Module 10 — Historical Fiction

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Module 10 — Historical Fiction


Mora, P.  (2009).  Tomas and the library lady.  New York, NY: Paw Prints.


This story, based on events in the life of Tomas Rivera, shows the difference that books, the library, and caring adults can make in the mental and emotional lives of a child.   Rivera, the author of the acclaimed novel ...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, was a child of migrant farm workers who went on to earn a doctorate and become a university chancellor.  In Tomas and the Library Lady, the young Tomas is welcomed into a world of learning and the imagination by a kind librarian who lets him check out books on her card.  He becomes a storyteller to his family with the encouragement of his wise and loving grandfather.

My Impressions

That this story comes from the life of a writer for whom I have strong respect makes it especially moving for me. The illustrations add a lot to the story, with young Tomas visualizing himself among dinosaurs and in the midst of other adventures.  This book shows the power of learning and of the library and it shows that caring adults can be so important to kids. This is a great book to show kids how a writer’s vivid imagination was sparked by the ideas he encountered in the books from the library shelves.


Elleman, B. (1997, Oct.). [Review of the book Tomas and the library lady]. School Library Journal, 43, 105.

Gr 2-4–Tomas Rivera, who at his death in 1984 was the Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, grew up in a migrant family. Here, Mora tells the fictionalized story of one summer in his childhood during which his love of books and reading is fostered by a librarian in Iowa, who takes him under her wing while his family works the harvest. She introduces him to stories about dinosaurs, horses, and American Indians and allows him to take books home where he shares them with his parents, grandfather, and brother. When it is time for the family to return to Texas, she gives Tomas the greatest gift of all–a book of his own to keep. Colon’s earthy, sun-warmed colors, textured with swirling lines, add life to this biographical fragment and help portray Tomas’s reading adventures in appealing ways. Stack this up with Sarah Stewart and David Small’s The Library (Farrar, 1995) and Suzanne Williams and Steven Kellogg’s Library Lil (Dial, 1997) to demonstrate the impact librarians can have on youngsters.

Rochman, H. (1997, Aug.). [Review of the book Tomas and the library lady]. Booklist, 93, 1906.

Books for Youth, For the Young: Ages 4-8. From the immigrant slums of New York City to the fields of California, it’s an elemental American experience: the uprooted child who finds a home in the library. Mora’s story is based on a true incident in the life of the famous writer Tomas Rivera, the son of migrant workers who became an education leader and university president. Far from his home in Texas, the small boy is working with his family picking corn in Iowa. Inspired by the Spanish stories his grandfather (Papa Grande) tells, Tomas goes to the library to find more stories. The librarian welcomes him into the cool, quiet reading room and gives him books in English that he reads to himself and to his family. He teaches her some Spanish words. Then, as in so many migrant stories, the boy must leave the home he has found. He has a new, sad word for her, “adios. It means goodbye.” Colon’s beautiful scratchboard illustrations, in his textured, glowingly colored, rhythmic style, capture the warmth and the dreams that the boy finds in the world of books. The pictures are upbeat; little stress is shown; even in the fields, the kids could be playing kick ball or listening to stories. Perhaps the most moving picture is that of the child outside the library door, his face pressed against the pane. In contrast is the peaceful space he finds inside, where he is free to imagine dinosaurs and wild adventure.

Using in the Library

Tomas Rivera, like labor leader Cesar Chavez and writer Francisco Jimenez, was the child of migrant workers and grew up while moving around the country, attending many schools and always working hard.  Present a book talk featuring books about/by these three children of migrant workers who became very influential and important to American history and culture.  In the book talk also present novels that show the experience of families of migrant workers, such as Lupita Manana and Esperanza Rising.


About Boyd Waltman

Boyd Waltman is a film editor in Houston, Texas.
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