By Monica Brown
Illustrated by John Parra
The Story Behind the Story
by Monica Brown
I love librarians. Like me, (and I’ll bet you too if you are reading this), librarians are book people. Book people find joy between the pages of a book, but their passion doesn’t stop there. True book people must share books with others. They believe that placing books in young hands and sharing stories with young minds is meaningful. Luis Soriano is a book person. Luis first came to my attention when I read the New York Times article, “Acclaimed Colombian Institution has 4,800 books and 10 legs” by Simon Romero. Fascinated, I did some research and came across Valentina Canavesio’s short film Biblioburro—The Donkey Library. The story filled me with joy and not a little pride in the resourcefulness and passion of the Latino culture that Luis and I share. Growing up, Luis Soriano did not have the benefit of extensive formal studies and unlimited financial resources. What he did have was vision—and two donkeys named Alfa and Beto. For years, Maestro Soriano has delivered books in rural Colombia to children who don’t have access to libraries. Some don’t even have teachers or schools. But Luis, who received his school degree at 16, and then became a teacher and librarian, has made it his life’s work to change that.
When I wrote Waiting for the Biblioburro, I didn’t want to presume to tell Luis’s story for him, so I created a fictional story inspired by his, from the perspective of a little girl whose life he changes. I contacted Mr. Romero, the writer, and Ms Canavesio, the filmmaker, and through them, reached Luis himself. I knew as I was writing this book that I wanted Luis’s blessing--I was lucky enough to get it, and to get to know Luis over the phone and through emails. When I first spoke to Luis over the phone and across thousands of miles, I was felt that I was in the presence of greatness—he is great man with a great heart. Luis shared with me his wish to sow the seeds of creativity and to cultivate dreams in the minds of children.
After talking with Luis, I felt inspired to write an imaginative rendering of Luis’s legacy—a legacy not only of literacy, but of sharing one’s own stories with the world. My story is about a creative little girl named Ana who loves books and reading, but who doesn’t have access to a library, books, or even a teacher. It’s her story of waiting, discovery, and finding a voice.
I hope that Ana’s story, like Luis Soriano’s vision, will inspire us all to be literacy workers and activist librarians, teachers, parents, and friends. What would you do to bring books to children? Would you ride a donkey for miles, risking attack and robbery? Would you build a library with your own hands? Luis Soriano did. And we can too.
Visit Monica at www.monicabrown.net
Watch the book trailer for Waiting for the Biblioburro