Friday, February 3, 2012

Celebrating Pura Belpré

Dora the Explorer has introduced hundreds of thousands of children to Spanish and English in an inviting, playful way. And that’s just what the girl hero does in My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo, written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. In making these enticing words familiar to youngest children, the author helps bridge the communication gap between young people who speak different languages.

My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo won a Pura Belpré Honor in 2008. Pura Belpré (1899-1992) was the first Latina librarian to work for the New York Public Library. She served the Spanish-speaking populations of first Spanish Harlem in Manhattan and, later, the Bronx. How frightening it can be for a child in a land where his or her language is rarely spoken outside the home but then to discover someone like Pura Belpré, who welcomed young people in their native language and could introduce them to stories from their own heritage and also the stories of their new home.

The American Library Association (ALA) and REFORMA established the Pura Belpré Award to honor “a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” One of the Pura Belpré books honored for illustration at ALA a little over a week ago was The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael López. (For a complete list of winners at ALA, visit our Home Page.)

So much of early childhood is about looking for affirmation from others like you, who like the things you do and who literally speak your language. Pura Belpré did so much to help children feel at home with themselves and their world, and to find the stories that helped them see their world reflected back to them. As Pura Belpré did so many years ago, the heroine of My Colors…/Mi Colores speaks directly to the child who’s holding her story, as if to say, this is my world, won’t you join me?

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