Pam Muñoz Ryan is an American author and the 2018 U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award. She is the author of ECHO, a Newbery Honor book and the recipient of the Kirkus Prize. She has written over forty books, including the novels ESPERANZA RISING, BECOMING NAOMI LEÓN, RIDING FREEDOM, PAINT THE WIND, THE DREAMER, and ECHO. She is the author recipient of the National Education Association’s Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Pura Belpré Medal and the Willa Cather Award.
Her novel, Esperanza Rising, was commissioned as a play by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and has been performed in many venues around the U.S. including The Goodman in Chicago, and the Majestic Cutler Theater, in Boston.
Other selected honors include the PEN USA Award, the Américas Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, and the Orbis Pictus Award. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, (formerly Pam Bell) holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from San Diego State University and lives near San Diego with her family. Many of her stories reflect her half-Mexican heritage.
Born Pamela Jeanne Banducci in Bakersfield, California, on December 25, 1951, her last name was changed before she attended school to match the name of her parents, Hope Bell and the man she considered her father, Donald Bell. As Pamela Bell, she attended McKinley Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Washington Jr. High, Bakersfield High School, and Bakersfield Community College. She then attended San Diego State University where she received a bachelor’s degree. She married James Ryan in 1975. An early childhood teacher, she worked for the Escondido, California, school district for three years before starting her family. After her four children were born, she became the director of an early childhood program and went back to school to get her master’s degree in Post-secondary Education with the intention of teaching Children’s Literature in college. When she finished her graduate program, she became interested in writing, and at the encouragement of her agent, Kendra Marcus, included her family name , Muñoz, to her signature, to reflect her Mexican heritage.
In the author’s words:
I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California. One of my earliest memories of books is my grandmother’s set of encyclopedias. My favorite volume was G, because it contained an illustrated section of Greek myths. How I loved those encyclopedias! Once, I even tried to copy an entire page, but did not succeed.
The summer before fifth grade, my family moved across town to Irene Street, near the original Green Frog Market. I was the new kid in a school where most students had been together since kindergarten. I didn’t fit in. I spent much of my free time riding my bike to the East Bakersfield Library to borrow books. It was through books that I escaped and coped with the changes in my life. I became, what most people would consider, an obsessive reader.
I attended Washington Junior High and became the editor of the Washington Hornet newspaper. Then, I attended Bakersfield High School. Although English and composition were my strongest subjects, I didn’t pursue any writing electives in high school. I must have been too busy being a teenager.
After high school, I knew that I wanted a profession that something to do with books and literature, and I thought that would be teaching. I graduated from Bakersfield Junior College and transferred to San Diego State University. After college, I became a bilingual teacher in Escondido. After my children were born (two girls and twin boys), I stayed home with them for almost twelve years, substituting part-time. When my youngest went to kindergarten, I accepted a job as the director of an early childhood program. At the same time, I went back to school one night a week to get my master’s degree in Post-secondary Education, with the intention of someday teaching children’s literature. A few weeks before I finished my master’s, one of my professors asked me to stay after class. She wanted to know if I’d ever considered professional writing as a career or avocation. She encouraged me. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, a colleague asked me if I would help her write a book for adults. I could not stop thinking about the possibility that I could be a writer. The seed had been planted and wouldn’t stop growing.
I began to write stories for children. I submitted manuscripts to many children’s publishers but with no luck. I wish I knew how many submissions I made, but I didn’t keep track. There were so many rejections that, at the time, it would have been painful to count. I finally contracted a literary agent. Today, I still have the same agent, Kendra Marcus with Bookstop Literary Agency. My first children’s book, One Hundred Is A Family, published in 1994.After a number of picture books, my editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, encouraged me to try a novel and I did. More novels followed. One book led to another. And I became something I’d never been before.
Today, I cannot imagine not writing. But I have a very practical approach to it. It is my job. One that I love. I want to deliver, for my publisher, for my reader, and for myself. People frequently ask me, “What is your motivation to write?” The answer is simple. I want the reader to turn the page.