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The Stories I Read to the Children


The Life and Writing of Pura Belpré, The Legendary Storyteller, Children’s Author and New York Public Librarian

By Pura Belpré, Selected, edited, and biographical introduction by Lisa Sánchez González

Published 2013

286 pages; notes, works cited, index; 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-878483-80-5  (paperback) 

Price: $25.00  paperback


About this book

The Stories I Read to the Children documents, for the very first time, Pura Belpré’s contributions to North American, Caribbean, and Latin American literary and library history. Thoroughly researched but clearly written, this study is scholarship that is also accessible to general readers, students, and teachers.

Pura Belpré (1899-1982) is one of the most important public intellectuals in the history of the Puerto Rican diaspora. A children’s librarian, author, folklorist, translator, storyteller, and puppeteer who began her career during the Harlem Renaissance and the formative decades of the New York Public Library, Belpré is also the earliest known Afro-Caribeña contributor to American literature.

In The Stories I Read to the Children, Lisa Sánchez González has collected, edited, and annotated over 40 of Belpré’s stories and essays, most of which have never been published. Her introduction to the volume is the most extensive study to date of Belpré’s life and writing.



Table of Contents



Pura Belpré (1899–1982): Her Life and Writing

The Legacy of Pura Belpré

Pura Belpré’s Early Life, Education, and Migration to New York City (1899–1921)

Pura Belpré and The NYPL’s “Storybook Jesuits” (1921–1944)

Pura Belpré’s Contributions to American Children’s Literature and Puerto Rican Folklore (1932–1982)

A Career Interlude: Pura Belpré’s Marriage to Clarence Cameron White (1943–1961)

Pura Belpré’s Significance to American (the Americas’) Literary History Notes on the Selected Writing

Pura Belpré: Her Life in Pictures

Section I: Pura Belpré’s Published Stories: A Selection

Perez and Martina

The Earrings

Casi Lampu’a Lentemué

The Albahaca Plant

Juan Bobo and the Queen’s Necklace

Juan Bobo


The Cat, the Mountain Goat, and the Fox

The Rainbow-Colored Horse

The Three Magi

The Three Figs

Yuisa and Pedro Mexias

The Legend of the Hummingbird

The Bed

The Parrot Who Wouldn’t Say “Cataño”

The Stone Dog


Section II: Pura Belpré’s Unpublished Stories: A Selection



Anita and Guasimindo Yacumbé

The Curious Cobbler

The Prince and the Devil’s Ear

The Fisherman and His Sons

The Puchero

The Village Mango Tree

The Three Brothers

Simple John (Juan Bobo)

The Violinist

The Well

The Little Chick

The Parrot Who Liked to Eat Spanish Sausages

The King’s Cow: A Nonsense Story

Section III: Pura Belpré’s Essays: A Selection

The Folklore of the Puerto Rican Child

The Art of Writing for Children

Writing a Story

Writing for Bilingual Children

Bilingual Storytelling

Bilingual Group Work with Parents

Work With Bilingual Children.

My Work in the Children’s Room

The Reluctant Reader: What Makes Him?

I Wished to Be Like Johnny Appleseed


Fragment on Racism and Children’s Fiction


Works Cited

Chronology of Pura Belpré’s Published Monograph

Glossary of Spanish Words and Phrases


About the Author

Pura Belpré was the legendary storyteller, librarian and children’s book author.

Lisa Sánchez González lives in an enchanted forest, where she has recently finished writing a collection of short stories entitled Puerto Rican Folktales/ Cuentos folclóricos puertorriqueños. She is also the author of Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora (NYU Press, 2001) and a myriad of essays on American and Caribbean literary history. Sánchez studied Comparative Literature at UCLA (PhD 1995) and has taught at universities in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Brazil. She now works at the University of Connecticut, where she is Associate Professor of English.



This book, a collection of Belpré's stories and essays, introduced by a biography, seeks to fill that gap and draw attention to this important historical figure. Sánchez González provides a brief biographical sketch of Belpré, drawing from relatively unexplored archival sources and accessibly situating Belpré's life and work within larger contexts of the history of Puerto Rican diaspora, the genesis of children's librarianship as a profession, feminist folklore studies, and the development of an ethnically conscious Latina/o literature, suggesting directions for further research. She also has carefully selected thirty-two of Belpré's Puerto Rican folktales, seventeen previously published (though, to date, out of print) and fifteen never-before published, all of which are wondrous in their simple magic and showcase the Spanish, Indigenous, and African roots of Puerto Rican oral culture, as well as Belpré's phenomenal talent as a storyteller… Folklore enthusiasts and storytellers are sure to find this collection of tales and history useful as a resource for a fairly untapped folkloric tradition, and teachers, librarians, and scholars with interests in fields as diverse as ethnic studies, library and information science, literary history, and performance studies. Thaddeus Andraki, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books More...

The Stories I Read to the Children is by far one of the most complete texts on the life and work of the influential Puerto Rican figure Pura Belpré Nogueras. The author, Sánchez González, has unequivocally conducted outstanding archival and editorial work to put together a portrait of Pura’s life, which incorporates primary sources and a sensible amount of inferences to make up for historical gaps.… It goes without saying that Sánchez González has successfully captured the complexity of the multi-voiced stances that Belpré used in her writings and speeches. The author’s decision to let the stories and manuscripts flow without interruption is an open invitation to know the passion and craft of Belpré. The international community finally has a concrete introduction to the woman whose life’s work changed the lives of immigrant families and those who had already made a home in the United States. For the first time, readers are welcomed to explore the legacy of a woman who is commended by a prestigious children’s literature award from the American Library Association. ¡Enhorabuena! Zaira R. Arvelo Alicea, First Opinions Second Reactions

For too long, Belpré has been regarded as a “quiet pioneer” and I cannot think of a better way of bringing to light and celebrating her life and achievements than publishing, for the first time, a comprehensive volume that includes an insightful introduction and a selection of her essays and published and unpublished stories. Edna Acosta-Belén, University at Albany, SUNY

The Stories I Read to the Children provides a new way of reading children's literature through a gendered and cultural lens… Sánchez González provides the keys for reading and understanding the significance of Pura Belpré’s contributions to American literature and librarianship. She brings to life the passion that Belpré had for inspiring a love of reading in children. Richard Chabran, University of Arizona

Simply stated, The Stories I Read to Children is the most comprehensive work on the life and legacy of Pura Belpré to date… [T]he book captures Belpré’s dedication to preserving the precious gift of heritage, rich cultural traditions of the Puerto Rican people, and the empowerment of story books in educating children. Belpré’s creative magic shines through the published and unpublished folktales included in this volume. These transport the reader into a child’s world of wonder where anything can happen and usually does. Virginia Sánchez Korrol, Brooklyn College, CUNY