illustration led me not only to learn about the existence of the children’s literary award but also to find out more about the life and work of a fellow Boricua children’s librarian.

The Belpré Award, cofounded by Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Ríos Balderrama, with Toni Bissessar (another Boricua who suggested that the award be named after Pura!), serves as a connection between Belpré’s work as a librarian focused on services and programming to Latinx children and communities; and the past, present, and future of Latinx young people’s literature. The award runs parallel to our library community’s ongoing broader commitment to connecting children and youth with books, stories, and cultures. It helps celebrate and support, as well as reimagine, a legacy of solidarity, representation, and collaboration in children’s literature and librarianship. That is what this award is all about.

What started as a conversation at an American Library Association Annual Conference in 2019, and then an in-person meeting (pre-COVID-19) at the Horn Book office, transformed itself into this commemorative issue. Serving as a consulting editor provided me opportunities to discuss and marinate ideas, ­topics, gaps, and potential contributors with Horn Book staff. This collaboration also helped connect some members of the REFORMA family, the Belpré Award family, the Horn Book family, and the children’s library and literature family into a written and illustrated space. We definitely could have filled five special issues with the many narratives of the trajectory of the last twenty-five years.

But along with celebrations and good memories, we need to challenge ourselves, our communities, and our literary nostalgia, and keep ourselves accountable. We must interrogate and critique the complicated relationship between languages, identities, ideologies, and nationalities within and across Latinx communities. We must rethink the different labels and signifiers we often use or stamp, and question how we are defining “Latinx experiences.” Who is included? Who is erased? Who is silenced? Which narratives are published and promoted? How are different identities and ­ideologies (mis)represented? Who is celebrated? As we write, illustrate, publish, review, evaluate, acquire, promote, use, and read Latinx children’s literature, let’s remember to ­situate narratives and images into political, colonial, social, racial, ethnic, cultural, and ideological contexts and consider their impact on which, how, and why stories are told. Following the example that Pura Belpré set, we must likewise center children’s lives and resistances just as we claim — and reclaim — our literature. SUJEI LUGO

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


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

Sujei Lugo

Sujei Lugo is a former elementary school librarian at the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School and currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library, Connolly Branch. She is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons University, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship.

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