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A literacy advocate excited about sharing what she calls "bookjoy," Pat Mora founded the family literacy initiative El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children's Day/Book Day, now housed at the American Library Association. The yearlong commitment to daily linking all children to books, languages and cultures culminates in celebrations across the country on or near April 30. Her book titled "Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos el Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros," (HarperCollins), promotes the Día spirit. Mora's haiku collection about foods of the Americas, "Yum! ¡Mmm! ¡Qué Rico!, won the Américas Award and was an ALA Notable book. "Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart" was also an ALA Notable book that received a Pura Belpré Author Honor Award and a Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Mora lives in New Mexico.

Previous National Book Festival Appearances

The Scoop

From the 2010 National Book Festival

What sparked your imagination for your new title – Book Fiesta?

In 1996, I became excited about starting a celebration to link children and books. Many parents, teachers and librarians like to connect kids and books daily, which is important since we want to be a country of readers. This April, across the United States, schools, libraries and homes will be celebrating a book fiesta, celebrating El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children’s Day/Book Day, usually known as Día. April 2011 is Día’s 15th birthday. I wrote the bilingual BOOK FIESTA to show all kinds of children reading in all kinds of places including in a hot air balloon and riding an elephant. I know you’ll enjoy the wonderful illustrations by the talented Rafael López. The book also has hints for your Día celebration. Join the party!

You have written many picture books for children. Do you have any special favorites among them?

I always tell audiences that my favorite book is the next book, the one I’m thinking about and planning to write soon. I think every author has a special connection to each book. The Rainbow Tulip about my mom is certainly special, as is the first children’s book that was published, A Birthday Basket for Tía, about my aunt. Secret! That dear aunt will soon be in a new children’s book.

What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?

My biggest challenge is creating the time to write. I travel to speak about my books, and I enjoy that very much. Like most people, I have lots of things to do at home (like watering my plants and feeding the birds), and I spend too much time on e-mail. I have a new book for teachers about how I write, Zing! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Their Students. I overcome my writing challenges by taking the time to play with words until I write something I like.

What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?

I’m a writer because I’ve always been a reader. What’s my main tip? READ! I don’t read because I have to. I read because I want to—I want to learn and relax and laugh and travel. I can do all of those reading in my pajamas.

Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?

My advice to writers 4 or 94 is write about what you like. What animal would you like to be? What would you eat? How would you play? Where would you sleep?

What is your list of favorite children or teen books?

This is a very hard question. When I was little, I liked B Is for Betsy, Abe Lincoln: Frontier Boy, Nancy Drew mysteries like The Secret of the Old Clock, and I always liked poems. I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

How do you decide on themes for your books?

I write for children, teens and adults. In my computer, I have a list of books I want to write. Sometimes, someone suggests an idea that stays with me until I write the book. For example, a Texas librarian suggested that I write a book of love poems for teens, and I wrote Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love. A woman in Texas who loves books and loves to give books to young readers who may not have many books suggested that I write some easy-read bilingual books, and I wrote the My Family *Mi Familia series.

How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?

Sometimes the research is emotional research: exploring how I feel or how I think other people feel. Writing poetry is often about that emotional “digging” inside. For a book like A Library for Juana, a picture book about Mexico’s most famous woman poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who lived in the 1600s, I read her writings and read books about her.

You are a lifelong literacy advocate. Can you tell us about how you happened to organize the family literacy initiative El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children's Day/Book Day?

Thanks for asking this question as we prepare for Día’s 15th birthday. When my first children’s book was published in 1992, I began to notice that many children’s didn’t see families like theirs in books and that many children in the U.S. don’t have books in their homes. I was lucky because my mom loved to read, always had books for us to read, and always took us to the library. Reading is such a special and happy part of my life, and I want every child to experience the pleasure of enjoying books. In 1996, when being interviewed on a public radio program at the University of Arizona at Tucson where I was visiting, I learned that in Mexico, April 30th is celebrated as El día del niño, the day of the child. WOW! I thought. What if in our country we celebrated Children and Books? Luckily, some wonderful librarians have helped grow this April celebration. If there isn’t a Día celebration at your school or library, jump into the fun and get one started. The secret is to believe in the importance of linking all children to books, languages and cultures and then celebrating with everyone in April. It’s a GIANT party.

What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?

Main tip: be an example. I have three grown children who all love to read which really helped them succeed in school and is helping them be life-long learners. Parents/families are a child’s first teacher. If we enjoy reading and talk about what we’re reading and read to our children and with our children, if reading time is happy family time, children grow to love the taste of a good book.

Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?

Three books I hope to work on: editing a collection of poetry for teens by Latino authors, a book about my aunt (that I may write with my older daughter who is a lawyer and writer), and a YA version of my family memoir House of Houses. I’ve said it in print, so now I better stop answering e-mails and start writing.

If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?

Before I started writing, which was about thirty years ago, I was a teacher, mom, university administrator, museum director, and a consultant. Writing and speaking are both activities I really love. I like to interview people and ask them questions, so I might enjoy being a talk show host—or a minister (how’s that for different?), and I enjoy gardening and cooking, but I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to spend my life listening to, enjoying, playing and working with words—on the paper and for audiences. Lucky me.

Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?

Yes - and THANKS!

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