History of the Youth Media Awards: Part 4, the Pura Belpré Award


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Over the years, the Youth Media Awards, presented annually by the American Library Association (ALA) during its Midwinter Meeting in January, has guided libraries in choosing the best of the best in children's and youth literature.

But the awards have also played a role in fostering great literature.

The Pura Belpré Award is presented annually to a Latino writer and to a Latino illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children.

The award honors Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican to be hired by the New York Public Library. She pioneered the library's work with the Puerto Rican community

Pura Belpré (circa 1899-1982) was an author and storyteller who wrote and re-interpreted Puerto Rican folk tales.

Born in Puerto Rico, she interrupted her studies at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras in 1920 to attend her sister Elisa's wedding in New York.

She would spend virtually her entire life in New York.

Like many of the Puerto Rican women who came to New York at that time, Belpré's first job was in the garment industry. Her Spanish language skills soon earned her a position as Hispanic Assistant in a branch of the public library at 135th Street in Harlem.

In 1926 she began her formal studies in the Library School of the New York Public Library. The first story she wrote in a story-telling course, Pérez and Martina, a love story between a cockroach and a mouse, became one of the earliest books published in English by a Puerto Rican in the continental United States.

In 1929, due to the increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans settling in southwest Harlem, Belpré was transferred to a branch of the NYPL at 115th Street. She quickly became an active advocate for the Spanish-speaking community by instituting bilingual story hours, buying Spanish language books, and implementing programs based on traditional holidays such as the celebration of Three Kings Day.

Through her efforts, the 115th Street branch became an important cultural center for the Latino residents of New York City. Belpré also worked for a time at the Aguilar branch on East 110th Street in East Harlem where she initiated similar programs to expand library services to Puerto Ricans.

Her first book, Pérez and Martina: A Portorican Folk Tale had been published by Frederick Warne in 1932. Her second story "The Three Magi" was published in 1944 as part of the anthology The Animals' Christmas by Anne Thaxter Eaton.

Once she stopped working in the library, Belpré pursued her literary ambitions in earnest. During this period she compiled a collection of tales titled The Tiger and the Rabbit and Other Tales which was, in fact, the first English collection of Puerto Rican folk tales published in the United States. 

The award is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of ALA, and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA), an ALA Affiliate.

Inspired by the desire to encourage Latino authors and illustrators in their efforts to produce children’s works celebrating the Latino experience in the United States, Oralia Garza de Cortés, Sandra Ríos Balderrama and Toni Bissessar of REFORMA and Linda Perkins, president of ALSC, appeared before the ALSC Board at the 1993 Midwinter Meeting.

This resulted in the creation of the ALSC/REFORMA Children’s Book Award Task Force to develop the terms and criteria of the award.

At the 1994 Annual Conference the terms and criteria were accepted, but because of a moratorium on new awards, final approval for the award was postponed until funding was obtained.

Approval came at the 1995 Annual Conference by the American Library Association Awards Committee for the following Midwinter Meeting, if funding was assured by that time.

Pura Belpre MedalDuring the 1996 Midwinter Conference, ALSC voted to provide seed money to establish the Pura Belpré Award to be presented biennially by ALSC and REFORMA.

The first award recipients were announced at the ALSC membership meeting during the 1996 Annual Conference in New York City. The awards were given the following August at the REFORMA First National Conference in Austin, Texas.

In preparation for the 2000 Pura Belpré Award, a search was initiated for an artist to design a medal for the two categories of author and illustrator. Emanuel Martinez, a Colorado artist produced a design approved by both ALSC and REFORMA. Using photographs of Pura Belpré obtained from her papers housed at the Puerto Rican Institute at Hunter College in NYC, he portrayed Pura Belpré with two children, capturing her true likeness and spirit.

Don't miss the announcements of the 2012 Youth Media Awards. A live webcast from the Dallas Convention Center will begin at 7:30 a.m. CST, Jan. 23. Virtual seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

We'll be announcing the award winners on Facebook and Twitter.   You can also hook up with Youth Media Awards fans on their Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels.

 Read The History of the Youth Media Awards Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


2011 Pura Belpré Award winners

For narrative

Medal winner:

The Dreamer
written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated  by Perter Sís, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Honor books:

¡Ole! Flamenco
written by George Ancona, illustrated by George Ancona, published by Lee and Low Books Inc.

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba
written by Margarita Engle, published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC

90 Miles to Havana
by Enrique Flores-Galbis, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing

For illustration:

Medal winner:

Grandma's Gift
illustrated and written by Eric Velasquez, published by Walker Publishing Company, Inc., a division of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Honor books

Fiesta Babies
illustrated Amy Cordova, written by Carmen Tafolla, published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

Me, Frida
illustrated by David Diaz, written by Amy Novesky, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Abrams

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin
illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Abrams 

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