Imagine owning just one book. Ana loves to read, but books are hard to come by in her tiny Columbian village. She’s read her only book so many times she can recite it from memory. So at night she makes up fantastic stories of her own, filling the house with tales of strange lands and flying beasts.
Then comes the Biblioburro. Like the rural version of a bookmobile, this librarian travels from village to village with two book-toting burros. He reads to the village kids, teaches the little ones their letters, and lets them borrow any book they like before riding away with a promise to return. Ana reads. And reads. And reads, until her dreams are filled with books—except this time she’s not a receiver but a giver of books flying high above the land, dropping stories into the arms of kids waiting below.
The book would be quite good if it ended here. Books, cute kids, a traveling librarian making a difference—and it’s all based on the real-life Biblioburro Foundation. What could be more inspirational? Try this: Ana doesn’t just read the books. While waiting for the Biblioburro’s return, she writes her own story and binds the pages with string. Then, when the librarian returns, Ana gives him her book, which he brings on his journey, and someday it will be read by another child in another village, a child who sleeps dreaming of books…
There’s something fairy tale-ish about Waiting for the Biblioburro. You’ve got the damsel in distress (a little girl with an abundance of imagination) and a prince (or burros, rather, led by a librarian) who changes her life. John Parra’s whimsical illustrations add another layer of gloss. When we first meet Ana she’s asleep in a beautiful red-roofed house surrounded by stars and butterflies and leafy plants. The villagers all seem happy, and even the animals smile in a Disney kind of way (it makes the burros look adorable and the goats rather confused—probably because they’ll get roasted at some point to grace a dinner table). But the fairy tale comparison only goes so far: Ana ends up empowered, not rescused. You can’t help feel the thrill as her book travels across the land, just like in her dream. Kudos to Parra, too, for bringing Ana’s imagination to life. He surrounds her with castles and magical animals every time she reads or dreams, so that the pictures tell a tale of their own. Stories within stories: the perfect recipe for a great book.