The Pura Belpré Award for children and young adult books, which honors Latino writers and illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience, will celebrate its 20th anniversary at the 2016 ALA annual conference. PW spoke with the cofounders of the award, Sandra Ríos Balderrama and Oralia Garza de Cortés, as well as Teresa Mlawer, supporter and champion of the award.

Sandra, you and Oralia are the architects behind this award—how did it come about?

SRB: Almost 30 years ago, I was a children’s public librarian in Berkeley, Calif., when I met Oralia at an ALA conference. We were both very passionate about meeting the needs of our respective communities, yet frustrated. We wanted to see more positive and diverse portrayals of Latinos. We also needed to see more Latino authors and illustrators, and to get publishers to recognize that this need is very real. In addition to having more Latino stories and images, we wanted our people to tell our story with our voice. So we decided that we should have an award like the Coretta Scott King Award.

Oralia, for those who may not know, who was Pura Belpré?

OGC: Pura Belpré was the first Latina librarian in the U.S. Belpré came from Puerto Rico in the 1920s and worked as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library. She revolutionized the role of Latinos and people of color in the library field and empowered the Puerto Rican community through her work.

Teresa, what celebrations are planned for ALA in Orlando?

TM: On Sunday, June 26, we will hold a special celebration from 1 to 3:30 p.m. in Ballroom F of the Rosen Centre Hotel. And, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the award, Rosen Publishing is releasing a new anthology of essays written by the recipients of the award. The book, The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, which features an introduction by Oralia and Sandra, is a beautiful, fitting tribute to Latino children’s literature and the illustrious award that honors it. There will also be a video that ALSC president Andrew Medlar put together about the life of Pura Belpré in Puerto Rico.

Sandra, Oralia: how do you feel knowing that the award is turning 20?

SRB: I weep from joy. It took us about eight years of work with ALA and REFORMA to establish the award. But this is what we always wanted, for Chicanos, Dominicans, and all Latinos—to tell our story. The value of the award is to remind librarians that we play such an important role in the sharing of our culture with not just Latino children but all children.

OGC: The award is our vision, and so much more. When we put this award together we did not anticipate the explosive growth of the Latino population in the U.S. Today, 25% of children in school are Latino—and we still need many more books that tell our story.

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