Review of Pura's Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories
by Annette Bay Pimentel; illus. by Magaly Morales
Primary    Abrams    40 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-4197-4941-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-498-9    $15.54

“Pura Belpré always knew that many stories worth telling aren’t in books” is the lingering message of this picture-book biography. Growing up in Puerto Rico, Belpré listened as her abuela told vivid cuentos that elicited “giggles…shivers…sighs,” reactions later mirrored by the enthralled library audiences with whom Pura shared those same folk stories. Belpré began library work in Harlem among a growing Spanish-speaking diaspora, at a time when the library lacked both staff to communicate in their patrons’ language and books to reinforce a connection. Recognizing how the rigid traditions of storytime limited her ability to promote culturally relevant stories — stories shared had to be read from a book — Belpré proposed her own oral storytelling practice to the library “bosses” (all depicted as white). Eventually she published those stories and devoted herself to reaching the public beyond library walls, paving the way for practices of modern librarianship. Pimentel (Girl Running, rev. 3/18) captures Belpré’s dazzling storytelling (“She hisses…murmurs…roars”) through text that carries a soft rhythm apt for reading aloud. Morales’s (A Piñata in a Pine Tree, rev. 11/09) digital images feature a bright and distinct color palette and illustrate Pura’s liveliness through dynamic perspectives and expressive gestures. Deftly incorporated details throughout the art, including a coqui and characters such as Pérez and Martina, evoke Belpré’s childhood influences and culture. An author’s note, a source list, and a selected bibliography are appended. Pair with González and Delacre’s The Storyteller’s Candle and Denise and Escobar’s Planting Stories (rev. 1/19).

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jessica Agudelo

Jessica Agudelo is the youth collections coordinator at BookOps for the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, and a member of the 2023 Newbery committee.

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