Young Puerto Rican cousins Hildamar and Santiago long to go inside the New York Public Library, which they pass on their way to school every day. One chilly December morning, Hildamar asks her Titi Maria, "What's inside? Can we go in?"
"We don't speak English and the people in there don't speak Spanish," Titi Maria replies.
Then one day a visitor to their school entertains the children with puppet shows and stories "in English and espanol." It is Pura Belpre, the first Puerto Rican librarian to work in the New York Public Library. She explains that the library is for everyone and encourages the children to visit.
Hildamar and Santiago immediately spread the word to their family and friends, who are also excited to learn that Spanish is spoken at the library. That Saturday, they all go there together. The children are welcomed in, the storyteller's candle is lit and they feel at home straight away because Ms Belpre's story is one they already know from their grandmother. And today Ms Belpre has a special announcement: there is going to be a fiesta at the library, with a play, dances, and a parade for Three Kings' Day. Hildamar and Santiago are thrilled to be chosen for the play, and the whole community of El Barrio comes together for this public celebration of their traditional holiday, discovering all their library has to offer at the same time.
Pura Belpre's advocacy of the Spanish speaking community transformed the experience of Latino immigrants to New York during the Great Depression. She helped establish the library as a welcoming place for immigrants to come together in their own language and culture and forever changed the way libraries across the United States interact with the families in their neighborhoods. She died in 1982; and in 1996, the prestigious Pura Belpre Award was established in her memory.
Lucia Gonzalez and Lulu Delacre, themselves recipients of the Pura Belpre Honor award for their collaboration on The Bossy Gallito, continue Belpre's tradition of celebrating Latin heritage in literature with this heartwarming, bilingual picture book. Delacre's captivating illustrations bring the library's warmth to readers while injecting the scenes with a flavor of the era. Incorporated into nearly every page as a subtle collage element is part of the January 6, 1930 edition of the New York Times - the actual date of the first Three Kings' Day celebration at the NYPL. Likewise, Gonzalez's prose conveys the closeness and cultural pride of people far away from home longing for their old lives as they learn to embrace the new. What is particularly effective is the use of Spanish for some of the dialogue in the English text, with unobtrusive translations where necessary: it not only contributes shades of verisimilitude, it puts the message of the story into practice.
This is a special book about a very special person; and just like Pura Belpre herself, it will open up a new world for many children, as they explore the newspaper collages or seek out the stories mentioned in the text. What better way of getting the message across that libraries are for everyone?
Thanks to the generosity of author Lucia Gonzalez, proceeds from the sale of The Storyteller's Candle benefit ALSC's Pura Belpre Award Endowment.