Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

This book depicts the real life experiences of Tomás Rivera, a son of migrant workers who valued education and ultimately rose to the position of chancellor at the University of California, Riverside. Tomás is the little son of migrant workers who leave their Texas home to seek employment in Iowa in Tomás and the Library Lady. Tomas’s parents were migrant workers in fields. They used to work in fields of Texas during winters picking fruits and vegetables. Then in Iowa in summers. Tomás was in Iowa for the summers. While his parents worked in the field he used to play with his brother. When it became too hot to play they would gather under a tree and listen to their Papá Grande tell them stories.

Tomas enjoyed listening to his Papá Grande. Papa Grande once remarked, “Tomás, you know all my stories. There are many more in the library. You are big enough to go by yourself. Then you can teach us new stories.”  Tomás goes to the library and is spell bound yet scared by the large building.

The librarian greets Tomás when he enters the library . She offers him a refreshing drink of water from the drinking fountain which she leads him there. She then brings him books on subjects he is interested in. That day, the librarian checks out books for Tomás in her name, and he leaves with them. This is the start of a lovely, albeit fleeting, friendship. In addition to providing Tomas with beautiful literature, the librarian also picks up some Spanish from Tomas. Too soon, his family will have to relocate once more, so he must educate her what “Adiós” means. The librarian accepts his gift of sweet bread in exchange for giving him a book to keep.

The world as seen through Tomas’ adolescent eyes is nicely captured in Colón’s soft-toned illustrations. The use of Spanish words in the book give the work cultural authority. Although this book is better suited for younger students, I really liked reading it, and I wouldn’t think twice about using it as a discussion starter with my high school students. A young child’s perspective on difficult life circumstances, such as the living conditions of migrant workers, may assist older students understand the emotions that youngsters feel in these circumstances.

Things that really touched me about the book was the Library Lady’s sensitivity, concern, and cultural awareness regarding young Tomas . She not only encourages his love of reading, but she is also highly aware of any potential issues and demands that can arise. It is heartwarming to read when Tomas first enters the library, the Library Lady offers him a refreshing glass of water to drink and signs the books out in her own name. This demonstrates the Library Lady’s consideration for the needs of migrant farm laborers who could lack money or library cards and who might also be thirsty and hot after a long trek, the Library Lady also has faith in Tomas that he would return books on time.

The Library Lady also asks Tomas to teach her some Spanish terms, demonstrating her interest in Tomas’ native tongue. She views Spanish as a language to be studied, a lovely language. The Library Lady never presumes that English or/and Anglo-American culture is in any way superior; she and Tomas respect each other’s customs. The Library Lady respectfully greets Tomas’s grandfather in Spanish when he brings him to the library, adding one last great touch about Tomas and the Library Lady. I do, in fact, adore Tomas and the Library Lady, and even the paintings that go along with it are inviting, warm, and excellent at capturing both the enchantment of books and the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

In addition, Tomas and the Library Lady clearly demonstrates the important responsibilities and obligations that teachers, librarians, and others have or should have towards making the educational experience wonderful and rewarding for everyone. This is perhaps most important of all for me as a school librarian. Because others may very possibly imitate the behaviour of a librarian or teacher who shows respect to a stranger, a recent immigrant, or a member of a visible minority (or to at least learn from this behaviour). On the other hand, a biased educator or librarian might also encourage others to mimic and accept that bigotry. Thus, Tomas’ Library Lady should be praised and viewed as an excellent example of how strangers, people of colour, and immigrants should be treated, i.e. with respect, friendliness, and complete acceptance.


Published by avid reader

Words do not describe a person. I am many things and yet nothing. I am an avid reader, reading her way through the pages of life. Some stories warm the heart and yet others have let me dry. I am a result of my life, and yet my life is part a result of me. Don't try to figure me.

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