Print this page

Pura Belpré Award: A Celebration of Exceptional Latino Literature for Children

Patricia Valdovinos, Librarian, Multilingual Collections,
Pura Belpré 2019 Award winners
Pura Belpré 2019 Award winners

I had the honor of being a part of the 2019 Pura Belpré Selection Committee. This past June, we had the chance to celebrate the authors and illustrators for their amazing wins.

Named after Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian at the New York Public Library, the Pura Belpré Award is annually presented to a Latino/Latina/Latinx writer and illustrator that best encompasses and shares the Latino cultural experience for children and youth in literature.

The room was filled with family, friends, librarians, educators, and community members who all gathered together to hear these marvelous Latinx voices. The afternoon began with David Bowels who shared his family’s migration story and urged us to come together to celebrate immigration and not condemn it. He described his life on the border and how individuals from there welcome anyone who crosses.

Elizabeth Acevedo moved the audience to tears with the first spoken word piece she wrote as a fifteen-year-old. Paying tribute to her mother, she described that the type of fairytales she grew up hearing was her mother’s coming of age stories in the Dominican Republic. She reminds us of the importance of having representation from a young age.

Elizabeth Acevedo, Yuyi Morales, David Bowels, Leo Espinosa, Jose Ramirez (left to right)

Elizabeth Acevedo, Yuyi Morales, David Bowels, Leo Espinosa, and Jose Ramirez 

Leo Espinosa described his own realization and understanding with this book and the importance of having diversity in books. He explains that he had families and children relate to Lola, the main character in the book, because of her hair and dark skin. Espinosa found his own self in Lola’s story and sees Bogotá, Colombia as his own “Island.”

Jose Ramirez paid tribute to Los Angeles and his students at LAUSD. Through his illustrations and his work on his book, Ramirez portrayed Carlos Santana and the connection he has with Latinos. He stated, “Latinos can rock too.” Ending his speech, he dedicated his work to his newly migrated students by saying their names.

Yuyi Morales took the audience on a journey by describing how Monarch butterflies migrate and the route they take to demonstrate their bravery and strength, similar to immigrants themselves. She shared her own experiences traveling to El Salvador to continue to see the power of literacy and libraries. To conclude the celebration, we had performances by youth from Salsa with Silvia, located in Washington D.C.

Overall, the Celebración was magical and moved the audience to tears and laughter. The authors and illustrators continue to remind us of the importance of diversity in literary and the work we need to continue to do.

Patricia Valdovinos and Elizabeth Acevedo

Patricia Valdovinos and Elizabeth Acevedo

This year’s winners were announced at the beginning of this year.

Raised in New York to Dominican immigrants, New York Best Selling author Elizabeth Acevedo received the 2019 Pura Belpre Author Award for her novel The Poet X. Acevedo’s debut novel centers around the coming of age of Xiomara Bautista, a 15-year old Afro-Latina who turns to poetry as a way to survive her family dynamics and mother’s overtly religious self.

The 2019 Illustrator Pura Belpré Award was given to Mexican author, illustrator, and artist Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers. Morales beautifully and consciously illustrates the profound story of an immigrant mother and her child moving to a whole new country feeling lost and disempowered. Through the use of mixed media, Morales captures the fear, discomfort both mother and son face until they gain their voice once again through libraries.

2019 Pura Belpré Award Winners and Honor Books

The Poet X is a coming of age novel about Xiomara, a 15-year-old Afro-Latina who is struggling with her family dynamics and beliefs, especially her mother. As she tries to navigate becoming a woman in a community and society that continue to sexualize her body, Xiomara learns to use poetry and spoken word as a way to empower herself.

Dreamers rejoices the stories of immigrants and what they bring with them when they leave their homes. This empowering picture book celebrates, family, language, literacy, and libraries. It’s a reminder of both the beauty of migration and the fear of the unknown by brave individuals who do it.

Twelve-year-old and Mexican-American Güero is beginning seventh grade. As he learns to navigate what it means to grow up on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border, speak both English and Spanish, he turns to poetry to understand himself. Trusting in his family's traditions, music, and his friends, he faces seventh grade. Life is tough for a border kid, but Güero has figured out how to cope.

When Lola’s teacher asks her class to draw a picture of their family’s immigration story, Lola is faced with anxiousness because she does not remember anything about The Island. She turns to her family and friends to remember what The Island means to them and learns to understand that one does not have to remember for a place to still be a part of you.

Focused on the life of Carlos Santana, When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana celebrates the musical journey of Santana from an early age. This picture book portrays Santana’s exploration with different instruments until he felt he could “make the angels sing.”