Born in El Paso, Texas, Pat Mora has spent the last three decades carving out a larger space for bilingual children’s literature in libraries across the U.S. On April 15, the bicultural poet, nonfiction writer, and children’s author will travel from her Santa Fe home to Santa Barbara City College, where she will give the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Since 1969, the national honor — a tribute to the eponymous children’s literature scholar — has been given each year by the Association for Library Service to Children to a pioneering youth lit advocate.
The Santa Barbara Independent spoke with Mora, a writer strongly rooted in her Mexican-American heritage, about her S.B. visit and “¡Alegria en los libros!” (or “Bookjoy”), a phrase she created to describe the wonder of reading. “The private pleasure of sitting down with a good book,” bookjoy is one of the ways for us all to expand our emotional knowledge, said Mora.
The ability to escape into another’s perspective through reading is key to Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros (Children’s Day, Book Day), an April 30 holiday Mora founded 20 years ago to encourage year-round reading in diverse families. On April 16, she’ll celebrate early with kids’ storytime in Spanish and English at the Central Library, where she also hopes to meet parents. “[We] need to honor home languages and the power of [parents’] experiences,” because, she says, they know a lot. “It doesn’t matter what the home language is.”
“I think we need to realize as professionals that we need to try to engage all families as partners,” said Mora of educators’ occasional struggle to promote literacy. She worked as a middle and high school teacher, a university administrator, and a museum director before focusing on her writing. Mora says the way to get kids reading is to “coach parents,” “to teach the importance of chatting with kids, the importance of going to the library if you can’t purchase books.”
Growing up a voracious reader in a bilingual home, Mora saw the disparity between her own face and the faces of her literary heroes. Her first published children’s book, Tómas and the Library Lady, follows the life of a child whose horizons widen when he discovers the library. “The books we see in bookstores are often chosen and published with a specific kind of reading market in mind,” she says, one which she is working to expand with her growing list of children’s book titles.
The May Arbuthnot Honor Lecture takes place Friday, April 15, 7-8:30 p.m. at SBCC’s Garvin Theater. Reserve free tickets online at ala.org/alsc/2016-arbuthnot-lecture.