STARRED REVIEW
January 15, 2019

Planting Stories

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar

When Pura Belpré came to America in 1921, she brought with her a love of storytelling that made her something of a legend back home in Puerto Rico. She became a bilingual assistant at the New York Public Library and was surprised to discover not a single collection of Puerto Rican folk tales on the shelves; there was nothing to do but write them down herself. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré is a book about the celebrated writer and librarian’s stories, and how those stories took root and continue to grow.

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When Pura Belpré came to America in 1921, she brought with her a love of storytelling that made her something of a legend back home in Puerto Rico. She became a bilingual assistant at the New York Public Library and was surprised to discover not a single collection of Puerto Rican folk tales on the shelves; there was nothing to do but write them down herself. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré is a book about the celebrated writer and librarian’s stories, and how those stories took root and continue to grow.

Author Anika Aldamuy Denise threads Spanish vocabulary into Planting Stories. There’s no glossary but the words are clear in context: “Families come to hear folktales en inglés y español, to watch Pura’s puppets dance across the stage of her stories.” Paola Escobar’s illustrations contrast the island beauty of Puerto Rico (splashy palm trees and a trolley carrying passengers to the beach) with the density and hustle of New York, also beautiful despite the crowds and air pollution. The arc of Belpré’s life and legacy is shown in a way that recalls the emotionally gripping opening sequence from the movie Up as words and pictures combine powerfully to convey the impact of Belpré’s work.

Planting Stories includes a bibliography and resources for further exploration about Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York, and her most famous stories. Anyone starting here will surely be curious to learn more about this hero librarian and the stories she scattered like seeds for us to discover.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Planting Stories

Planting Stories

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar
HarperCollins
ISBN 9780062748683

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