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 to her picture books, Ryan has written chapter books such as Doug 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...
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