Tag Archives: Resolutions

Resolve to Read: The Pura Belpré Award

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  The suggestions on this list hold appeal for readers of all ages (I read to my cat on a regular basis, for example).

This post features the challenge to read a Pura Belpré Award-winning book.  The Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996, and is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library (hooray for Librarians!).  It is presented annually, as the award’s website explains, to a Latino/Latina writer andLatino/Latina illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

As huge fans of #WeNeedDiverse Books, and as a Library community that revels in sharing all the cultural and personal differences that make our community such a rich one, exploring the books in this award was a real treat.  There are some stunning illustrations and moving stories to be found among the winners of the Pura Belpré Award, and we are thrilled to feature some of them here!

2017 Author Award Winner: 

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina: A spunky young girl from Colombia loves playing with her canine best friend and resists boring school activities, especially learning English, until her family tells her that a special trip is planned to an English-speaking place.  According to the award presenters, Medina “presents with breezy humor the day-to-day reflections and experiences universal to childhood—school, family and friendships—through the eyes of the invincible Juana, growing up in Bogotá with her beloved dog, Lucas. This charmingly designed book for young readers portrays the advantages—and challenges—of learning a second language.

2017 Illsutrator Award Winner: 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raúl Gonzalez, written by Cathy Camper: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria are living the dream–they are the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat, Genie, goes missing, they must embark on a wild road trip through a mysterious corn maze, into the center of the earth, and down to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli. Mic’s the Aztec god of the Underworld, but even worse: he’s a catnapper! Now it’s three clever compadres against one angry, all-powerful god. How will the Lowriders ever save their cat–or themselves?  According to the award committee, “The ballpoint pen art creates a fantastical borderlands odyssey, packed with subversively playful cultural references that affirm a vibrant Chicanx cultura.”

2016 Author Award Winner: 

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle: In her memoir for young people, Margarita Engle, who was the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Her heart was in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country–but most of the time she lived in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers fly through the enchanted air to her beloved island. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupted at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Engle’s worlds collided in the worst way possible. Would she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?  The awards committee noted that “Engle’s memoir of living in two cultures and the inability to cross the sky to visit family will resonate with youth facing similar circumstances.”

2017 Illustrator Award Winner: 

Drum dream girl : how one girl’s courage changed music: Illustrations by Rafael López; Poem by Margarita Engle: This lyrical tale follows a young Cuban girl in the 1930s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there’s never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1930s Cuba, who became a world-renowned drummer, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.  The awards committee said that “Rafael López’s masterful art brings to life the drumbeats in Margarita Engle’s story. His dreamy illustrations transport us to Millo’s tropical island,”

For a full list of Pura Belpré Award winning books, check out the full list at the American Library Association’s website!

My New Year’s Resolution…

Someone at a holiday party started talking about New Year’s Resolutions yesterday, which is a conversation I generally despise…but this time around, I came up with an answer.

I want to learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.


For those of you who have never had the good fortune to meet Jessica, she is the main character on Murder, She Wrote, a character played by the incomparable and sublime Angela Lansbury.

Jessica Beatrice Fletcher lives in Cabot Cove, the most stereotypical Maine town to ever have been brought to the screen–698 Candlewood Lane, to be precise.  Though she studied journalism in her youth, she worked as a teacher for many years before becoming a world-renown mystery author, a change that only happened when her nephew, Grady, submitted one of her manuscripts to a publisher without Jessica knowing.  Over the course of twelve seasons, she published some 42 books, and solved nearly 300 murders, but my count, anyways (there were 268 episodes of the show, and 4 tv movies).

angela-lansbury-at-her-typewriter-murder-she-wroteThe format of these shows are pretty reliable in terms of plot–Jessica in involved in some endeavor that is broadening her horizons, whether that is traveling, preparing for visitors, finishing a new novel, working on her garden, or teaching a class (I remember that she taught writing and criminology, though I am sure there were more).  In pretty short order, someone turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, and Jessica proves herself the only person capable of unmasking the murderer (if it were real, Cabot Cove would have one of the highest murder rates in the nation–higher than a city 20 times its size!).  Usually, she is assisted or threatened in some way by a famous or soon-to-be famous guest star (this blog post does a good job pointing out some of the most famous names that appeared on the show).  From Lansbury’s fellow Broadway stars, like Jerry Orbach and Harvey Fierstein, to television familiars like George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, Cabot Cove was awash with talent.

As a kid, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch Murder, She Wrote, and now that I am grown-up (or at least doing a decent impression of a grown-up), I am lucky enough to have a group of dear friends with whom I intend to grow old and curmudgeonly, and who enjoy Murder, She Wrote with the same unabashed relish that I do.

And the more I think about, the more I am convinced that I want to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

flat800x800075fI am not alone in this quest.  There have been several internet posts dedicated to Jessica Fletcher as an anti-ageist paragon for the ages, which wisely points out that she begins a new life and embarks on new adventures at precisely the age when ‘society’ tells us that we should stop adventuring.  Another post talks about Jessica’s courage, facing the world as a single, older lady, and taking down snarky law-enforcement agents, rascally businessmen, and lecherous retirees with equal aplomb and grace.  And I agree with each of them whole heartedly.

But for me, Jessica Fletcher isn’t just who I want to be when I get older, but who I want to be now.

On the surface, Jessica wears whatever she wants to, and doesn’t apologize to anyone (this is also proven by Mrs. Fletcher’s Closet, a blog, which chronicles Jessica’s wardrobe by episode and by season).  My favorite moment of the series, as my friends know, is in Series 1, Episode 2, when Jessica dons her enormous fish cardigan:

The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html
The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html


Even in the not-so-subtle eighties, I feel like this was a bold fashion choice.  But Jessica doesn’t let her cardigan boss her around–she wears those leaping trout and whale-things with pride and a confidence that I really would love to emulate.  I’m not sure that I myself could ever successfully pull off a wooly homage to our friends of the sea, but in a world that seems convinced it has the right to tell people, particularly women, what they “can” and “cannot” wear, when, and why, the fish sweater is a source of constant inspiration.

Which leads me to another point–Jessica Fletcher has guts.  And not only because she faces down murderers, criminals, and ne’er-do-wells, often without back-up, and often at the risk of her own safety and well-being.  What I love is that Jessica lives fearlessly–she glides from Connecticut to Ireland, from the American southwest to New York City, frequently on her own.  And she turns each of these trips into an adventure, making new acquaintances, trying new things, hunting down criminals, and nearly always making allies with local law enforcement.

s01e01-jessica-joggingNo matter where she goes, Jessica makes friends, from multi-millionaires to homeless wanderers.   She respects other people’s stories and journeys without regard to the material benefits they can provide her, but, more importantly, without compromising her own needs or beliefs.  When visiting the estate of a ridiculously wealthy friend, Jessica is to be seen jogging around his estate of a morning in her quintessential tracksuit, hair and make-up stunning and intact (see the photo on the left).  While helping some local immigrants to Cabot Cove, Jessica not only faces down the US government, but a Soviet spy, as well.  And then serves dinner without missing a beat.

1395591810-0More than anything, as these examples show, Jessica is strong enough to live her life on her terms.  She doesn’t shrink from living alone after the death of her husband, from starting a new career later in life, from venturing into a new romance (though no man ever got the best of Ms. J.B. Fletcher), from escaping from an ancient Irish castle, or from adopting one of her many impromptu disguises and swanning around where she is not otherwise allowed.  And, no matter how many demands her friends, family, and her crime-fighting may make on her time, Jessica doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her writing.  For twelve years (at least), she put out an average of two-and-a-half books a year.

And, speaking of which, Jessica is a dedicated patron of the Cabot Cove Library.  To the point where she is allowed to lock up after the Librarian leaves.  There is no higher honor than that, dear readers, I can assure you.


And so, for all these reasons, and so many, many more, I hope that, in 2017, I can learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

If you would like to learn a little more about the Jessica Fletcher Lifestyle, check out the first season of Murder, She Wrote, as well as the many spin-off books that the tv series inspired.