Kunkel, Anglea Burke. Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2020.

Two Josés live in the La Nueva Gloria neighborhood of Bogotá, Columbia. They both love books and they both look forward to Saturdays. Why? It’s the day Grown-up José opens the library he created to all the people who live in his neighborhood. Young José waits all week to visit the library to pick out a book to take home and read. José’s library holds all types of books for readers young and old, all delighting in selecting just the right story.  Grown-up José is a garbage collector by night and keeps a keen eye out for discarded books on his route and then brings them back to his library.

This is a charming story that highlights the adventure and fun that can happen through a great book, as well as the efforts of one man to bring literacy to his neighborhood. The digitally rendered illustrations bring to life the daily routines of both Josés, and the places their imaginations go when the read. The text is mostly English, but there are Spanish words worked into the text, too.

According to the Author’s note, there are only nineteen libraries in all of Bogotá, a city of more than 10 million people. Until José the garbage collector took matters into his own hands, there wasn’t any library service at all in the Josés’ neighborhood. Several books are described when characters read them, and those books are listed at the back of the book, just in case anyone is curious to read them, too.

Digging for Words should be a purchase for any picture book collection!

Dewey: E                                                                      Interest Level: PreK-Gr 2

Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Horn Book Magazine; Kirkus Reviews starred; SLJ Xpress starred.

Another great story about a librarian: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Denise.
And another story about making something great out of something discarded: Ada’s Violin: the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood.
On the web: an article from the BBC about the real José: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-40173423