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Ghostwriter

Pat Mora: Child's play
By Scott Nicholson
Photo by Cheron Bayna

Pat Mora is a veteran children’s book author, but she admits getting a book published in the field is more than mere child’s play.

Mora is the author of 15 children’s books, five poetry collections and numerous nonfiction works, and is an ardent supporter of childhood reading and multicultural education.

Mora’s most popular children’s books are both based on Hispanic culture and actual people. “Tomas and the Library Lady” tells of a boy’s growing interest in learning to read and going from a humble upbringing in a migrant farm family to being president of a university. Another book tells the story of Juana Ines, a seventeenth-century Mexican poet.

“A Library for Juana: the World of Sor Juana Inéz” (English and Spanish editions) received the 2003 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and “Maria Paints the Hills” was a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters’ Best Children’s Book, 2003.

Mora became interested in writing children’s books when she was reading to her own three little children. “Like all the other parents and grandparents, I thought, ‘I could do that,’” she said.

It wasn’t so simple, as she found out. She learned that one publishing house received as many as 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year, stacking the odds against any new writer. “It’s a minor miracle to have a manuscript selected,” she said.

She was so discouraged by the rejections that she began writing poetry for adults. Once she achieved success with that, friends began encouraging her to try the children’s books again. Her first book was accepted after being rejected 25 times, and then it took eight years before it was published.

The first illustrator chosen by the publisher was rejected after completing all the drawings, and the process had to start over. In the meantime, though, Mora was able to sell other books.

Mora learned one of the first lessons of authorial persistence: “You need to have friends who believe in you.”

As Mora began speaking at schools, she found that students didn’t know what a migrant worker was, so she took on education as an additional part of her mission. “It was a chance to talk to young readers, teachers and librarians about different kinds of heroes,” she said.

To that end, she became involved in spreading what she calls “book joy,” getting children excited about reading at a young age. “If they’re not active readers by the third grade, we’ve lost them,” she said. She’s involved in promoting El día de los niños / El día de los libros, or Children’s Day/Book Day.

Mora said she rarely meets the illustrators for her books, which usually take 18 to 24 months to be published. In her children’s work, she tries to think visually and provide inspiration for the illustrator. She’s currently waiting for illustrators to finish her upcoming children’s books, “The Song of Francis and the Animals,” “Doña Flor,” and “¡Marimba! Animales A-Z,” an alphabet book.

She advised would-be children’s book authors to prepare for rejection. “Your heart will be broken,” she said. However, she said authors shouldn’t worry about trends but should instead find the stories they think are important and need to be told.

Pat Mora's website

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