Fifteen years ago poet, writer, and literacy advocate Pat Mora started a celebration of bilingual literacy called El día de los niños/El día de los libros. Generally celebrated by libraries and the education community around April 30, the celebration of bilingual literacy--in any combination of languages--celebrates its quinceañera this year. A native Texan and a real sweetheart, we are proud to feature Pat and honor her work on behalf of all children.
TXS&S: How did you get started in writing generally, and specifically, how did you get started writing for young people?
PM: My mom, my children and I were all born in El Paso. I became interested in children’s books when I was sharing picture books with my three little ones years ago. Those children’s books look so easy, don’t they? Not that many words and then the illustrators do so much of the work. Problem is thousands reach the same conclusion and submit and submit manuscripts.
TXS&S: Tell us a bit about El día de los niños/El día de los libros and why you started this celebration. What plans are in the works for the 15th anniversary of Día?
PM: I’ve written that I was zapped by “Día,” as we call it. In 1996, while visiting Tucson, I learned of the Mexican tradition of El día del niño (The Day of the Child) celebrated on April 30th. What a great notion, I thought, adding Children’s Day to our popular and important annual celebrations, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Immediately, I also thought, and what about combining the idea of celebrating children with connecting them with books? I’m going to be in Tucson for Día’s 15th Anniversary this April 30th, thanks to ALSC, and I hope to go back to the spot on the U of A campus where I was zapped.
Día, now housed at ALSC, a division of ALA, is a community-based, family literacy commitment whose goal is to connect all children with books, languages and cultures day by day, día por día. Culminating celebrations are held across the country in April.
Let me add that my friend and a great Día supporter, Jeanette Larson, quickly volunteered to help years ago and quickly got Día on the Web. Even her husband Jim helped by designing some art for a first Día booklet produced by Jeanette. This spring, she’s publishing a book on Día. Thanks, Jeanette!
TXS&S: Do you have a favorite or two from among the many books you have written?
PM: Audiences of all ages ask this question. I always answer, “My next book.” Right now, my daughter Libby, a lawyer, and I are revising a picture book about a special aunt of ours, the star of my first book, A BIRTHDAY BASKET FOR TÍA. This is our first collaboration. Such fun!
TXS&S: What is your relationship, if any, like with the people who illustrate your books?
PM: In the U.S., publishers keep authors and illustrators apart from one another. You know what terribly pushy people authors can be—right? After all, I’m a full five feet three inches. I’ve always enjoyed meeting the illustrators--post-publication. I’m deeply grateful to them of course.
TXS&S: Explain bookjoy and tell us where you find your own bookjoy.
PM: Thanks for asking! I coined the term years ago and have written and spoken about it. It’s also the theme of my blog, http://sharebookjoy.blogspot.com/ Readers immediately smile when I use the term bookjoy since they experience the private pleasure that makes us readers.
Thanks to my wonderful mom and to teachers and librarians in my life, I’ve always been a reader. I have wonderful childhood memories of reading in bed, of going to the Summer Reading Club. A favorite part of my day is the evening when I stretch out on the living room sofa and read. I do try to read in bed after that, but I’m usually asleep in five minutes. My youngest, Cissy, used I say I was going to be knocked out by a book.
TXS&S: Your website is quite extensive and you also host a blog. What do you hope to accomplish with these tools and what challenges have you faced with them?
PM: A wonderful team helps me with the site, blog and e-newsletter or I couldn’t have this Web presence since Día is a very time-consuming initiative. We recently re-designed the blog and are in the process of re-designing the site. At this time in my life and because of the literacy advocacy to which I am committed, I have a particular desire to reach out to educators—teachers, librarians, and professors which is why I wrote my last book, ZING! SEVEN CREATIVITY PRACTICES FOR EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS. We’ll be hosting our second annual Díapalooza on the blog in April. In May, I’m changing the focus more toward creativity and will write more about my work and interview people around the country doing creative work.
TXS&S: How do you see reading changing for children in the next couple of years? What challenges do you see for readers?
PM: I’d be naive if I didn’t realize that media entertainment, or should I say distraction, makes it harder to lure non-readers and even indifferent readers to create the quiet and the habit of daily reading. When we started Día, we were focused on the children, but we quickly realized that we need to promote reading families. If everyone is watching TV or playing video games, how likely is it that children, teens—and even adults—will choose quiet, a necessary aspect of becoming and remaining a reader. Thanks to the amazing educators including librarians that I have the privilege of meeting and hearing from, I remain full of hope that together we can creatively share bookjoy. What’s at stake? Only a true democracy. Children’s books are great fun. They’re also serious business.
Pat Mora will be signing at the Texas Library Association on Wednesday, April 13 from 10:15 a.m.-11:00 a.m. in the author autographing area.