- Pam Muñoz RyanAuthor–USA
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As a child, Pam Muñoz Ryan grew up hearing stories from her Mexican grandmother about life in Mexico before the family immigrated to the United States. These stories would later form the core of her novel, Esperanza Rising, a fictionalized rendering of her family's riches-to-rags experience. Through the eyes of Esperanza, readers see what life was like for migrant farm workers in the United States during the Great Depression. The importance of persistence, hope, and family support during trying times is a major theme in the novel.
In The Dreamer, a fictionalized biography of Pablo Neruda, Muñoz Ryan's imagines the childhood of the world-renowned Chilean poet who was born Neftalí Reyes. She writes of his love of words, his fear of his domineering father, and his vivid imaginative life. His determination to write shapes his life and provides insight into the mind of a supremely creative individual. Ryan adds many creative touches of her own that inspire readers to value imagination.
Although Muñoz Ryan has done much to celebrate and promote cultural understanding of the Latino community, she also writes convincingly across cultures and ethnicities. In Echo, a structurally innovative fairy tale/historical fiction hybrid, one of the major plot strands focuses on Mexican Americans in California during World War II. But the novel also tells the stories of Japanese Americans in California, Irish orphans in Pennsylvania, and German children in Germany. All these characters possess a deep love of music as well as an enchanted harmonica that encourages determination and optimism despite difficult situations.
Love of music is also the driving force in the life of Marian Anderson, the subject of Muñoz Ryan's award-winning picturebook biography When Marian Sang. Blessed with an extraordinary singing voice and a supportive family, African American Marian Anderson was able to overcome the roadblocks put in her path by segregation laws and customs in pre-Civil Rights America. Like the characters in Esperanza Rising, The Dreamer, and Echo, hope, determination, and optimism play important roles in Anderson's success. Muñoz Ryan steps outside her own cultural identity to write about an African American, but the admiration and respect with which she conveys Anderson's story make it possible for readers of all ethnicities to understand the difficulties with which Marian struggled, empathize with her desire to sing, and applaud when she achieves great success.
Muñoz Ryan is the author of nearly forty books, many of which have received prestigious book awards. She is regarded as a leading author of Latin heritage as well as one of the best children's writers in the whole of the United States. Her graceful writing, consistently fluid and compelling, is characterized by vivid descriptions and aptly-suited figurative language. The diversity within her body of work shines through as she writes in a wide array of genres and formats about a broad range of intriguing, masterfully drawn, racially and ethnically diverse characters and interesting, engaging, important topics. She is planting seeds of understanding around the globe. [End Page 39]