Kid Lit Review of “Digging for Words” by Angela Burke Kunkel

This book tells the real story of José Alberto Gutiérrez, a garbage collector in Bogotá, Colombia, who spent over two decades beginning in 1997 rescuing discarded books and creating a free lending service for the poor in his community. He gained the nickname “The Lord of the Books,” calling his library (located in his own home) “The Strength of Words.” By some accounts he has helped more than 22,000 Colombians in vulnerable, mainly rural areas across the country to open their horizons to other worlds.

This book juxtaposes Gutiérrez’s story with that of a little boy, also named José, who counts the days until it is Saturday, when he and the other children in the neighborhood can visit Gutiérrez’s library.

Bogotá illustrator Paola Escobar has created animation-like depictions of the faraway times and places José is now able to visit through stories because of the library. The author writes of each book in the library:

“It opens to a place beyond the barrio, a place José cannot ride his bicicleta to. With each turn of the page, both Josés see something new – something different from the same streets and the same hills.”

The book concludes with an Author’s Note providing more background on Gutiérrez. We learn that he no longer collects garbage, but now runs a foundation he established, The Strength of Words, and addresses global audiences on the importance of literacy. Also included in the back matter is a description of the books featured in the illustrations that were particularly meaningful to Gutiérrez, and a selection of online resources.

Evaluation: This wonderful story has so many lessons. Even if you or those around you think your job may not mean much, you can still make a huge difference in the lives of others with a little vision and perseverance.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2020

José Alberto Gutiérrez and his books

About rhapsodyinbooks

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1 Response to Kid Lit Review of “Digging for Words” by Angela Burke Kunkel

  1. Those illustrations are *gorgeous*, wow. I’m blown away.

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