Category Archives: Multicultural Literature

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with the Pura Belpré Award


I recently returned from a trip to London and I’m now fascinated by anything I see or hear about England. I noticed this same thing after taking my then 12-year-old daughter on a trip to Paris, England and Scotland in 2012. At the time, she had limited experience with international cultures and the trip helped her understand that her life is much different from what other people experience in different parts of the world.  internationalBKSThis later helped bring alive what she was learning in European History, Art History, and Shakespeare classes as well as in any number of other ways I don’t even know about.

Although it’s not feasible to take students on extended field trips, bringing the world into the classroom is a little easier through good books! Luckily, the American Library Association has helped identify outstanding works by Latino/Latina writers and illustrators with the annual Pura Belpré awards puraAWARDrecognize works that “best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

Are you looking for ways to share the Pura Belpré books to develop a love of reading? The Classroom Bookshelf has these great ideas in their blog:

  • Have students analyze their own classroom bookshelves for characters from various cultural backgrounds.
  • What do students notice about the social locations of characters?
  • Do the characters they read about remind them of themselves?
  • Do they see themselves in books? When?
  • Are their stories missing from the shelves? If so, how can they be added to your classroom bookshelves?

Another great way to help students understand the culture is through author videos. For example, what would you do if you won an award like the Pura Belpré? yuyiYuyi Morales has won the Pura Belpré Award honor four times, and the medal four times, all for different books, and most recently for Niño Wrestles the World (2014, Roaring Brook Press).Nino wrestles Here’s what Yuyi had to say (and dance!) about winning the 2014 Pura Belpré Illustrator award!

The 2014 Pura Belpré Award Honor books include:

Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita illustrated and written by Angela Dominguez and published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC
  Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS
Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo illustrated by Rafael López, written by Monica Brown and published by Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


The Belpré award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. PuraBelpre2As a children’s librarian, storyteller, and author, she enriched the lives of Puerto Rican children in the U.S.A. through her pioneering work of preserving and disseminating Puerto Rican folklore.

Stay tuned with us for some great book and reading suggestions about portraying, affirming, and celebrating a “world wide” variety of cultures, peoples, places and ideas as we assist young people to find themselves on the pages of books.

Submitted by Lesli Baker, UVU Library Assistant Director-Public Services at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah 

Finding Papa and Mama… (Guest Blogger -Axel Ramirez)

Ever since I was in elementary school I have had a fascination with the Great Brain series of books by John Dennis Fitzgerald. I think it all started in 5th grade when a friend suggested the books to me.  What would compel young boys in East Los Angeles to read a book about Mormon and Catholic kids in Utah during Utah’s Wild West period? I’m still not sure, perhaps it is the love between Mama and Papa; perhaps it is the hilarious and touching issues of religious diversity; perhaps it is the draw of a family that sticks together no matter what. I don’t know. All I know is that I grew up with the Great Brain and his family. His family became my family. They were my companions as I moved to Utah.  The only part of Utah that felt at all like home for the first few months was the one I imagined existed somewhere in Adenville, Utah, home of the Great Brain. Those characters were my Utah companions until I found real Mormon kid companions of my own.

Around the time I moved to Utah I also found out that there was a trilogy of books featuring the grown up characters in the Great Brain series: Papa Married a Mormon, Mama’s Boarding House and Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse.  I couldn’t wait to read them and have read the latter two dozens of times each but I’ve read Papa Married a Mormon over a hundred times. At times in my youth, Mama and Papa were the best examples of love and stability in parents that I had ever personally witnessed.    As a result, I am trying to start my own tradition similar to the Fitzgeralds in the book, the passing down of a middle name to the males in the family. I gave both my biological sons the same middle name as mine and hope they will do the same with their sons.  And, for some strange reason, all my children have taken to calling me Papa instead of Dad.  

Last year my youngest came home during 5th grade beaming about the Great Brain series that her teacher was reading to her; I knew it was time to revisit my old friends in Adenville, Utah. For those of us who love the series of books there is a mystery that has always been somewhat solved, but not to full satisfaction.

The question remains, just where in Utah did the book really take place, because Adenville, Utah has never existed? In other words, what real town did the author use as the basis for all the hijinks and drama?  In the series and in the adult books Adenville is in southern Utah, next to the fictional mining town of Silverlode. The current city of Leeds, Utah sort of fits because it is in southern Utah, named after an early pioneer, and is directly next to a mining town named Silver Reef, which had a Catholic Church in the late 1800s. However, the author has been reported to have grown up, at least part of the time, in Price, Utah.  After searching for more clues the best theory is that the author, ever so wonderfully, combined the 1800s diversity found in the mining camps of southern Utah with the diversity found in the mining city of Price, Utah to create Adenville.

To make this theory come alive to my daughter, she and I drove to Leeds, Utah and the old mining town of Silver Reef and used our reader’s imagination to discuss possible geographical connections to the books. We strolled through the Catholic and
Protestant cemeteries, the old boardwalks, the Wells Fargo building, the site of the old Catholic church, and just imagined ourselves with the characters.  The next weekend we drove to Price, Utah to put the finishing piece on our quest — finding where the real Mama and Papa are buried.  We strolled through the Price cemetery and discussed the diversity in the tombstones, the Masonic symbols, the miners, and the children. Finally, we found them — Mama and Papa resting in peace, side by side.   More alive than ever.

Axel Donizetti Ramirez is Associate Professor of Teacher Education in the School of Education at Utah Valley University.

Every child deserves to find herself beautifully portrayed upon the pages of a book…

I’m changing subjects just a bit… away from Valentine’s Day, but not so far from love. This is because something else that I love a lot has been on my mind lately… that is, picture books on whose pages Children of Color find themselves portrayed, and see their beauty in realism and truth and self-respect – and where children with less variety of pigment to hair and skin and eyes, see children of color as subjects of the world’s finest art and prose and poetry.  Without time and space to share all of my favorites, I present my most recent discoveries, as well as my most long-held favorites, and only briefly share my journey of discovery of this world of appreciation.  

I had no understanding of this exchange between the 3-year-old little girl and her mother sitting across from me as I held my feverish 10-month-old in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. This was more than twenty years ago, when I could still claim the title of “young mother.”  The little girl brought an open magazine over to her mommy to show her the dolly she would like to have. Mommy ripped that magazine out of the little girl’s hands and threw it onto the pile of magazines on a table a few feet a way, yelling, “Don’t you come bringing no white baby over here! You know you not going to get no white trash baby!” I didn’t have any frame of reference or understanding for that exchange.  I was sad and afraid for the little girl because of the angry yelling, and the look of rage in the mother’s eyes.  But I didn’t know what to think of the “white trash” baby doll, as I held my own little baby.        

Years later I would read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and take my first step toward an epiphanal journey in coming to understand just a little bit, the heart and soul of that mother in the doctor’s office, that day.  I would also come to notice so many things that were unfair but unnoticed around me, such as calling that one particular color of nylon stockings “nude,” that one crayon “flesh; or the unfairness of my neighbor in West Virginia having to drive 60 miles to get hair product that would work for her hair.  So in order to surround my students, and my future grandchildren with beauty in realism and self-respect in a variety of color of skin and eyes, and texture of hair, and wonderful prose and poetry and truth, I will keep looking for brilliant authors and illustrators, and I will celebrate their work and their talents, and they way they show me the world. As I looked for just the right book to end this with, I found it…  well, I should say, I found the author.  It was Nikki Grimes.  I’ve been collecting her poetry books, her picture book biographies — pretty-much everything I can get my hands on that she writes. I thought I might try to find just one of her poems, perhaps from Thanks a Million, so I did a search on the internet.  What a found instead was her website, and even better — her blog. So here, at the end of my blog post, I introduce you to hers — Nikki Grimes. Please take the time to go to Nikki’s blog and read what she posted on December 21, 2012. Thanks to Nikki Grimes, I found myself, and the feelings of my heart, beautifully portrayed upon the pages of her blog.  I think you might find something of yourself there, too.  Don’t you just love how books and writers and illustrators can do that for us? Don’t you just want to share that with the young people in your life?