The report linked and embedded below (text and audio) aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” earlier this week.
11:00 a.m. is bilingual story hour at the Aguilar branch of the New York Public Library. Dozens of kids — mostly children of immigrants from China, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — have settled down to hear Perez y Martina, a story based on a Puerto Rican folktale.
But Perez y Martina — which tells the tale of a romance between a cockroach and a mouse — isn’t just any children’s story. When it was published in 1932, it was the first Spanish language book for children published by a mainstream U.S. press. And its author, Pura Belpré, was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York’s public library system at a time when the city’s Puerto Rican population was swelling. Belpré could not find any books for kids in Spanish — so she wrote them herself.
Washington Heights librarian Vianela Rivas got into the “business” because of Belpré — she remembers reading about her back home in the Dominican Republic. “As I was reading about her, I thought to myself: Oh, I can do that. I can read books to children in Spanish. I can tell parents about the resources the library has for them.”
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