WOW Review: Volume XII, Issue 3

Cover of Biblioburro depicting a man on a donkey reading a book as he travels to the right side of the cover.
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia
Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books, 2010, 32pp
ISBN: 978-1-4169-9778-8

Luis Soriano loved reading as a child and eventually earned a degree in Spanish literature by studying with a professor who visited his village twice monthly. As he read more and more books, his wife expressed concern over storage of the books in their home. Luis decided to share not only his books, but his love of reading across northern Colombia by using two burros to carry the books, and traveling from village to village so children would have access to stories and by extension, the worlds within those stories. Based on true events, Biblioburro is a picturebook for young children chronicling Soriano’s life as a traveling librarian.

Using pen-and-ink drawings filled with bright colors rendered in acrylic paint, Winter captures readers’ imaginations and hearts. The straightforward storyline is easy to follow and serves as an inspiration for young readers in respect to sharing and caring about the literary and literacy lives of others, and to the love of reading. In many ways, this is an adventure story full of the romance of the Colombian hills, the expectant children who read “deep into the night” and of Soriano himself who always returns to his home and reads deep into the night.

While glossing over of the details of Soriano’s life and the danger of his travels—he was held up at one point with a demand for his money—this book is ultimately a wonderful tribute to Soriano’s work and life. A primary teacher by profession, Soriano understood the power of story and reading on his students’ lives. This aspect of his life is not shared in the book, which leaves a reader without the full context of Soriano’s connection to community and regional development, a vital aspect of his story that would enhance young readers’ understandings of social and mutual responsibility for others. This book is a lovely read aloud for young children and a wonderful entrée into an inquiry for older readers about the world of traveling librarians and ways others share their love of literature.

Books that complement this text include the vast quantity of actual footage available on the internet about Soriano and his burros, Alpha and Beto. Books about traveling librarians include That Book Woman by Heather Henson and illustrated by David Small (2008), and Down Shin Cut Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer (2019). Another picturebook about Luis Soriano is Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra (2011). Then there is My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children around the World by Margriet Ruurs (2005). Books about reading and the love of language include Book by George Ella Lyon and Peter Catalanotto (1999); The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds (2018); The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (2014); and, the older but poignant, More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby and Chris Soentpiet (1995). For older readers who want to read more about the traveling librarians under Roosevelt’s Pack Horse Program in Kentucky and stories connected to its legacy throughout the 20th century, there is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (2019) or Jojo Moyes’ (2019) The Giver of Stars. Other books about writers and other librarians such as The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iraq also by Jeanette Winter (2005) and The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe and translated by Lilit Thwaites (2017) would add to a unit on reading, the love of language, and those willing to live their beliefs in reading and literacy.

Author Jeanette Winter lives in New York City and has written over a dozen books for young readers. She won the Jane Addams Award for Books for Young Readers. Many of her books are biographies that include not only Biblioburro, but Nasreen’s Secret School (2009), My Name is Georgia (1998) and Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan (2014). Her books often celebrate the courage of girls and women who dare to defy the status quo.

Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati

WOW Review, Volume XII, Issue 3 by World of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/xii-3/