Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built by Angela Burke Kunkle Illustrated by Paola Escobar

“In the city of Bogotá, in the barrio of La Nueva Gloria, there live two Josés.”  So begins author Angela Burke Kunkle’s narrative about the amazing mission of José Alberto Gutiérrez, a poor, uneducated garbage collector whose mother taught him to read as a boy and instilled in him a love of books. Hearing his mother read a story to him at the end of each day “felt like Paradise.”

When José drove his garbage truck at night, he scanned the streets and garbage cans for treasure—books! His search was motivated by the memory of the first book he discovered in the trash and how much he enjoyed reading it. Then he found more books, each with “its own world to discover.” Soon, he began to store the books in his garage and create a library, a Paradise where children could gather to read and borrow books.

That’s where the second (fictional) José in the narrative comes in. The young boy has looked forward to Paradise all week, the day on which the literary garbage man opens his library to the neighborhood. As the elder and younger Josés converse and share books, they experience new worlds: “With each turn of the page, both Josés see something new—something different from the same streets and the same hills.”

Illustrator Paola Escobar’s detailed, vivid illustrations of Bogotá, her beloved native city, complement this inspiring narrative of a courageous and visionary man who balked public sentiment—an author’s note explains how people laughed at him because of his project—and became known as the “Lord of the Books.” He is also the founder and director of La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Strength of Words), a foundation that provides reading material to libraries, schools, and organizations in Colombia. (Schwartz & Wade)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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