Anika Aldamuy Denise is the author of many celebrated books for young readers, including her latest published work Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré.
Anika strives to inspire with her stories of the important contributions of influential Latinas by sharing their gifts with the world. To learn more about her projects, visit Anika at anikadenise.com.
I first heard Pura Belpré’s stories from my titi Rosie, who heard them from her mother, who later passed them on to me. When I began writing for children, I became aware of REFORMA and the Pura Belpré award. One day, I visited an exhibition at the New York Public Library that included many photographs, quotes, and handmade puppets from Belpré’s storytelling performances. I knew right then I wanted to write a book about Pura Belpré’s life.
Writing the book was a journey of both nostalgia and discovery: nostalgia for the stories of my childhood, and discovery of the fullness of Pura Belpré’s talents, career, and legacy.
I am blessed to have family members whose memories span nine decades in East Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. My great-grandmother was an elementary school teacher and knew Pura Belpré and her work very well. So while I did not get to speak directly with any of Belpré’s relatives, I did spend time talking with my own family about their experiences and memories of Pura Belpré as a prominent intellectual and literary figure in New York. I also visited the Pura Belpré archives at the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College, and studied the work of Belpré scholars including Lisa Sanchez González, Marilisa Jiménez García, Pedro Juan Hernández, and Eduardo Aguilar. In many ways, I owe this book to them. They are the keepers of the candle of Pura Belpré’s legacy.
It’s hard to put my reading interests into a single box, but some of the authors I return to again and again are Julia Alvarez, Esmeralda Santiago, Sandra Cisneros, Maya Angelou, Jhumpa Lahiri, and J.K. Rowling. I have a tall stack of new #ownvoices YA and MG novels on my bedside table right now including Silver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy, The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante, The Resolutions by Mia García, The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman, and Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera.
Please keep going. Keep writing. Remember that there’s beautiful diversity within the Latinx community and we need each and every one of your voices for the fullness of our humanity to (finally) be represented in children’s literature. There is power in having “a village” so try to connect with other Latinx writers to support, encourage, and amplify each other’s writing.
I’m very excited for my forthcoming picture book biography about Rita Moreno, illustrated by Pura Belpré honor-winner Leo Espinosa! I’m also working on my first middle-grade novel. It’s a little too early to share details — but I can say that it’s a very personal and heartfelt story.