Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built / Rescatando palabras: José Alberto Gutiérrez y la biblioteca que creó

Hello, Angela Burke Kunkel! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built and Rescatando palabras: José Alberto Gutiérrez y la biblioteca que creó. What ran thorugh your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Paola Escobar’s illustrations.

Angela Burke Kunkel: Hi John. Thank you so much for having me and for sharing Digging for Words with your readers! Isn’t Paola’s artwork absolutely stunning? Honestly, the first time I saw it I cried. And I don’t even cry easily! It was clear from the very first sketches that Paola was meant to do this book! 

Ann Kelley, Digging’s editor at Schwartz & Wade, had Paola in mind from the very beginning. When I looked her up I saw her gorgeous cover for Planting Stories, her incredible book with Anika Aldamuy Denise on the life of librarian Pura Belpré. The warmth and detail of that illustration was amazing and the exact kind of tone I hoped for with Digging. Even that preview, though, didn’t prepare me for the incredible work Paola would do for this book. As a picture book author, you’re constantly being reminded how important it is to leave room for the illustrator. This has never been clearer to me since seeing Digging in its final form. As a Colombian artist, Paola gave José’s barrio and library, as well as the literary works mentioned in the book, a level of detail and heart I can’t imagine they’d have otherwise. I can’t even separate those words I first wrote from Paola’s art now. They wouldn’t work without her vision. 

Please booktalk Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built and Rescatando palabras: José Alberto Gutiérrez y la biblioteca que creó using 280 characters or fewer. 

Angela: Digging/Rescatando is based on the true story of José Alberto Gutiérrez, a garbage collector in Bogotá, Colombia who started a library for the children of his neighborhood entirely from books found in the trash. It’s a story about how anyone can share a love of reading and books. 

What are some titles your students are currently excited about in your school library?

Angela: I work with tweens and teens in a grade 7-12 school, and while we have a growing picture book collection, we talk a lot about middle grade and young adult books! One book that has consistently made the rounds for years, among all sorts of readers, is Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down--- I can’t keep it on the shelf, and for that reason I will sing its praises every chance I get. I’m excited that students in a newly formed Racial & Social Justice Alliance I help advise are reading books like Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. And middle school students and I have raved about Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker and Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home. Oh! And also George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, which I would love to see used in classrooms as well. My students and I are always on the lookout for graphic novels, novels-in-verse, and books that take on topics we’re wondering and talking about. 

Please finish the following sentence starters: 

José Alberto Gutiérrez is just a wonderful person! He has fully embraced this project from the get-go. José and I, along with the friend who first connected us, are talking about another possible library project in rural Colombia--- I hope to share more details on that soon. His commitment to books and to children is inspiring, and it was incredible to learn how much his project has grown since that first book he discovered in the trash years ago. 

School libraries are essential. They’re not extras, they’re not something to be cut in a budget crisis. School libraries provide learning and literacy experiences for all students, and are learning partners with teachers as well partners with the wider community. They’re also spaces for individual ideas and passions! Where else in a school can a student walk in and literally pluck anything they want off a shelf? Think about how empowering that is for a young person, and how it encourages them to develop their thinking and learning.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the simultaneous publication in English and Spanish! I worked at Truman Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a decade. It is an incredible school (hi Tigers!!) with a nationally-recognized dual language education program, and working there changed me as a teacher. I’m so grateful that Schwartz & Wade decided to publish Digging and Rescatando at the same time, and that students will have a chance to read about José in both languages.

Look for Digging for Words on September 8, 2020. 

A gorgeous and inspiring picture book based on the life of José Alberto Gutiérrez, a garbage collector in Bogotá, Colombia who started a library with a single discarded book found on his route.

In the city of Bogata, in the barrio of La Nueva Gloria, there live two Joses. One is a boy who dreams of Saturdays-- that's the day he gets to visit Paradise, the library. The second Jose is a garbage collector. From dusk until dawn, he scans the sidewalks as he drives, squinting in the dim light, searching household trash for hidden treasure . . . books! Some are stacked in neat piles, as if waiting for José́. Others take a bit more digging. Ever since he found his first book, Anna Karenina, years earlier, he's been collecting books--thick ones and thin ones, worn ones and almost new ones-- to add to the collection in his home. And on Saturdays, kids like little Jose run to the steps of Paradise to discover a world filled with books and wonder.

With an evocative text by a debut author, and rich, stunning illustrations from an up-and-coming Colombian illustrator, here is a celebration of perseverance, community, and the power of books.

Look for Rescatando palabras on September 8, 2020. 

Un espléndido e inspirador álbum ilustrado acerca de la vida de José Alberto Gutiérrez,
un recolector de basura de Bogotá, Colombia, que creó una biblioteca a partir de un libro que rescató de la basura mientras realizaba su ruta.

En la ciudad de Bogotá, en el barrio La Nueva Gloria, viven dos Josés. Uno es un niño que sueña con los sábados, día en que él y otros niños del barrio visitan el Paraíso, la biblioteca. El otro José es un recolector de basura. Desde el atardecer hasta el amanecer, escudriña las aceras de las calles por donde conduce entornando los ojos bajo la tenue luz en busca de tesoros escondidos… ¡Libros! Algunos en pilas ordenadas, como a la espera de que José los descubra. Otros requieren más esfuerzo para ser encontrados. Desde que descubrió el primer libro, Ana Karenina, José ha estado rescatando libros de la basura: libros gruesos, delgados, usados y casi nuevos, para ampliar la biblioteca que alberga en su casa. Y los sábados, niños como el pequeño José corren hasta llegar al Paraíso y descubrir un mundo lleno de libros y magia.

Con un evocador texto de una autora debutante y llamativas ilustraciones de una prometedora ilustradora colombiana, esta es una celebración de perseverancia, de comunidades y del poder de los libros.


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