I could tell you so many stories about the students who come to the Blackstone School Library. There is the girl who likes to help in the library during her free period and has become our unofficial intern. There are the two boys who come together between classes and exchange their just-read books for new ones multiple times a week. There is the kindergarten class who spontaneously hugged all of the library volunteers the first time we saw them again after holiday break.
As library volunteers, we spend only a short time with these students each week, and so really getting to know their individual stories can be challenging. But sometimes reading a book aloud together helps connect us more deeply. For me, a book that stands out in this regard is Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise (illustrated by Paola Escobar).
Pura Belpré was originally from Puerto Rico and came to New York City in 1926. She became the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system, and a children’s book author whose books focused on traditional stories from Puerto Rico. Ms. Belpré noticed that her culture’s stories were missing from the shelves of the library, so she started to write books to change that.
I read this picture book to a second grade class earlier this year. In Denise’s book, there are scenes of San Juan in the opening pages. A number of students in the class have parents or grandparents from Puerto Rico. Some have been there themselves. They pointed to the trees pictured in the book that looked like ones they have seen.
Further on in the book, there is a picture of Ms. Belpré sitting in a chair, with children sitting on a rug on the floor listening to her. Ms. Belpré is telling the children a story. When we read this page, one of the boys in our class said, “Look, that’s just like us.”
And I thought, "Yes, here we are sharing a story." Sharing stories together means this: we laugh, we learn about “bicycle face” or being brave or haikus,* we discover new places, we meet wonderful characters, we connect across our different ages and backgrounds. We meet one another in stories.
And I know my life is richer because of that. I hope that in some small way the lives of the students who come to the Blackstone Library are richer, too.
*Picture book references:
Born to Ride: A Story About Bicycle Face by Larissa Theule (illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley)
When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler)
Basho and the Fox by Tim Myers (illustrated by Oki S. Han)
By Lucy Costa, Blackstone School Library Volunteer
Lucy Costa is in her second year as a volunteer with the Blackstone Library Friday team. Lucy serves as a recovery casework supervisor with the Red Cross of Massachusetts. She is also a Girl Scout leader and a member of Old South Church in Boston.