Skip directly to content

Tomás and the Library Lady

Tomás and the Library Lady: Summary

The true-life story of Tomás Rivera, Tomás and the Library Lady tells the tale of a young boy who moves to from Texas to Iowa for the fruit picking season and falls in love with reading. It is not easy moving time and time again, but Tomás and his family are migrant workers who travel from state to state, helping farmers harvest their crops. When they arrive in Iowa for the summer, Tomás finds an escape from the scorching heat at the town library. Once inside, he also discovers a surprising world filled with dinosaurs, tigers, and a great new friend.


Reading Skills:

prediction, inference, character traits, envisioning, monitoring for meaning

Vocabulary/Background Information:

borrow, imagined, migrant workers
You may choose to introduce your students the history of migrant workers in the United States during and after the Great Depression. See websites below for historical information and images:


moving, bilingualism, reading, friendship, grandparents, family roles

Possible Discussion Questions

Before Reading

  • In thinking about the title and the cover of the text, what do you imagine the story will be about?
  • The title suggests the kind of events that may take place in the library. What do you know about libraries? Have you ever been to a library?

During Reading

  • How does Tomás feel about moving to Iowa?
  • Why did Papa Grande say Tomas knew all of his stories? How do you think he felt about that?
  • How did Tomás feel about going into the library for the first time? How do you know this? What picture does this make in your mind?
  • What does the author mean when he says, “He felt the warm neck of the dinosaur as he held on tight for a ride"?
  • How do you think the Library Lady feels about Tomás leaving? How do you know?

After Reading 

  • Reading books helped many people in the story. How has it helped: Tomás? His family? The Library Lady? You? How did reading help Tomás when we was living in a new place? What are some reason Tomás reads? What are some reasons you read?
  • Tomás Rivera became the director of a college and opened many libraries. What experiences from his childhood helped in his life?

Possible Response Activities

  • Have students go online and research the real Tomás Rivera. In groups or partners, have students compare the real life details from Tomás' life to the ones in the book.
  • Share the poem "Library Magic" by Pat Mora (see below). Have the students write essays, speeches, or persuasive essays on the importance of reading in Tomas' life using details from the poem and story.
  • Have student write a reflection on the importance of being bilingual. They can use details fro their own life or the text.
  • Postcards: Have student write postcards to the library lady from the perspective of Tomás. You may choose to break the students up into groups and assign different ages or stages from Tomas' life, so the students would have to imagine where Tomas may be or what he may doing.

Writing Activities

  • Tomás Rivera's life would have been very different without the help of the public library. School and public libraries play important roles in our society but are closing due to tight state budgets. Have students interview their school librarian, read articles, or view videos about closing libraries. Students could use their sources to create persuasive letters or opinion pieces on the importance of libraries in the community.
  • This text, as well as others, may lend itself to a biography unit or even historical fiction. You may choose to have students study more about the historical time period or larger themes like "Migrant Farmers." Students can use the text, photos, and video clips and imagine they are alive at that time. They can create short journal entries, letters, or or other primary source documents from the perspective of a child alive at this time.

Additional Resources

Printable Version

"Library Magic,"  a poem by Pat Mora

Highlights from the Seattle Children's Theater's production of Tomás and the Library Lady:

Highlights of the Tomás Rivera's life, scene from the play "Tomás and the Library Lady," and historic photos from the time period:

Text Read Aloud

Documentary on Migrant Workers