Cindy: Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2021) introduces children to yet another helper, working to make his corner of the world just a little bit better. A whole lot better, really. This is the story of two Josés. One a small boy who gets through the week anticipating the joy of Saturday when he visits the other José (based on the real José Alberto Gutierrez, who opens his house to people in his community to browse his books, his personal library, and borrow what they want to read for the next week.
Mr. Guiterrez’s library is not fancy and the books aren’t pristine leather-bound volumes. José Gutierrez drives a garbage truck route in Bogotá, Colombia. As he collects trash each night, he looks for discarded books and collects them to add to his library. The books he finds on the street were his education as he was too poor to attend school and didn’t finish his high school education until he was in his fifties. His “spark” book was Anna Karenina and he never looked back but did decide to share his treasures with others.
The young José and other community members don’t waste this opportunity and flock to Mr. Gutierrez’s home to exchange their books every week. The power of books and reading and knowledge shines through the story, published in both English and Spanish editions.
Lynn: Librarians, teachers, and book lovers of all ages will be charmed by this story of an amazing man who takes his love of books and reading to a new level. José Alberto Gutierrez’s efforts to build and share a library are inspiring—especially when readers learn in the back matter that there are only nineteen libraries in the city of Bogata, Columbia, a city of ten million people! The Author’s Note provides more information about Gutierrez including the fact that he now also runs a foundation which provides books and reading material to schools and libraries across Columbia. And, portions of the proceeds from this picture book go to that foundation.
Paola Escobar’s digital illustrations are ideal for expanding and enhancing this wonderful story. I especially love the double-page spread of Gutierrez’s garbage truck journey across the city, showing him examining a discarded pile of books with his flashlight and the scenes of his library, books everywhere in towering stacks with happy readers making choices.
The back matter includes information on the featured books in the story and a selected list of online sources along with the Author’s Note in which Gutierrez reflects on on twenty years of creating his library, saying “My dream is to exchange my garage truck for a truck full of books and travel the country. I’m sure I can pull it off.” I think he can too!