Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
“From Seed to Song”
by Pat Mora
Fall is in the air, which, after a hot Santa Fe summer, feels welcome. I’ve planted a few pansies and am slowly moving some potted plants inside into what I call my winter garden. When the cold northern New Mexico winter arrives, the clerestory windows above our entry atrium will bring welcome sun to my plants—and me. Along with mulling over which green companions to nurture during the coming months, I’m thinking about what writing projects to begin.
Seasons exist is the interior as well as the exterior world. In the spirit of harvest, I’m excited about the two picture books, the book of teen love poems, and the book for educators that will be published in the coming months. There’s a special excitement, though, about moving inward a bit, the journey of a new manuscript, tending the seed of the idea in protected conditions hoping it will grow into its unique song.
Writing you I realized that often my books whether for children or adults are ultimately celebrations—of people I admire, for example, Tomás Rivera and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico’s most famous woman poet), and of what I savor including the desert, foods, animals, and family. All of these are praised in Adobe Odes.
I hadn’t made this celebration connection before. One of the main reasons that I return to the writing process is that I learn as I type. Like most contemporary U.S. authors, I don’t begin a project with a message I hope to convey. I begin with an idea, story, question or a line I want to explore. Often I pose a challenge to myself such as: can I convert the much-loved song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” into a Latino version? The partridge became a piñata. The magic of words. Though picture books can look simple, the process from having an idea to having a manuscript accepted requires patience, which is not my strength. Just ask my family.
Writers and gardeners get to work in comfy clothes, treasure diversity and are curious, hopeful, persistent. We know the pleasure of beginning again and again, know the frustrations of plants/plans that require re-planting or re-visions, and know that some eventually need to be discarded or used as compost.
Because I feel very fortunate to be a reader and writer, I coined the word “bookjoy” and started the family literacy initiative now known as Día, short for El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children’s Day/Book Day. I didn’t consciously plan to become a literacy advocate, but when something brings us great happiness, the joy just wells up, and we want to share it, don’t we? That internal energy, like the unseen energy below the soil, ideally builds and sprouts. I’ve thought a lot about the zing of creativity in the last year as I completed the book for teachers and librarians, how our ideas like our plants, rise up if we tend them.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Pat Mora.
Author photo by Cheron Bayna, 2009
Hear Pat Mora discuss and read from her book Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué Rico!: America’s Sproutings (Lee and Low 2007), which celebrates foods that have sprouted in the Americas.
Access all of TeachingBooks.net’s online resources about Pat Mora and her books.