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From Loíza, Puerto Rico: A lovingly curated children’s book selection

Daniel Pizzaro

By Kim Haas

I’m so pleased to present this guest post. It was thoughtfully written by one of our favorite librarians, Daniel Pizarro. Daniel is the consummate gentleman. Plus, he’s smart and cares deeply about Loíza and the library’s patrons.

I met Daniel three years ago at Loíza Public Library in Puerto Rico. Our meeting represented a wonderful culmination of a series of emails and an eventual conference call solidifying a sister library collaboration between Loíza library and the Jersey City Free Public Library; which is my local library.

So, Daniel is my go-to-guy when I’m in need of a little inspiration and great recommendations for Afro-Latino and Afro-centered children’s books.

Los Afro-Latinos is currently working on an Afro-Latino Children’s Book Supplement. Until every “ i is dotted and t is crossed” and we publish the collection, we thought we would share with you Daniel’s contribution to the Supplement. And September is a great month to post Daniel’s selections as we shepherd our children back to school for the new year.

In Daniel’s words:

Hola Kim!

It is great to hear from you! 

Thanks for your patience, allowing us time to gather our thoughts regarding our recommendations for noteworthy Afro-centered children books.  Our selection supports our first book collaboration (Summer 2010).

We are honored by your request. Hope it works for you and your readers!

We gladly submit these children’s book reviews.

P.S. We have been blessed by generous books donations made by people from all over the world; including individuals like you, academic and non-profit organizations, and sister libraries, such as Jersey City’s Perfecto Oyola Branch. All gifts are greatly appreciated.  Hope this helps! Thanks for thinking about us! Take care and please forward any questions or comments.

Saludos,

Luis Daniel Pizarro

Head Librarian
Loíza Public Library
Loíza, Puerto Rico

These three books distinguish themselves due to their relevance to our mission: Preserve our African heritage, while at the same time strengthening our cultural identity and teaching positive values.

El Pollo de los Domingos, by Patricia Polacco

El Pollo de los Domingos

 (Translated by Alejandra López Varela, Lectorum Publications, Inc. (2011)

This is another book we treasure and it is a gift received thanks to a partnership you helped us establish with the Jersey City Free Public Library’s Perfecto Oyola Department in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Once into the book, our young readers find an inspirational blend of culture, trust, love and generosity. Despite differences in religion, sex, and race, a white girl becomes best friends with an Afro-American family.

The kids come up with a plan to buy an Easter hat for grandma that she admired.  After being mistakenly accused of throwing eggs at the store’s window, the girls set out to simultaneously accomplish two things, prove their innocence and earn money for the hat. The vivid illustrations of Afro characters are a magnet to our little readers, and the mixing of cultural traditions appeals to the value of celebrating diversity.

Niña Bonita by Ana Maria Machado

niña bonita

(Illustrated by Rosana Faría; Ediciones Ekaré (1996)

This beautifully illustrated book is both an educational introduction to genetics and a charming story that deals with the subject of racial pride. A white rabbit is fascinated with Nina, a pretty dark black girl and wants to know the secret to her beauty.

The rabbit was determined to find the secret and a way to have children as beautiful as the pretty dark black girl.  Nina didn’t know how to answer the rabbit’s question about her beauty.  So she made up little tales. Her mother shared the secret of her beauty, telling her it was from her grandmother. The story addresses in a very sensitive way the subject of genetics, uniqueness and diversity, acclaiming “black is beautiful”.

 El Paraíso de Abuelita by Carmen Santiago Nodar

El paraíso de Abuelita

(Illustrated by Diane Paterson and translated by Teresa Mlawer; Albert Whitman & Co. Morton Grove Illinois (1992)

The book is a true jewel for us! After Margarita’s grandmother dies, she inherits the old woman’s rocking chair and faded plaid blanket with the word “paraiso” (paradise) spelled out. She sits on the chair and recalls her grandmother, Abuelita’s stories about growing up on Puerto Rico with sugar cane fields and waterfalls.

With beautiful watercolor illustrations, the story helps to create points of cross cultural identification coupled with Hispanic culture in the context of a loving family. Also, it teaches children how grandparents of any ethnic group have special memories, especially dealing with the loss of a relative.

For any readers who would like to check out great work he and his staff are doing at the Loíza Public Library, check out their blog.

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