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Perez and Martina

by Pura Belpré and illustrated by Carlos Sanchez (Penguin, 1932)

“This story runs from mouth to mouth but has never been published. The story is told here in the way it come down to me from my grandmother” - Pura Belpré

Full of funny animal sounds and repetition, Perez y Martina is meant to be shared aloud. An adaptation of a Spanish folktale, it’s the charming story of a beautiful cockroach named Martina, and her beloved mouse Perez.

Author Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York Public Library system and used her role as an educator and storyteller to welcome New York’s growing Hispanic community to the library. At the time NYPL required that all stories shared during storytimes come from books and when Belpré could not find any Spanish-language children’s books on the shelves, she wrote them herself. Perez y Martina became the first Spanish language book for kids published by a mainstream U.S. press.

Belpré’s commitment to all children endures not only through the books she wrote and translated, but also in the American Library Association Award named in her honor. Since 1996, the Pura Belpré Award honors a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”


In honor of Belpré, The Rabbit hOle’s Perez y Martina exhibit is a larger-than-life recreation of the iconic Romeo-and-Juliet-esque scene of the pretty Spanish cockroach at her balcony and the elegant Perez bowing to her. Inside Martina’s house visitors will explore her kitchen, where Perez meets his tragic demise, and interact with several elements that celebrate Belpré’s storytelling and legacy. One of the windows of Martina’s house will function as a puppet theater, with puppets similar to the ones Belpré made and used in her storyhours. An entire wall of her home will prominently display every book to win a Pura Belpré Award as well as honorees.

In the spirit of the welcoming environment Belpré created for all children as a librarian, the layout of our exhibit is open and inviting. Martina’s house will provide an ideal setting for special storytimes and other pop-up programming related to Belpré’s life and books.