Today we celebrate Pura Belpré, New York’s first Puerto Rican librarian. She was also a legendary storyteller whose legacy inspired the Pura Belpré award, a children’s book award presented to the 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.
Near the end of her decades-long career as a children’s librarian, Belpré began writing a series of essays describing her everyday work, in which she articulated her vision for the transformative possibilities in storytelling, its humanizing dignity, and its ethical imperative to exceed the restricted possibilities created for children of color by the state. Collected in Lisa Sánchez González’s comprehensive critical biography, The Stories I Read to the Children: The Life and Writing of Pura Belpré, the Legendary Storyteller, Children’s Author, and New York Public Librarian, are Belpré’s words:
“In this present struggle to fight poverty, hunger and fear, and to bring some semblance of peace and security into the home, the need for serenity and beauty seem to be forgotten. Food alone can’t do it. It needs an elevation of the spirit that transcends all materialities. This serenity, this beauty, is apparent in the faces of the children in the story hour room. For a while at least, through the power of a story and the beauty of its language, the child escapes to a world of his own. He leaves the room richer than when he entered it.”
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