A Month of Awesome Women: Pam Muñoz Ryan
Every day in March 2011, we'll be talking about one awesome woman and why she's so powerful. Some will be well known; some may be new to you, so check out all the awesome women in the series now.
I once worked on a project where I had to find enough books to fill a leveled library set for middle schoolers. After months of reading painfully-awkward and poorly-written novels, I opened Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. "'Our land is alive, Esperanza,'" Papa said..." I was hooked with that first line, page, chapter. I was all in. After escaping into the amazingly beautiful tale of a young, Mexican migrant worker, I eagerly bought copies for my mother and sister and sent them as gifts "just because." I'd never purchased them both books like that before, and I've never done it since. Something about Esperanza Rising compelled me to share it with the women I love so dearly.
In the first chapter of the book, Esperanza's father tells her that she can feel the land's heart beating if she lies on the ground and is patient enough. This scene is replayed later in the book, and I found myself leaking out some tears at just the thought of it. So, like any good, dreamy reader, I tried it:
Pam Muñoz Ryan recorded a video for Adolescent Literacy about Esperanza Rising.
While Esperanza Rising is my favorite Pam Muñoz Ryan book, I also fell in love with When Marion Sang and Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride. I enjoyed her contribution to First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants and have had Becoming Naomi Leõn on my reading list for eons (reminder to self, again). If you're curious about any of these books, she has recorded other videos about them on the same site.
Since I spent a large part of my career working for an English as a Second Language publishing company, you might think I was drawn to her out of a need for non-Caucasian writing. While it's true that I was always searching first and foremost for authentic cultural stories, I fell in love with her writing despite my work needs. I didn't see her as a Mexican American writer. I didn't see her characters through the lens of race. I was drawn to the strength, flare, and honesty of her writing. I related to her characters even though I hadn't walked in their shoes, and I knew the children would, too. That is what makes a writer worth her weight in ink.
Muñoz Ryan can take any topic and make it shine--any story and give it a heartbeat that thumps through the reader. She has earned many well-deserved awards, such as the Virginia Hamilton Award for Multicultural Writing, the Pura Belpé Medal, the Willa Cather Award, the National Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Award--well, I could go on and on. If it's out there, she won it. Her writing is just that good.
How I wish I'd had her books when I was a girl. But at least I have them now, and that's all that truly matters.
Blondie writes at Tales From Clark Street.
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