In Puerto Rico, young Pura Belpre “needs stories like a mango tree needs sunshine, like a coqui frog needs green leaves.” Abuela—her grandmother—always has stories, cuentos, to share with her bright, curious granddaughter. Bringing each creature in their native folklore to life, the elderly lady crows in the voice of Senor Gallo, the rooster; quacks for Senor Pato, the duck; and booms like Senor Zapo, the frog; and more.
When Pura becomes an adult, she moves to New York City to join some family members. Though the sights, sounds, and stories of Harlem are exhilarating, Pura misses Abuela’s cuentos. While visiting a library, Pura sees a librarian handing a girl a book. Pura’s love for stories swells into a grand hope: “If I could do what that lady is doing for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest person on earth.”
This inspiring, passionate children’s picture book, brimming with exuberant, high-spirited artwork, relates how Pura accomplishes so much more than she had initially hoped for. As the first Latina librarian in New York City, Pura breaks many barriers. When she reads the books on the shelves, she notices that there are stories from many countries, then wonders, “But where is Puerto Rico? Where are Senor Gallo, Senor Pato, Perez, and Martina? Why aren’t Abuela’s stories on these shelves?”
Pura “knows that not all the stories worth telling are in books.” So, she begins to tell stories that aren’t in books—Abuela’s cuentos—defying the library policy stating that librarians may read only published works to children who visit the library. When Pura notices that Hispanic children are not among her listeners, she goes out to their communities and welcomes them to also listen to her stories, making the library a place for them, too.
In an author’s note, Annette Bay Pimentel explains the richness of Pura Belpre’s legacy: “I am personally especially indebted to Belpre for her brilliant idea of offering bilingual storytimes. She was the first New York librarian to offer stories in more than one language—and perhaps the first in the country. When our family lived in Bosnia, my kindergartner came home from her local Bosnian school sadder and sadder every day. It was a bilingual storytime that finally helped her connect to the other kindergartners and made her feel like their school was her school. The bilingual storytime movement, sparked by Belpre, has helped many families like mine feel welcome in new places.” (Abrams Books for Young Readers)