Wednesday, July 04, 2018

2018 Pura Belpré Award Celebración Acceptance Remarks

The authors and illustrators' acceptance remarks were delivered at the Belpré Celebración on Sunday, June 24, 2018, during the American Library Association Annual Conference. To read the complete remarks visit,

Ruth Behar received the 2018 (Pura) Belpré Author Award for Lucky Broken Girl (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Random). 

When I was growing up in Queens, New York, there was a Sunday ritual I remember fondly. In the summertime, my parents, and my brother and I, together with a big group of friends from Cuba, as well as my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, would make the trek to Jones Beach. It was a New York beach, as crowded as the subway in rush hour, and whoever arrived first staked out as much sand as they could and waited for the rest of us to get there.

We hung out on the beach all day. It wasn’t Cuba—the sand at Jones Beach was scratchy rather than silky, the ocean was cold and rough rather than a warm bath, but it was as close as we could get to the tropical island we had loved and lost.

At the end of the day, everyone went home and showered and in the evening the party reconvened at a favorite restaurant—Asia Continental on Roosevelt Avenue—a Chinese-Cuban restaurant where you could order egg drop soup and fried rice, black beans and fried plantains, and grilled steak and onions, with coconut an and fortune cookies for dessert. As the Chinese-Cuban waiters took our orders, I felt at home. They were mixing Chinese and Cuban cultures with the same ease and audacity with which we were braiding together Jewish and Cuban cultures.

Juana Martinez-Neal received the 2018 (Pura) Belpré Illustrator Award for La Princesa and the Pea (G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Random), written by Susan Middleton Elya.

I was born in Lima, Peru, a place where everything thought impossible is possible. A country rich in culture and beliefs, where we always make room for one more at our tables, homes, and hearts. The country of Machu Picchu, Cusco, llamas and alpacas, conquistadors, and the Incas. A country often romanticized because of these, too.

My parents came from two different worlds in Peru. My mom and her family came from the North. They were white matriarchs who got things done. My dad and his family were from the South. They were brown artists raised with less money and more books. My parents found each other in Lima and made a family together.

My dad was an artist, too. The subject matter of his work was the indigenous people of Peru—the same subject matter his father, who was also an artist, had chosen to paint decades before.

Pablo Cartaya received a 2018 (Pura) Belpré Author Honor for The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (Viking/Penguin Random).

I am here, aquí con todos ustedes, because of my abuelos. Well, I’m here because all of you honored my novel, and because I have the world’s best editor, and an incredible publisher, and team at Penguin Young Readers who made sure my book got out into the world. But really, it’s my abuelos who brought me here. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk about them for a moment:
I didn’t get enough time with my Abuela. Ella falleció cuando yo tenia solamente cinco años. But incredibly, I remember her so fondly. “Mi Pucho,” she used to tell me, a nickname that has carried me to this day. Okay, so embarrassing childhood name aside, I want to share why it was important for me to create the relationship between the titular character, Arturo Zamora, and his Abuela.

It is Abuela who helps him navigate life’s inevitable changes. Both from within as well as external forces from the outside. This relationship is one of the main plot threads of the novel and one that holds a very deep, very personal connection.

Celia C. Pérez received a 2018 (Pura) Belpré Author Honor for The First Rule of Punk (Viking/Penguin Random).

The first time I attended a Pura Belpré Celebración was in 2011 when the award was celebrating its quinceañera. Over the last seven years I’ve been in this room wearing different hats. I’ve been here as an audience member, swearing to myself that I wouldn’t cry this time and then, sure enough, bawling my eyes out as I listened to the authors and illustrators give touching speeches. I’ve been here as a volunteer, scrambling around taping papel picado and hanging rebozos. I’ve been here as a committee member, celebrating the writers and artists we selected as the best of that year. I’ve been here as a co-chair of CAYASC, the Children and Young Adult Services Committee of REFORMA, collecting winning books from publishers’ booths and welcoming attendees to the ceremony.

It’s hard to pick which of these experiences has been the most important to me because they have all been significant in different ways. I’ve had the opportunity to see what happens on both sides of this stage, the amount of work that goes into being on the committee, into planning this event, into writing a book, and it makes me feel so happy and so grateful to have had all of these opportunities. I love the Pura Belpré Celebración, no matter the role I’m filling. Perhaps next year I’ll infiltrate this event by trying to pass as a child performer! But today, I am here as a 2018 honor winner. Go figure!

Adriana M. Garcia received a 2018 (Pura) Belpré Illustrator Honor for All Around Us (Cinco Puntos), written by Xelena González.

Have you ever met up with your amiga for coffee to chat about your lives and vocalize the dreams you want to make real?

Well, that is how this crazy journey started. My dear friend Xelena and I spent many sessions challenging and encouraging one another to do exactly that which moves us, what makes our hearts beat con ganas.

Over three years ago, she asked if I would illustrate a story she wrote about circles. Before she could finish her sentence, I responded with an emphatic yes! Knowing her work and the soulful person she is, I knew it would be a beautiful, mindful story even before reading All Around Us. She finished her pitch with, “But I cannot pay you,” to which I didn’t flinch. After actually reading the story, my belief in her and the story solidified, and it became a mission.

John Parra received a 2018 (Pura) Belpré Illustrator Honor for Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos (NorthSouth/NordSüd Verlag), written by Monica Brown.

Last year I was inspired to begin a quest to map my family tree. Armed with some handed down stories, DNA tests from my parents, and a few background facts, I was off. I began with my father’s side, tracing his roots into Mexico. Questions swirled, “What town did my grandparents live in?” “When did they emigrate to the U.S.?” “Am I really related to Pancho Villa?” Thrilled to examine old records and historical photos, I found many connections with names and locations, familiar yet shrouded in mystery. I learned that my paternal grandfather, Delfino Sr., was born in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua in 1900. My Grandmother Adela was born in Guadalupe y Calvo, a mountainous mining town in 1904. Both came to the United States through El Paso, Texas, living in the little town of Canutillo. Eventually their family grew and migrated, to the central, San Joaquin Valley of California. To support themselves, my grandparents, along with my father and his siblings, became migrant farm workers, traveling up and down the state, picking potatoes in Bakersfield, prunes and cucumbers in Morgan Hill, or apples near Sonoma. It was a hard life but filled with family and love.

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