Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Library for Juana

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Ines by Pat Mora. Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal.

I enjoy shelving in the children's section of the library even though the work itself is physically much harder than in the adult section. I smile when I see that titles which I loved as a child are still being checked out. And it's a pleasure to discover that some of my favorite childhood authors have written books that I've never had the opportunity to read.

I'm also fascinated by how the selection of nonfiction books has changed over the years. I suppose that's partly a reflection of what sort of reports are assigned by the local schools, which in turn are influenced by what topics our society currently deems important (or at least, fashionable).

The biography section seems to have a much wider selection than when I was young. Although I could wish that there were fewer books about media celebrities, I am pleased that the current emphasis on "diversity" has brought young readers biographies whose subjects lived in countries and time periods less commonly featured when I was young.

A Library for Juana is a biography in picture book format about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a literary nun who lived in 17th century Mexico. The book focuses on young Juana's love of books and study. She grew up in the home of her grandfather who had an extensive library, and she learned to read and write at the age of three, following her older sister to school despite having been told that she was too young to attend. She began to write poetry while still a little girl and hoped someday to study at the university in Mexico City because its library housed thousands of books. When told that only men could attend the university, she appeared at dinner the next day wearing boy's clothes. "I'm practicing so I can go to the university in Mexico City when I'm older. . . I want to study about music and plants and stars. I want to write poems."

Eventually, Juana was sent to Mexico City -- first to live with relatives who hired tutors for her, and later at the viceroy's palace as a lady-in-waiting where she continued to read, study, and write. Eventually she entered a convent where, in addition to serving as accountant and librarian, she produced a prodigious literary output in both poetry and prose. Her own personal library became one of the largest in the Americas.

What shines throughout this book is Juana's love of books, reading, and learning. How could I not love it? The illustrations, executed in watercolor and gouache, give the reader a vivid sense of the time and place in which she lived.


Sherwood said...

That sounds lovely.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. As a Catholic convert who also loves books, I'm definitely adding you to my bloglines.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thanks! BTW, did you know that I also have a sewing/quilting blog? It's called Quilting Bibliophagist.