February 16, 2018

Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía Gonzalez, & Patrick Sullivan | Movers & Shakers 2015 — Advocates




Latino Children’s Literature Consultant, Austin, TX

MLS, Kent State University, OH, 2002

Past President REFORMA, Cofounder, Pura Belpré Award


Cochair, Children in Crisis; Director, North Miami Public Library, FL

MLIS, University of South Florida, Tampa, 1991

Past President, REFORMA

The Storyteller’s Candle: La velita de los cuentos (Lee & Low, 2008)


Cochair, Children in Crisis; Emeritus Librarian, San Diego State University

MLIS, San Jose State University, CA, 1995

International Students and Academic Libraries: Initiatives for Success (Assn. of College & Research Libraries, 2011)


REFORMA Children in Crisis

Photos by Bob Stefko and Judy Robuck (Sullivan)

For the Most Vulnerable

Inspired to action by the recent deluge of over 70,000 unaccompanied children crossing the southern border into the United States, Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía Gonzalez, and Patrick Sullivan spearheaded the Children in Crisis project in June 2014. The goal: to raise funds for books and backpacks for young refugees in detention centers across the country who awaited immigration processing or deportation.

The trio, longtime members of REFORMA, the National Association To Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos, faced an uphill battle, especially given the difficulty of navigating the many agencies and offices of the U.S. government. Aided by REFORMA members, especially president Silvia Cisneros, and publishers, vendors, and authors, they were able to complete the first phase of the drive, from August 11–22: they raised enough funds and donations to deliver 300 books to children in the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center. Since then the group has delivered several hundred more books, and hundreds more are awaiting distribution.

They’ve done much more, as well. They’ve been able to “provide library tours, help kids sign up for library cards, tell them stories in their native language, and let them know that libraries are safe places where they can find the information and people who can help them navigate the overwhelming systems that they have encountered,” says Sullivan, task force cochair.

The idea to help the children came from Latino children’s literature consultant and Pura Belpré Award cofounder Garza de Cortes, who believes strongly in the power of literacy and lifelong learning. “We as librarians…are charged with letting those kids know that they have a right to counsel—that the world at large is paying attention,” she says. “We used to say that books change lives. But in this case, books literally save lives. Information will save their lives. It’s the difference between staying here or being deported.”

Each of the books donated comes with a book plate translated by children’s author Gonzalez: “Un libro es un compañero que te da luz y cobijo” (“A book is a companion that gives you light and shelter”). Now a library director in North Miami, she first began as a children’s librarian under Marta Garcia, a student of Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. She sees this project as an extension of her work as a librarian. “[L]ibrarians should be reaching out to all…especially in underserved places where the immigrants haven’t yet been reached by libraries,” she says.

Sullivan says this project is a way to establish a lifelong relationship between the unaccompanied minors and libraries. “Through books and the worlds inside them, these children can see beyond their current predicament and experience new worlds that hopefully will unfold for them….”

Garza de Cortes, too, believes in the long-lasting impact of their efforts. “We’re building an Underground Railroad of books for the most vulnerable children.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Ann Marie Maloney says:

    This is a wonderful project. It serves a huge need and makes friends for the library at a young age. Keep up the good work.