Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre

1 Jul

Planting Seeds by author, Anika Aldamuy Denise, and illustrator, Paola Escobar, vividly brings to life the story of New York’s first Puerto Rican librarian, Pura Belpre. Pura earned a degree from the University of Puerto Rico, with the intention of becoming a school teacher. In 1921, Pura took a trip to New York for her sister’s wedding, not realizing at the time that this trip would alter the course of her career. It was during this visit, that she decided to stay in New York, perhaps inspired by all of the opportunities the city provided. It took some time for Pura to find her new career path but as fate would have it, the New York Public Library System was looking to hire a bilingual assistant. Pura, who spoke Spanish, English and French, was excited for this new opportunity. As she settled in her new job, she noticed the library did not have any books with stories like the ones she heard as a child from her Abuela (Grandmother). To quote the book, “How lucky for the library that Pura has story seeds, ready to plant and grow”. And that is exactly what she did. She started having story time in the Children’s room at the library, where she shared the folktales of her childhood. Wanting perhaps to create a more immersive experience for the children, she soon began to make her own puppets, which she would use while telling stories in both English and Spanish. Many families came to hear these beautiful stories. Through this love of storytelling, Pura became determined to have these stories published for all to experience. Eventually her book was published and Pura traveled to different library branches and schools planting the seeds of these stories along the way and bringing back memories for those who missed the Island and grew up hearing the same tales.   

Pura would continue to work in New York’s public library system for decades. Her outreach to libraries, schools and churches, helped to usher in Spanish speaking people to libraries in the boroughs of New York, who were hesitant before due to the fact that some of them did not speak English. In 1996, the Pura Belpre award was established and is awarded annually to writers and illustrators whose works best portray and celebrate the Latino cultural experience. This year, the author of this book was chosen as an honor recipient. 

As a child, I grew up hearing some of the folktales Pura read and had published. I still have memories of my Grandmother recalling the story of Juan Bobo and Perez and Martina. It is easy to see why the author, Anika Aldamuy Denise chose to write about Pura, who’s lyrical words along with Paola Escobar’s illustrations help tell the story of Pura’s life and many contributions. Pura’s determination to have the stories of her childhood published helped to ensure that they would continue to be told and enjoyed for generations to come. To paraphrase something she once said in an interview, “reading these stories has been the golden key to opening doors for me everywhere.” With her genuine love of storytelling, puppetry, years of library service and published works, I hope she knew how she helped to open doors for so many others. 

Children and teens can join us reading all summer long with our Summer Reading Program! We also have a Summer Reading Program just for Adults!

Written by:
Melissa Medina
Children’s Library Assistant

Anti-Racism: Authors Discussing the History of Racism and Proposing Steps to Move Forward

24 Jun

The issues of race, privilege, and social justice have been brought to the forefront of national discourse recently especially as they relate to relationship between Black and White Americans. Here are a selection of the many ebooks available to our Hoboken Patrons looking to explore this important topic further. They are all available from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS, and/or Hoopla.

So You Want to Talk About Race
by Ijeoma Oluo

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo discusses a variety of topics including intersectionality and affirmative action and how issues of race permeate American society.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo

DiAngelo’s New York Times bestseller examines how reactions about race when challenged can block an honest discussion of the topic and how this prevents change.

How to Be an Antiracist
by Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi is a National Book Award Winner.  In How to be an Antiracist he looks at how we can both understand and dismantle racism and inequalities.  It was called, “The most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” By the New York Times.  Also check out Stamped from the Beginning and the YA remix version Stamped-Racism, Antiracism, and You. You can read more about the book in a previous post where our staff chose their picks for best books of 2019.

The Origin of Others
by Toni Morrison

Best known as one of America’s most beloved fiction authors in The Origin of Others, Morrison, looks at topics that are prevalent in her work as well as society including race, fear, and a longing to be accepted. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a forward.

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates, while reflecting on the topic as a father, looks at his own life and the history of the US and how it has led to our current situation, to look for a way to move forward in Between the World and Me. You can learn more in our Staff Post about our favorite recommendations from 2016.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor
by Layla F. Saad
Me and White Supremacy looks at how readers can work to examine their own privilege and to be more aware of the frequently unconscious impact they may have on others because of it.  

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

I’m Still Here details Austin Channing Brown’s experience of learning to appreciate herself as a black women growing up in a mostly white area.

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do
by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD
Biased looks at the ways the topic of race and bias are discussed and how institutions from schools to the criminal justice system can both build and exacerbate these issues.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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