Pam Muñoz Ryan

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Pam Munoz Ryan was born on Christmas Day 1951, in Bakersfield, California, the oldest of three daughters. Her parents, Esperanza Munoz and Don Bell, raised her in California's San Joaquin Valley surrounded by an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Ryan's multicultural family broadened her awareness of how people live and think in other parts of the world. Her mother is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and her father's parents are Italian. She also has Spanish and Basque ancestors. Ryan describes herself as an American because of her varied ethnic heritage. Ryan's maternal grandmother, Esperanza Ortega, spoke only Spanish, and Ryan became bilingual, appreciating how languages convey culture, history, emotions, and rhythm.

As a child, Ryan listened to her grandmother's stories about life in Mexico and the hardships she had experienced. She also was aware of her father's struggles as a migrant worker who moved from Oklahoma to California when he was a boy during the Depression in the 1930s. These memories would later be crucial for Ryan's storytelling. Her California experiences also gave her regional insights that aided her gift for writing detail. Because of the mild climate and abundance of produce, she picked fruits and nuts from backyard orchards, watched grapes being made into raisins, and enjoyed presents of special regional and ethnic foods that neighbors and relatives gave to her family. She savored noisy family celebrations where she could indulge in Mexican delicacies and learn about native customs and festivals. Ryan often spent summer days in the air-conditioned public library and became an enthusiastic reader.

Studying child development, Ryan graduated with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University and was determined to have a career related to books. She was employed as a teacher, then as an educational administrator. Ryan completed a master's degree in education from her alma mater. While Ryan was in graduate school, a professor and a friend both praised her writing assignments and encouraged her to develop her talent to write a book. She accepted this challenge and began to prepare a manuscript to submit for publication. Ryan published three books for adults before she wrote for younger readers.

Her first published children's book was the board book One Hundred is a Family (1994). Because she had been upset seeing American flags displayed inappropriately in a grocery store, Ryan's next book, The Flag We Love (1996), was created to help children become aware of America's heritage. She soon wrote more nonfiction picture books: The Crayon Counting Book (1996), Armadillos Sleep in Dugouts: And Other Places Animals Live (1997), A Pinky Is a Baby Mouse: And Other Baby Animal Names (1997), The Zebra (1999), Hello Ocean (2001), and Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride (1999), which was based on a true airplane flight by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt and was named the Los Angeles Times 2000 Best Book of the Year. Stressing original research,

Ryan visits zoos and consults experts on topics about which she is writing. Ryan wrote two Hispanic-themed picture books, Mice and Beans (2001), featuring a Mexican proverb, and Esperanza Rising (2000). The latter book is based on Ryan's grandmother's experiences, contrasting her wealthy, happy life in Mexico with the poverty and despair she endured while living on company farms in the United States after her family suddenly became poor and emigrated from Mexico. This story stresses that friendship helps hopes and dreams survive despite agony.

For a Japanese publisher, Ryan wrote three picture books about Internet etiquette that were not translated into English: Netty, Netty Goes to School, and Netty Goes around the World. In addition...

(This entire section contains 1137 words.)

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to her picture books, Ryan has written chapter books such asDoug Counts Down (1997), Doug's Treasure Hunt (1999), Where's Porkchop? (1999), and Funnie Family Vacation (1999) which is based on "Doug," a Disney television cartoon series. Ryan's picture books have won numerous awards from the International Reading Association and Children's Book Council and been distinguished for praise by the American Library Association, American Booksellers, the New York Public Library, Publishers Weekly, Bank Street, Parenting Magazine, and the Smithsonian.

Ryan's first novel, Riding Freedom, was inspired by her research for her nonfiction book, California Here We Come! (1997). She read a reference to a nineteenth-century stagecoach driver called Six-Horse Charley who had voted in a federal election when only property-owning white males were permitted to vote, and was later discovered to be a woman named Charlotte Parkhurst. Intrigued, Ryan sought to learn more about this person. She consulted primary records held at the Santa Cruz Historical Society. Parkhurst's property deeds were issued to the masculine name she used, and voting records also listed that name. Ryan read a copy of Parkhurst's obituary and newspaper articles concerning how she had disguised her gender and was a prominent citizen. She then read secondary sources to understand the context of Parkhurst's life.

Initially, Ryan submitted this story as a nonfiction picture book, but Tracy Mack, her editor at Scholastic, encouraged her to write a historical novel based on facts. Ryan created characters and invented information to explain information she was unable to locate or verify, such as how Parkhurst was orphaned and why she ran away. To supplement her reading about Wells Fargo stagecoaches, and in order to be authentic, Ryan visited a barn at Knott's Berry Farm, a popular tourist attraction with historical reenactments. She watched workers prepare and harness horses to a stagecoach in which she rode and held the reins like Charlotte would have.

Riding Freedom was selected for prestigious prizes, including the Reading Magic Award for 1998's Most Outstanding Books, the National Willa Cather Award for Best Young Adult Novel 1999, and the 1999 Teacher's Choice Award. More than 500,000 students cast votes in favor of Riding Freedom for the book to win the 1999-2000 California Young Reader Medal, and the novel received the 1999-2000 Arizona Young Reader's Award. The Southern California Center for Literature for Young People presented Riding Freedom an award of merit.

Ryan lives by the Pacific Ocean in Leucadia, California, near San Diego. She married Jim Ryan, and they have four children, including a set of twins. Ryan frequently visits Mexico, especially where her family lived at Oaxaca and Aguascalientes, to practice local dialects and to immerse herself in that country's culture. An avid reader, Ryan continues writing for all age groups. Wanting to excite children about reading, Ryan lectures about writing and literacy at school visits and conferences and posts information and updates about her work on her Web site: http://www.pammunozryan.com. She presents workshops in which she discusses how she develops picture and chapter books from idea to finished product. Ryan emphasizes how she daydreams, pretends, observes people, and makes lists to inspire her imagination and stresses the need for research for nonfiction and historical fiction. She attempts to make history intriguing for readers by including obscure details most readers would be unfamiliar with and may find entertaining.