Books Shaped My Life

There is no hiding my love of books. Obviously I see the power in a picture book, the escape in a fantasy novel, or the understanding in powerful realistic and historic fiction. So when I find books that highlight how books and reading have played an important role in someone’s life, I’m immediately intrigued. Here are a few books about how a love of books and story telling shaped a person’s life.

Sonia Sotomayor wrote an autobiography in picture book format that shows her life through the lens of the books and words that shaped her life. Her family placed value on written and spoken word, something that makes a really big impact on a child. Once she was able to read, books helped her get through her most trying experiences. Diabetes shots? Comic book heroes helped her be brave. The sadness of her father’s death? A local library that helped her “escape sadness at home.” She learned from encyclopedias, looked for clues with Nancy Drew, and learned that books were more than just stories, they helped us make sense of the world around us. More than just an autobiography, Turning Pages is a love letter to books and is definitely worth a read.

People in the book world know of Pura Belpre, do you? Pura Belpre was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York and in 1996 there was an award established in her honor to the best Latino/Lantina writer who portrays and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. Many years ago I read a lovely book about her called The Storytellers Candle. You can see my review here. This year a new biography of Pura Belpre has come out and it is just wonderful. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar, tells the story of how Pura moved to the United States and was surprised when she found no stories on the shelves of the library like the ones her grandmother had told her. Fortunately, Pura was a wonder with words and puppetry. She would paint pictures for children who would come and listen to her at story time. She took a big leap of faith and wrote to a publisher about publishing her story so that there would be books that spoke to a Latino audience. She planted amazing seeds that we are still enjoying the fruit of today. This is a beautiful book encouraging readers to follow their dreams.

Arturo Schomburg felt there was a similar hole in the libraries about Black history. His story is beautifully told in Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. While this is a picture book, it has more text than most, so it is more appropriate for older children. Regardless, it tells the story of Arturo Schomburg; his love of words and belief in what he was capable of. Schomburg was both Black and from the Dominican Republic. Yet he didn’t see any contributions of people like him in any of the books around him and definitely not taught to children in schools. He arrived in the United States in 1891, way before the Civil Rights movement, but he changed libraries. Just as Pura Belpre was the first Latina to work as a librarian at the NY Public Library, Arturo Schomburg was the father of Black History in the libraries. He sold his personal collection to the Carnegie Corporation in 1926 and then it was donated to the NY Library, which had started the “Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints” in their Harlem branch. He was then asked by Fisk University in 1931 to develop their first “Negro Collection,” and then became the curator of the NY Public Library’s collection. He researched and searched for information to tell the truth of the black experience in America and beyond. This book is amazingly researched and beautifully written. An important part of any collection.

Books and stories are vital. They help us understand the world around us and become stronger people. I love seeing how books themselves impacted an individual, as I know they have obviously shaped who I am and how I hope to give back to the world. Happy reading!

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