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June 1, 2016

The Pura Belpré Awards Celebrate Latino Culture in Children’s Literature

“Through the power of a story and the beauty of language, the child escapes to a world of his own. He leaves the room richer than when he entered.”

“A través del poder de una historia y la belleza del lenguaje, el niño escapa a su propio mundo. Sale de la habitación más rico que cuando entró.”

—Pura Belpré, The Stories I Read to the Children


The Pura Belpré Awards, founded in 1996 and presented annually, celebrate the remarkable contributions of authors and illustrators who give voice and agency to Latino culture and community through children’s literature. The award is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking. It’s named after the indomitable Pura Belpré, a pioneer of Latino literary and bilingual library services in America. Born in Puerto Rico in 1920, Belpré became the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. She wrote, edited, and translated the first full collection of published classic tales from Puerto Rican folklore. She was hired to meet the demands of the growing Spanish-speaking population in Harlem and in this role she initially encountered a roadblock: the NYPL collection did not reflect the lives, interests, or language of the communities she was trying to serve.


The Pura Belpré Awards have honored some of the finest authors and illustrators in children’s literature today. They give a lot of creative space to authors and illustrators up for the challenge of creating art in a culture full of vivacity, vitality, and self-expression. The award honors books for all ages and genres. A whimsical picture book has as much chance of winning as a historical young adult novel. For example, the YA novel El soñador (The Dreamer) by Pam Muñoz Ryan, a fantastical genre-crossing retelling of Pablo Neruda’s life, is a winner. So is the playful picture book The Bossy Gallito, which is a traditional Cuban folktale retold by Lucía M. González. The field is wide open.


Many of the award’s recipients have built on Belpré’s passion for promoting bilingual literacy in new and exciting ways. Book Fiesta! by Pat Mora and Rafael López, winner of the 2010 illustration award, celebrates El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day, or Día for short), a holiday that combines a love of children, books, bilingualism, and literacy into the same festive fold. Día celebrates children reading whatever books catch their fancy, no matter the language. If you can read two or more languages, good for you!


Club Leo en español offers affordable, high-quality Spanish and bilingual books to teachers, parents, and kids. In this sense, we feel close to Pura Belpré’s mission. For our March 2013 catalog we crafted a special section called “The Latino Experience/Pura Belpré Award–Winning Books,” which showcases some our favorite award winners from past years. We can’t wait to find out this year’s amazing winners!


If you’d like to learn more about Pura Belpré’s inspiring life and works, please check out this post from Hispanic Heritage Month.

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January 24, 2014