Ryan, Pam Muñoz 1951-

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Ryan, Pam Muñoz 1951-


Born 1951, in CA; married; children: four. Education: B.A. (child development); M.Ed. (post-secondary education).


Home—San Diego County, CA.


Teacher and writer.

Awards, Honors

Jane Addams Children's Book Award, 2001, Pura Belpré Award for Narrative, Association for Library Service to Children/National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking, 2002, Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association (ALA), and Américas Award Honor Book designation, all for Esperanza Rising; California Young Reader Medal, and Willa Cather Award, both 1997, both for Riding Freedom; Notable Book selection, ALA, 1999, for Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, and 2001, for Mice and Beans; Robert Siebert Honor Book designation, ALA Notable Book designation, Parents Choice Gold Award,

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and Orbis Pictus Award, all 2002, and Jefferson Cup Honor, Virginia Library Association, and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts, both 2003, all for When Marian Sang; Pura Belpré Honor Book designation, Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children's Book Award, International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society designation, ALA Notable Book designation and Schneider Award, NCTE Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts, and included in New York Public Library Top Ten Titles for Reading and Sharing, all 2006, all for Becoming Naomi León.



One Hundred Is a Family, illustrated by Benrei Huang, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

The Flag We Love, illustrated by Ralph Masiello, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1996, tenth anniversary edition, 2006.

A Pinky Is a Baby Mouse; and Other Baby Animal Names, illustrated by Diane de Groat, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

Armadillos Sleep in Dugouts; and Other Places Animals Live, illustrated by Diane de Groat, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

California, Here We Come!, illustrated by Kay Salem, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1997.

Riding Freedom, illustrated by Brian Selznick, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.

Doug Counts Down, illustrated by Matthew C. Peters, Disney Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Disney's Doug's Treasure Hunt, created by Jim Jenkins, illustrated by Jumbo Pictures, Mouse Works (New York, NY), 1998.

Funnie Family Vacation, illustrated by William Presing and Tony Curanaj, Disney Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, illustrated by Brian Selznick, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Hello, Ocean!, illustrated by Mark Astrella, Charlesbridge/Talewinds (Watertown, MA), 2001.

Mice and Beans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, illustrated by Brian Selznick, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

Mud Is Cake, illustrated by David McPhail, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

How Do You Raise a Raisin?, illustrated by Craig Brown, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2003.

A Box of Friends, illustrated by Mary Whyte, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2003.

Nacho and Lolita, illustrated by Claudia Rueda, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve, illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Hyperion Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Our California, illustrated by Rafael López, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2008.

Also author of children's books Netty, Netty Goes to School, and Netty Goes around the World, published in Japan.

Authors works have been translated into Spanish.


Esperanza Rising, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Becoming Naomi León, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

Paint the Wind, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2007.


Pam Muñoz Ryan is the author of several acclaimed books for young readers that draw upon her Hispanic heritage, among them the young-adult novel Esperanza Rising and the picture books Our California, Nacho and Lolita, and How Do You Raise a Raisin? A native of California's San Joaquin Valley, Ryan was an avid reader as a child and a frequent visitor to her local library during the hot summer weeks. In an interview for the Scholastic Web site, Ryan recalled that she did not harbor any early ambitions to become a writer. "I always loved books," she noted. "I didn't know when I was a young child that I could be an author, [however,] because when I went to school we didn't do the integrated writing activities kids do in school today." Praising Nacho and Lolita, Ryan's story about the romance between a colorful pitachoche bird and a brown barn swallow, Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson called the work "a fanciful, broadly appealing affirmation of the transforming power of love," and School Library Journal critic Marian Drabkin dubbed Our California a "loving tribute to the state."

As a young adult, Ryan earned a college degree, married, and had four children. After working as a teacher she returned to school for a master's degree, and her papers were singled out by one professor. The professor asked if she had ever considered writing as a profession. "Until that time, it had never occurred to me. Within a few weeks, a colleague asked me if I'd consider helping her write a book. Then I knew that was something I wanted to try. First I wrote three books for grown-ups with my colleague. They were easy to get published. Then I started to write stories for children, but getting published in the children's market was a long struggle."

Ryan persevered, and her first book for a younger audience was published in 1994. One Hundred Is a Family

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is a counting book for children aged four to eight. It depicts groups of one through ten, and then continues on by stages of ten up to one hundred. Her aim was to show the human family in all its various permutations, and how people are related by kinship, community, and heritage. According to Booklist contributor Annie Ayres, Ryan's text is "comforting in that it presents and embraces a world in which every form of family is welcome."

After witnessing an American flag misused in a store one day, Ryan was inspired to write The Flag We Love, which has also been published in translation for young Spanish-speaking readers. The work traces the history of the American flag and touches upon related topics such as the national anthem written in homage to it and its use in various official ceremonies. The work "could help spark discussion on the basic elements of democracy," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Based on the stories of her Mexican-American family, Mice and Beans focuses on a warm-hearted grandmother's excited preparations for the birthday feast of her little granddaughter, Catalina. Rosa Maria is obsessed with ridding her casita of mice and tries to keep the party food away from them. The woman is also a bit absentminded and she forgets to fill Catalina's birthday piñata, the showpiece of the celebration. The colorful tissue-paper sculpture proves to be laden with candy and treats anyway, when it is broken on feast day, and Rosa Maria ultimately discovers that the mice she had tried to chase away were actually busy helping her. In Booklist reviewer Kelly Milner Halls wrote of Mice and Beans that "what makes it special is the quiet authenticity of the Hispanic characterizations."

Ryan embellished some details about an actual historical event in Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride!, a picture book featuring artwork by Brian Selznick. After a White House dinner in April of 1933, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart took First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, up in her plane at a time when aircraft were a relatively scarce sight in the night sky. Roosevelt had actually taken some flying lessons but never earned a pilot's license, and Ryan's story concludes with the First Lady taking Earhart—who disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean a few years later—for a reciprocal drive in her new automobile. Again, Ryan explains which parts of the story were fictionalized: for example, two male pilots actually flew the plane that night—but White House Secret Service agents were wary about the idea nonetheless. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Ryan's work "a brief but compelling slice from the lives of two determined, outspoken and passionate women." School Library Journal writer Steven Engelfried noted that "the fictionalized tale is lively and compelling, and the courage and sense of adventure that these individuals shared will be evident" even to readers not familiar with these two women, who were quite famous in the 1930s. Booklist critic Ilene Cooper similarly stated that in the story "children will get a sense of the importance of Earhart and Roosevelt to America's history in general, and women's history in particular."

Ryan and Selznick team up again for When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson. Here author and illustrator profile one of the most dramatic incidents of the civil rights era: the day in 1939 that noted African-American vocalist Marian Anderson was turned away from performing at Washington, DC's Constitution Hall and instead gave a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Hazel Rochman described the picture book as "lush," adding in Booklist that Ryan's "passionate words and [Selznick's] beautifully detailed sepia-tone pictures … present a true story that seems like a theatrical Cinderella tale." While noting that author and illustrator "indulge in a … mythification" of their subject, Horn Book reviewer Roger Sutton concluded that When Marian Sang features "an intimacy of tone that gives life to the legend" upon which it is based.

Ryan's first lengthier work for children, Riding Freedom, is an historical novel about Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst, who came to be known as "One-Eyed Charley." Parkhurst is believed to be the first woman ever to cast a ballot in a federal election, although she did so by deception. Orphaned as a child in the mid-nineteenth century, Parkhurst endured some bleak years at a New Hampshire orphanage, where her only solace was helping out in the stables. She was forbidden to ride a horse, however, because she was a girl, and the orphanage authorities also prevented her from being adopted into a family, preferring to keep her on the grounds as a servant. In Ryan's story, Parkhurst listens to the stories another stable worker tells about his flight from slavery into freedom. Inspired, she escapes by donning boys' clothing—a ticket to independence during her era—and uses her skill with horses to find a well-paying job as a stagecoach driver. As Ryan notes, the real-life Parkhurst retained her disguise as a man, and was able to own property and even vote in an 1868 election in California. A Publishers Weekly critic praised Riding Freedom as "ebullient and tautly structured," adding that "with a pacing that moves along at a gallop, this is a skillful execution of a fascinating historical tale." In School Library Journal Carol A. Edwards described the book as "a compact and exciting story about real people who exemplify traits that readers admire."

Ryan's multi-award-winning young-adult novel Esperanza Rising is based on the life story of her own grandmother, who came to California from Mexico during the 1930s. The story's heroine is Esperanza Ortega, a thirteen year old who enjoys a privileged life in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where her beloved father, a landowner, instills in her a deep appreciation for the land as part of their family heritage. Tragedy strikes when Esperanza's father is slain by robbers, and the girl's step-uncles then try to force her mother into marrying one of them. After their home is destroyed by arson, mother and daughter flee north to California. Now refugees, with little of their possessions remaining, Esperanza and her mother must fend for themselves in a harsh and racist environment. Working as migrant laborers, they pick fruit for mere pennies and live in dire poverty in a camp with other workers. When some workers attempt to form a union, the increasing tensions lead to violence and foster worries that they will be deported to Mexico as troublemakers. When Esperanza's mother becomes ill, the girl supports the family and ultimately earns enough money to pay for the trip to bring her beloved Abuelita north.

Esperanza Rising won many accolades from reviewers. Reading Today contributor Lynne T. Burke, for example, termed it a "passionate novel" that is "written with an uncommon understanding of the plight of Mexican farm workers," while School Library Journal critic Francisca Goldsmith found it a "compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented on Ryan's "lyrical, fairy tale-like style," and commended the author for interweaving into the story "subtle metaphors via Abuelita's pearls of wisdom, and not until story's end will readers recognize how carefully they have been strung." In Booklist, Gillian Engberg asserted that "Ryan's lyrical novel manages the contradictory: a story of migration and movement deeply rooted in the earth."

Another novel for older readers, Becoming Naomi León introduces another resilient young heroine in Naomi Soledad León Outlaw. Living in a trailer part in Lemon Tree, California, with her great-grandmother and her disabled younger brother Owen, eleven-year-old Naomi feels burdened by her name and her family's poverty. When her alcoholic mother, Skyla, resurfaces after seven years and wants to take her daughter to live with her and her boyfriend in Las Vegas, Naomi is confused. Ultimately, guardian Gran and the two children drive the trailer across the border into Mexico, hoping to find a way to stop Skyla's plan with the help of the children's father. "In true mythic tradition, Ryan … makes Naomi's search for her dad a search for identity, and both are exciting," wrote Booklist critic Hazel Rochman in a review of Becoming Naomi León, while a Kirkus Reviews writer praised the author's use of "potent, economic prose" in her "tender tale about family love and loyalty." In Horn Book Christine M. Heppermann noted that, "with its quirky characterizations and folksy atmosphere," Becoming Naomi León is an "engrossing family drama … [with an] uniquely affecting emotional core."

Narrated in alternating third-person accounts of eleven-year-old Maya and a wild mare named Artemesia, Paint the Wind focuses on how a girl's life changes when she must leave her pampered life for life on a working ranch. Orphaned at age six, Maya has been catered to by her wealthy grandmother. When the woman has a stroke, the girl is sent to live with Great-Aunt Vi on Vi's Wyoming ranch. There, as Maya learns to know and love the herd of wild horses roaming hear her new home, she also reconnects with the mother she scarcely knew. "Details surrounding the care and riding of horses are both authentic and copious," asserted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the critic adding that the combination of girls and horses is a perennial favorite among preteens. According to Booklist critic Francesca Goldsmith, Paint the Wind features "lots of adventure … (both human and equine), and the pace never lags for an instant."

As a writer, Ryan recognizes the value of family stories. "My advice for students would be to interview their grandparents and write down the stories that they have to tell," she noted in her Scholastic Web site interview. "I think when we're children, we tend to think it's sort of boring, but as we grow up we feel almost desperate for those stories, because they connect us with our history. The key is to write some of the stories down, and don't throw them away!" She often visits schools and offers budding writers this encouragement: "Like anything else in life, the harder you work the more lucky you get. The more you practice, the better you get. Writing is just the same."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 1994, Annie Ayres, review of One Hundred Is a Family, p. 509; January 1, 1996, Carolyn

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Phelan, review of The Flag We Love, p. 841; January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Riding Freedom, p. 814; October 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, p. 447; December 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 708; September 15, 2001, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Mice and Beans, p. 233; June 1, 2002, Lauren Peterson, review of Mud Is Cake, p. 1743; November 15, 2002, review of When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, p. 799; July, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of A Box of Friends, p. 1898; August, 2003, Ellen Mandel, review of How Do You Raise a Raisin?, p. 1986; September 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Becoming Naomi León, p. 245; October 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Nacho and Lolita, p. 66; October 15, 2005, Julie Cummins, review of There Was No Snow on Christmas, p. 60; November 15, 2007, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Paint the Wind, p. 44; December 15, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of Our California, p. 48.

Horn Book, January, 2001, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 96; November-December, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of When Marian Sang, p. 780; September-October, 2004, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Becoming Naomi León, p. 598.

Instructor, October, 2001, Alice Quiocho, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 18.

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, December, 2001, Tasha Tropp, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 334.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1997, review of Riding Freedom, pp. 1778-1779; August 1, 2001, review of Mice and Beans, p. 1131; September 1, 2002, review of When Marian Sang, p. 1319; September 1, 2004, review of Becoming Naomi León, p. 873; October 1, 2005, review of Nacho and Lolita, p. 1088; August 1, 2007, review of Paint the Wind; December 15, 2007, review of Our California.

Publishers Weekly, November 7, 1994, review of One Hundred Is a Family, p. 78; February 5, 1996, review of The Flag We Love, p. 88; February 2, 1998, review of Riding Freedom, p. 91; September 20, 1999, review of Riding Freedom, p. 90; September 27, 1999, review of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride!, p. 105; October 9, 2000, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 88; January 8, 2001, review of Hello, Ocean!, p. 65; September 13, 2004, review of Becoming Naomi León, p. 79; August 22, 2005, review of Nacho and Lolita, p. 63; August 20, 2007, review of Paint the Wind, p. 68; December 17, 2007, review of Our California, p. 50.

Reading Today, October, 2000, Lynne T. Burke, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 32.

School Library Journal, October, 1994, Christine A. Moesch, review of One Hundred Is a Family, p. 97; May, 1996, Eunice Weech, review of The Flag We Love, p. 108; July, 1997, Lisa Wu Stowe, review of A Pinky Is a Baby Mouse; and Other Baby Animal Names, p. 87; December, 1997, Patricia Manning, review of Armadillos Sleep in Dugouts; and Other Places Animals Live, p. 114; March, 1998, Carol A. Edwards, review of Riding Freedom, p. 218; September, 1999, Steven Engelfried, review of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride!, p. 202; October, 2000, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Esperanza Rising, p. 171; May, 2001, Sally R. Dow, review of Hello, Ocean!, p. 133; October, 2001, Mary Elam, review of Mice and Beans, p. 130; May, 2002, Sheilah Kosco, review of Mud Is Cake, p. 126; November, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of When Marian Sang, p. 147; August, 2003, Dona Ratterree, review of How Do You Raise a Raisin?, p. 151; September, 2003, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of A Box of Friends, p. 189; September, 2004, Sharon Morrison, review of Becoming Naomi León, p. 216; October, 2005, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Nacho and Lolita, p. 144; November, 2007, Ann Robinson, review of Paint the Wind, p. 136; June, 2008, Marian Drabkin, review of Our California, p. 130.


Pam Muñoz Ryan Home Page,http://www.pammunozryan.com (January 15, 2009).

Scholastic Web site,http://www.scholastic.com/ (February 8, 2002), interview with Ryan.