Pat Mora: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 08.10.2010

>> Announcer: From the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

>> My name is Sydney Trent,
and I'm a senior editor at the Washington Post.
I edit for the Washington Post magazine and for Style.
And I am also a mother of two young girls.
And so I'm particularly happy to be here in the children's tent,
because I know that when you're really trying to get children
to read, with all the competition that's out there --
video, TV, texting -- that you really need great children's book
authors to get them attached to the books.
And there's no better friend
than a really wonderful children's book author.
And we have one here today, and that is Pat Mora.
Okay. Pat a -- she's a literacy advocate, and she's excited
about what she calls "bookjoy".
She founded the family literacy initiative, El Dia de los Ninos,
El Dia de los Libros, Children's Day, Book Day,
now housed at the American Library Association.
The year-long commitment to daily linking all children to books,
languages and cultures culminates in celebrations
across the country on or near April 30th.
Her book titled Book Fiesta, Celebrate Children's Day, Book Day,
Celebremos El Dia de los Ninos, El Dia de los Libros,
HarperCollins, promotes the Dia spirit.
Mora's haiku collection about foods of the Americas, "Yum!
Mmm! Que rico!"
-- I wish I could roll my Rs, but --
won the Americas award and was an ALA notable book.
"Dona Flor, A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman
With a Great Big Heart" was also an ALA notable book
that received a Pura Belpre Author Honor Award and a Golden Kite Award
from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Mora lives in New Mexico.
And here she is.
[ Applause ]
>> It is so great to be back at the book festival.
This is my third visit.
The first one I was sick as a dog.
The second one I was afraid I would be sick again.
And this one I didn't even worry, so --
buenos tardes, thank you all for being here.
I would have been very sad to be in the tent by myself.
So I thank you.
It's a little toasty.
There's no doubt about that.
And there's part of me a little longing
for a little New Mexico breeze, but there's nothing quite
like the National Book Festival, and one of the things we're encouraged
to do is not to read to you, but to chat a little bit
about what we do and why we do it.
I had the wonderful experience in the media tent a little bit ago
to be interviewed by kids.
And I have to tell you, I write both for adults and children,
but for those of us who do both, there is nothing like the affection
of young people, you know.
So my friends who write only
for adults don't know what they are missing, because kids have a way
of making us feel like rock stars.
So I had three little kids from close
by who had all prepared wonderful questions.
They were not bilingual, but they were kids who were
in a bilingual immersion school, and I loved their questions.
And then there was a group of students from Delaware
who have their own television program.
And they were here, and each child asked me questions.
So...I coined the word "bookjoy", because I so love books.
I love reading them and I love writing them.
And one of the things that both groups of children asked me is,
what's the best thing about your job?
And I said, "Well, probably that I get to spend time by myself."
And that's an odd thing for young people growing
up in our very noisy culture, I think, to understand.
But in point of fact, we can't be talking to them
about reading, if we're not readers.
So I spend a lot of my life talking to teachers and librarians.
How many of you are teachers or librarians?
God bless you, you know.
God bless you.
That is such hard work.
And you all are the people who often connect what we do as authors
with the kids in your more and more diverse classrooms.
And if we're going to have a democracy at all --
and one of the great things about the book festival is,
it has now become bipartisan, right?
So it was started during the Bush administration by Laura Bush.
I'm a Texan by birth.
And she brought the Texas Book Festival to DC.
But the great thing is, now with the Obamas we still have the National
Book Festival, and we heard last night
that a very generous donor has guaranteed five more years
of funding.
I also want to be sure to say for all these people in the red shirts,
that in my other life I was a university administrator,
and staff never get respect.
So I do -- you know, I thank all the people at the Library of Congress.
Yeah, it's an amazing job [applause].
It's an amazing job.
I have a wonderful young man sitting quietly back here hoping nobody will
notice him, named David, who has taken care of me all day long,
and without him I would not have been here on time.
I would not, you know, seemed fairly calm.
So I can't say enough about the volunteers.
I'm gonna touch on a few books, and then mostly
on the book that's being featured here in Book Fiesta.
A couple of the new books I have -- one of the questions people ask is,
where do you get your ideas for books?
And I have on my computer a list of the books I want
to write while I'm on this earth.
And so I add to that list, and sometimes one of the books kind
of moves up, but I'm -- but sometimes --
not always, but sometimes -- people give me ideas.
And at first when people say,
"I know the next book you should write,"
I actually tense up a little bit.
Because I'm very protective about this list
that I've got on my computer, right?
And I don't want them to feel that they're orphans,
and that I'm not gonna get back to them.
But in fact, the last recent books -- one, "Dizzy, Poems About Love,"
was a Texas librarian who said, "Why don't you write a book
of love poems for teens?"
And I kind of burst out laughing, and I said, "Love poems for teens?"
And then I started asking teachers and librarians as I traveled,
and here was what tipped it.
One librarian said, "Yes, because, not only do the girls read them,
but the boys read them and sign their names."
And though I may be against plagiarism,
that was a temptation I could not pass up.
That was a joyous, joyous book for me to write.
And then, because teachers and librarians often say to me,
you know, I want to do what you do.
I want to be a writer, but my colleagues don't know.
Tell me what to do.
So I actually wrote a book of letters called "Zing,
Seven Practices for Educators and Their Students," about seven ways
that I think we can foster our own creativity.
We are all creative, right?
Everybody in the tent is creative.
It's just we need to foster that.
And then, if we need to foster it, how do we foster
that feeling in all of our students.
And of course for me the emphasis is always the word all.
Not in some of our students, but all of our students.
Book Fiesta also involved -- evolved by by someone sort of suggesting it.
I had started -- it'll be 15 years in April --
and my wonderful web team is here, so I have to be sure to tell you
that we worked very hard on the website,
and I hope you will visit it, because there's a lot of information
about this literacy --
family literacy project, that's on the website.
And we started out -- it's got a long name, right?
So it gives you a chance to practice your Spanish.
It's called El Dia de los Ninos, El Dia de los Libros,
Children's Day, Book Day.
And I really started it when I was being interviewed in Arizona
and someone said to me, "Will you tape some of your books in Spanish?
Some of my books are in English, some are bilingual.
And -- because I want to play them on the radio."
And I said, "Well, for what?"
And she said, "Well, for Dia del Nino."
And I said, "Gee, I'm from the border,
and I've never heard of this."
And she said, "Oh, yes, in Mexico on April 30th the schools
and the parents have this big celebration for kids,
and maybe it's a picnic or treats or whatever."
So I walked out of the building, and it was like something hit me
on the head, and I thought, well,
we oughtta have Children's Day, Book Day.
You know, we have such a literacy challenge in this country.
We heard statistics last night, one of 'em I'm still reeling from,
that 80% of the families
in this country did not buy one book last year.
And I'm trying to believe that's not true.
But, we know that we have a real literacy crisis.
And, you know, if we don't have readers,
pretty soon we don't have people who understand what's going
on in our political life, and in our financial life, etc., etc.,
etc. So I do feel passionately about this, because I'm lucky enough
to be a reader, and I think every one of you is, too, right?
So, when we've been given this gift that we didn't earn, somehow we have
to share it, and that's really what Dia is all about.
So the -- in April we will have the 15th anniversary, and schools
and libraries plan something special,
book parades and, you know, contests.
Usually they give away free books.
And so, if you come from a community that isn't celebrating Dia,
I am deputizing you to go out and do this.
So the book was actually evolved -- it's called "Book Fiesta".
The illustrations are unbelievable.
And when I visit elementary schools -- and I'm very lucky, you know,
because I write for both adults and children,
sometimes in the same day I may go talk to graduate students
about the adult work, and in the afternoon I go talk
to second-graders.
And sometimes the second-graders pay more attention
than the graduate students.
But the -- it's always a disappointment to the kids
when I say to them, now, you know, I did not do the illustrations.
And I see on their little faces that they're thinking,
then why did we invite you to our school [laughter]?
And when they ask me -- and the students did this morning, you know,
they said, well, why -- have you ever illustrated your own book?
And I said, "Well, if you'd ever seen me draw,
you wouldn't ask that."
You know, some years back, when Pictionary was so popular,
my family was playing it and nobody wanted to be my partner.
But I'm incredibly grateful to the illustrators.
You know, for picture books the illustrator is key.
So an editor happened to say to me, well, I want to do something
to help promote the Dia concept, you know, this idea of children's day,
book day, and linking all children to books, languages and cultures.
And she said, "So we ought to produce a book."
She was an editor with HarperCollins.
And initially she said, "Well, I think it should be a story."
And I said, "Well, it's gonna be kind of a tough --
a tough thing to write a story."
I had already written, some of you know the book "Tomas
and the Library Lady," about -- a true story about Tomas Rivera,
a migrant worker from Crystal City, Texas, who, thanks to books
and a wonderful librarian in his life, his wonderful parents,
he went on to become the president of the University
of California at Riverside.
So it was an amazing journey that this little boy made,
and I love to talk to children about this book.
Because, you know, we say to them anybody can be President.
But in a way, we're a little cynical about that, right?
I mean, we are a little cynical about that.
But with Tomas's story, we really have a concrete and true example
of a boy whose family did not speak English,
did not have economic resources, but he goes on and, yes, there's the,
you know, the -- a librarian takes an interest
in him, his family supports him.
Parts that are not in the book for children
but that I think it's important that we know.
When he got his first degree,
he was an English major in the state of Texas.
Nobody was gonna hire him to teach English.
Why? He was bilingual.
How could someone who was bilingual teach English.
So I like we've progressed beyond some of this, right?
But the other thing that I find about talking about Tomas is,
kids have no idea what a migrant worker is.
And sometimes the kids who don't know what a migrant worker is have
migrant families, you know, maybe two miles away.
So as I say to kids, how do we think the strawberries got to the store?
You know. The idea that someone is bending over in the hot sun,
this whole piece of how we eat those delicious red bites is somehow lost
on our kids.
So Tomas was a great way to talk about that,
and I felt that to do another book like that, a story,
I didn't know that that was going to be the thing for Dia.
So this book really, I wanted
to show kids how books are wonderful in outrageous places.
And so the way I wrote it, and the way the illustrator did it,
is that the kids are reading their books in the hot air balloon,
they're reading their books in the mouth of a whale,
they're reading their books on top of an elephant,
and it just keeps reinforcing that idea
of just the pleasure of reading.
I was interviewed a few minutes ago by a publication that works
with childcare workers, and they asked me, "Well, what would you say
to people who are working with the really little ones about how
to use these bilingual books," because I mentioned
that in honest moments, sometimes teachers and librarians would say
to me, "Well, I would like to use the bilingual books,
but I'm not bilingual."
And I love to stress the fact that, you know, if you're at the front
of a room, just like if you're at the head of the family,
right, you have a lot of power.
Teachers and librarians have a lot of power.
And so if you're holding up and sharing bilingual books,
what you're saying to your bilingual students,
whether they speak Japanese or Arabic at home, you're saying,
you know, languages matter, languages are beautiful.
And to say to those kids, you know, I only speak one language,
how many of you speak more than one?
I love this story.
I visited one -- an international school in Colorado.
One of the little guys spoke five languages.
So I say to kids, never think there isn't room
in your head for these languages.
Of course there is.
I want to be sure we have time for questions.
And we have a timekeeper with a big smile up here.
So I'm hoping you're gonna have questions.
We have a mike here.
Is that it?
All right.
Oh, and a mike there.
So although I haven't talked about, you know, a lot of the other books,
you can ask me about whatever you want,
but don't leave me up here by myself.
So be bold.
I always say to audiences, if you were third-graders,
you would all have lined up.

>> When you write about in Spanish, and you write about in English,
do you think that the thought of Spanish, like Spanish will overcome
in certain way the English.
What I want to mean is, I am that teacher of ESL.
I have teach four years.
My first language is Spanish.
So my drama is, should I transfer the strength of English
like English, or should I reserve that strength
of the Spanish and the English.
>> Alright, it's a great question about, you know,
Spanish was his first language, and -- I am bilingual.
All of my grandparents came from Mexico at the time
of the Mexican Revolution.
However, I have always been bilingual.
So I have no memory of not speaking both.
And because I have spent my entire professional life in English,
I always say I am bilingual, but English dominant.
I know all the rules in English.
I know when I can break them and when I can't, although I have
to say I heard more grammatical errors this morning
from some very -- people in very prestigious places.
So we all know that, you know --
what we talk about English grammar is changing every minute.
So I start out in English.
I did do one long poem -- I had two wonderful parents.
When my dad died, I wanted
to do really something special to honor him.
And so I did a long poem completely in Spanish.
And that was a real challenge, not because of the Spanish,
but because I did a poetic form popular
on the border called the corrido.
So I was both learning the form, and I was sitting in Cincinnati, Ohio,
with my Spanish-English dictionary and a book about the form.
But you know we do things to honor people.
So I think, you know, as a teacher BLL,
what I say to kids is I want them to be able to speak English
and whatever their other home language is.
I want them to be able to read it, write it and speak it really well.
The truth of the matter is that kids who do not speak English
in this country are often still viewed as second-class.
So for those of you who work with students who are not, you know,
dominant in English, they are wrestling with -- internally --
with this sense that am I really good enough?
And it just drives me crazy, which is one of the reasons I feel
so passionately about linking all children to books, languages,
in the plural, and cultures.
How about on this side?
>> Hi. I am a third-grade teacher, and we are going to be,
in our shared reading, reading about Tomas and the Library Lady,
but in my guided reading,
we're going to be reading a little book about your life.
They -- my kids know that I've come to see you today,
and I wanted to ask you what message would you
like me to take back to them?
>> Well, it's always the same message, which is to be readers.
I want them to be readers.
And I think the hard thing, when we're particularly --
if we're working with parents, and, you know, when I say parents
who are not readers, those could be really wealthy parents, right?
Today the fact that someone isn't a reader doesn't have to do just
with your economic state.
But I think, you know, we want kids to feel that --
and that's part of the Dia message -- that reading is fun.
You know, that it's not a punishment.
I stress this with parents all the time.
It should never be a punishment.
I mean, it's an utter pleasure.
Some of us got to hear the editor of the New Yorker this morning,
and he was simply eloquent.
And he spoke about fear of being alone.
And in my book for educators, Zing,
that's the second practice I recommend,
that you have to cultivate a willingness to be alone, right?
To be a reader or to be a writer,
you have to grow comfortable with being alone.
That can be hard sometimes, when we say that to young people.
I was in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, last week and I was speaking
to about a thousand kids,
pre-service teachers who were reading Zing.
And some of them had said to their professors, "Ooh, I don't know if I
like this idea of wanting quiet."
You know, I say cultivate a pleasure in quiet.
But we need to stress that.
If you don't have quiet, how are you gonna think,
and how are you gonna hear yourself?
>> Hi. I'm a student, and I recently had an assignment
in my creative writing class to write from a child's point of view,
and I found it kind of difficult.
And I was wondering how you find it so easy to write
from a child's point of view in your books.
>> It's probably 'cause I'm still a child [laughter].
And really, I think there's a lot of truth to that, you know.
I think that part of what happens over time, when you first sit
down -- and I try to talk about this in Zing --
that it takes a while to get rid
of all those what are people gonna think, how'm I gonna sound,
what are people gonna say.
The more you write, the more when you get to that page,
you're kinda curious about what you're gonna say.
And so I really do try to get lost in the child that I am writing about
or writing for, and I'm trying not to hear anything else.
So if -- you're still hearing the other people in your class, right?
And over time, if you keep doing it, you won't hear them any more.
>> Thank you.
>> How many schools have you been, and when the students come,
are they excited and do they be polite or do they be rude?
>> Well, first of all, I think we should clap for you for going
up to ask a question [applause].

That was very brave.
You know, I visit some schools, as I say, because I write
for grown-ups and for children.
I visit both, so I visit -- and I speak at a lot of conferences.
I don't know how many schools I've visited.
They are almost always polite.
And I was a teacher before I started writing, so if they're not polite,
I kind of stop everything, you know, how teachers do.
And I say, well, if you're gonna talk, I'm not gonna talk.
And so usually they're very polite.
And what I love best is sometimes when I visit a school,
and they maybe have memorized some of my poems,
and they let me hear them.
That's a real treat.
So thank you again.
>> Thank you.
>> Hi. I am a teacher educator, and I didn't get to hear all
of your talk, but the part
that I heard I really thank you for and appreciate.
I do use your children's books with my pre-service teachers,
and one of the things that I'm wondering if you find this
with other people, but my students are primarily white
and English-speaking, and they don't like Dona Flor.
And I don't know if it's because they --
and there's a couple of other books.
There's -- I can't think of the name of it right now,
but a book about a legendary character who's African-American,
and they don't like that one either.
And if they can't get their minds around a legend that's not white,
and so I don't know if that is something that --
>> What a fascinating thing for you to say.
If I were you, I would really try to get behind some of that,
either by having them do kind of private writing, you know, to you.
But just trying to create an atmosphere where they could talk
about why, because in a sense the whole idea is, I am empowering.
I mean, for those of you who don't know Dona Flor,
it's the Paul Bunyan legend that inspired it.
But it's an immense, bilingual woman with a great big heart.
Are we out of time?
Oh, over time.
That's what I would do.
>> Thank you.
I appreciate it.
And I do -- maybe saying don't like is a little strong.
They don't believe it.
And I keep saying, it's not supposed to be believable.
It's a legend.
>> Right. It's a tall tale.
Well, I will be signing books later.
I would love to chat with all of you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you [applause].
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