There have been many instances in my life in which I have been asked to provide biographical information and many occasions where my life has been the theme for my writing.
Right on this website you may learn many facts about my life by looking at my Curriculum Vitae and by reading the “Note from the Author” in the pages of each of my books as well as by listening to the interview from Colorín Colorado and reading other written interviews posted here.
For further information on my life and work you may want to read the books and texts listed below or watch the DVDs listed. Some of them can be found at least partially in You Tube.
I have also added at the end of this document a few brief texts that I have written about myself at different times to answer specific requests.
Publications in English
Alma Flor Ada and You, volume I and volume II.
Series The Author and You. Libraries Unlimited.
In these two books I tell “the stories behind the stories” of my books. I share how each was conceived and how it came to be, as well as what it has meant in my life. I also expand on some aspects of my childhood and youth that have informed my writing.
Articles about Alma Flor Ada in Something about the Author. Gale Publishing.
I have been featured in four different volumes of Something about the Author [Gale Research Publications]. In the latest, Volume 222 [pages 3–30], there is an ample Autobiography Feature as well as extensive bibliography about my work. You school librarian or public library should be able to secure this volume for you.
The book of childhood memories Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba [Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2015] includes two previously published books Under the Royal Palms: A Cuban Childhood [Pura Belpré Medal] and Where the Flame Trees Bloom as well as a new collection of childhood memories Days at La Quinta Simoni.
This books of memories of my childhood share much about my family and the environment in which I grew up.
DVDs in English
Publications in Spanish
Vivir en dos idiomas. Aguilar/SantillanaUSA
This memoir is the most complete description of my life available. Recently published it contains not only my experiences but the feelings that accompanied those experiences and the reflections they have motivated.
Tesoros de mi isla [Santillana, 2015] es un libro de memorias de infancia que incorpora dos libros publicados previamente: Bajo las palmas reales y Allá donde florecen los framboyanes y un grupo de relatos reunidos como Días en la Quinta Simoni.
Este libro, con numerosas fotografías de mi infancia, comparte información sobre mi familia y el ambiente en el cual me crié.
Each of these books, currently out of print, present an individual childhood experience. They have served as source for Días en La Quinta Simoni, one of the sections of Tesoros de mi isla.
DVDs in Spanish
Escribiendo desde el corazón. Del Sol Publishing
MISCELLANEOUS TEXTS ABOUT MY LIFE
CALIFORNIA READERS AUTHOR INTERVIEW
- What did you most like to do when you were a child?
As a child I loved to read, to spend time in nature, both among the trees and in the ocean, to swim and to explore.
- What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
So many… I read all the books, not only the best well-known, of Louise May Alcott and of Johanna Spyri. Louise May Alcott’s books made me think of feelings and personal interaction, those of J. Spyri of the wonders of the world of nature around me, as well as love among people. Jules Verne invited me to imagine the unimaginable. Emilio Salgari invited me to think of brave adventures, while Charles Dickens made me see, even more clearly, the poverty, the great differences, and the injustices that existed in my country.
I was particularly moved by Edmundo D’Amicis book, Corazón. El diario de un niño [Heart: A Boy’s Diary] which included some very poignant stories and reflections on every day life in Italy, by the books of two Argentinian writers Constancio C. Vigil and Germán Berdiales. I loved the poetry of José Martí, the stories and essays in the wonderful La Edad de Oro. Besides books I was greatly influenced by my grandmother’s stories: folktales, legends from the Greek tradition and factual stories about the Cuban struggle to gain its independence from Spain.
- What was your first job when you graduated from college?
I was already a teacher before finishing my doctoral studies. And I am proud to have been an educator ever since!
- When and where was your first book published?
My first books were published in Lima, Peru, before I finished my graduate studies. They were text books with the lessons that I had created for my High School students.
- What are the topics are some of your books?
I write books in many genres, and I really like them all. It depends on the moment.
Some of my books are books of poetry. In Spanish I love to play with the language, its sounds and its multiple meanings. Many of my picture books in Spanish are written using rhyme.
In my picture books there are frequently many animals, probably because I grew up in a farm and loved the nature that surrounded me.
The topics that keep reappearing, whether the characters be animals, people, or even geometric shapes are the joy of family, the surprises of discovering friendship among those who apparently are different from us [The Malachite Palace, Friend Frog, Friends] our capacity to change our environment and thus our life for the better [Jordi’s Star] and the power in not-giving up [The Lizard and the Sun, The Kite].
My respect for farm-workers led me to write Gathering the Sun.
- Do you focus on fiction or nonfiction? Which do you prefer? Do you find one easier than the other?I write both fiction and non-fiction, as well as poetry and plays. The desire that all children learn more about the richness of the Latino culture, in order that they can appreciate it more, has led me to write many non-fiction books, usually in collaboration with F. Isabel Campoy.I enjoy all forms of writing, but I probably have more fun writing fiction.
- Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are all around us. I can get inspired for a story by seeing something, or by hearing some words… but at the end it always seems that the stories reflect something that is deep in me.
- What gave you the idea for Extra! Extra! News from Hidden Forest?I enjoyed very much seeing how much children liked my books Dear Peter Rabbit, Yours Truly, Goldilocks and With Love Little Red Hen, and I liked to see that teachers were using them to show their students how to write letters in a fun way.The great illustrations that Leslie Tryon has made for these books made the Hidden Forest world come alive… and that led me to believe those who lived in Hidden Forest needed a newspaper.Then I remembered how important newspapers had been in my life… and the book was born.
- Have any of your books earned special recognition?
Yes. I have been very fortunate that many of my books have received awards. While a more complete list can be found in my website, these are some examples:The Gold Coin won the Christopher Award Medal; The Lizard and the Sun received the gold medal from Parenting Magazines; Gathering the Sun won the Once Upon a World Award; Half-chicken/Mediopollito was given an Aesop Accolade from the American Folklore Association; Tales Our Abuelitas Told received The Junior Library Guild Medal; Dear Peter Rabbit is a Parent’s Honor book. And Under the Royal Palms won the very prestigious Pura Belpré Award from the American Library Association.
Many of my books have received recognition by having been included in many lists of recommended books and in multiple anthologies.
- How did your life change when you had children?
Not only my life, but myself changed completely when I became a mother. Life was not any more about me, but first and foremost about my children. I became more cautious, because I wanted to make sure nothing happened to me, so I could be there for them. I worked much harder, because I wanted to make sure they would not lack anything. And they became a constant presence in my mind and heart. And yes, it made it a lot easier to write, because they have inspired many of my stories and added so much to my life that I have both greater interest in writing and their help and support.
- Have any of your fiction stories been about real people or events?
I love to explain that I am Field Mouse in my story Friend Frog.
- Is there anything about yourself that you’d like to share–hobbies, where you were born, special talents other than writing/illustrating?
Recently I have had two books published, Alma Flor Ada and You, volumes I and II [Libraries Unlimited] where I have shared everything you can possibly want to know about my life as an author of children’s literature.
ALMA FLOR ADA
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTIONS TO SHARE WITH STUDENTS
I was born in Camagüey, Cuba, in an old house in the outskirts of town which the remote neighbors believed was haunted. The house had been the home of the patriots in the struggle to win Cuba’s independence from Spain. It held memories of people who had lived in it for over a century. Some of those had been the plantation owners, some shamefully had been held as enslaved workers.
Every evening my grandmother and I sat on the porch to wait for the sunset. As we watched the bats come out from their den in the ceiling, and fly into the darkening sky, I listened to her stories of the struggle for freedom, equality and justice that had been carried on by people who lived in that same house, who perhaps had conspired on that same porch.
Her ability to tell stories made history alive to me and planted the seed that children can listen to very important topics if they are presented as a good story.
She was not the only storyteller in my family. I was blessed by being surrounded by them. Everyone in my family loved a well told story and was good at telling them. Some were exceptionally good.
My uncle Tony loved to tell family stories. He made them very vividly by making himself be a part of the action… even if the story had happened before he became a part of the family by marrying my Aunt Lolita, or even before he was born. And it didn’t matter if anyone tried to make the record straight. He was so convincing in the telling that he actually convinced himself that he’d been there each time!
My father, instead, created for me each night a new chapter of an unending story of the life of human beings in this planet. He was not concerned with the history of kings and conquerors or well-known figures, but rather on how the common people had, a step at a time, created civilizations as we now know them.
This combination of reality and fantasy delighted me. The fact that he created these stories just for me was an extraordinary gift which formed a most powerful bond between us.
I was a rather quiet and observant child. The world around me was fascinating. I was lucky to be allowed long hours by myself in nature. I could watch a bird, a flower or a leave for the longest time and always marvel at its beauty. I lived next to a river and that in itself was a source of constant wonders: leaping frogs, funny tadpoles, skittish turtles that would jump in the water and disappear at the slightest noise, dragonflies and egrets… they have all found a way into my books because they are all so alive in my memory.
And then, there was a town full of people. Making sense of who they really were, what they thought and desired, what they believed on and how they lived, was a fountain of revelations. Every possible character, every possible attitude seemed to exist around me, if I just listened and reflected enough.
Books were wonderful companions and I found myself many times marveling at finding similarities between the people around me and the characters in books. I never believed I would be a writer–although as a teenager I thought I would be a journalist—and became a teacher instead. But my love for words and books made it inevitable that I would become an author. And what a joy it is!
Fuentes que han influido en mi pensamiento
Primero que nada quiero aclarar que me siento muy agradecida a todos los pensadores y educadores de los que he aprendido. Algunos me proporcionaron nuevas ideas, otros me ayudaron a consolidar o a matizar las mías, muchos me han dado apoyo y han reforzado mis propias intuiciones.
Es bastante difícil determinar exactamente de dónde viene todo lo que a lo largo de una vida uno ha ido decantado. Pero trataré de aclararlo lo mejor posible.
Considero que distintos aspectos de mi pensamiento coinciden con los de otros autores, que quizá hayan escrito mas extensamente sobre ello, pero necesariamente no derivo de ellos. Es lógico que todos los que hemos estudiado y aprendido de Pablo Freire tengamos semejanzas de pensamiento.
Algunos de los autores con los que siento gran afinidad son los siguientes:
- En temas de bilingüismo:
Tove Skutnabb Kangas, Jim Cummins y Stepehn Krashen
- En temas de multiculturalismo coincido con:
Sonia Nieto y Luis Moll
- En educación anti-racista aprendí mucho de
Ricki Sherover Marcuse, de mi propia alumna Jacqueline Reza y más que de
nadie de mi propia hija, Rosalma Zubizarreta
- En la importancia de la estética y del arte en la educación coincido con Maxine Greene.
- Sobre la importancia de que los alumnos escriban:
Cuando empecé a enseñar en el Perú, leí a Celestine Freinet (el gran educador francés) y me impresionó mucho su idea de que cada salón de clases debe ser una editorial que publique los escritos de sus alumnos. En esa época leí también a un escritor, no sé si argentino, chileno u uruguayo, que publicaba sus libros como el Maestro Romualdo, publicaba los escritos de sus alumnos de una escuelita rural. Todo esto apoyó mi propia intuición de lo importante que es que los alumnos escriban y que lo que escriban se publique de algún modo.
Pero esencialmente soy una mujer hispanoamericana y las más importantes fuentes de mi pensamiento hay que buscarlas en esa realidad.
Agradezco esta oportunidad de reconocer a mis grandes maestros, la lista resulta bastante sorprendente y la explicaré brevemente.
Vengo de una familia de educadores.
En la dedicatoria de A Magical Encounter cito a estos predecesores familiares que me dejaron como herencia genética y como herencia en la tradición familiar el amor a la enseñaza.
- Mis bisabuelos, Virginia Rubio Sierra y Lorenzo Lafuente Garoña tenían un colegio en Madrid, España.
- Mis abuelos, Medardo Lafuente Rubio y Dolores Salvador Méndez fueron grandes educadores.
Sobre ellos puede leerse en:
“La maestra” viñeta en Allá donde florecen los framboyanes
El prólogo a Mi cada vez más querida mía, libro que he publicado recogiendo las cartas
de Medardo Lafuente a Dolores Salvador
El libro Recuerdos de Mireya Lafuente Salvador donde hay varias viñetas dedicadas a
- Mi padre fue un hombre extraordinario. Siento no haber escrito todavía sobre él, aunque lo estoy haciendo en las Memorias de vida que estoy escribiendo ahora.
- José Martí informa todo mi pensamiento. Aprendí a conocerlo de boca de mi abuela. Memoricé de pequeña sus Versos sencillos. Me conmoví leyendo Ismaelillo y La Edad de Oro. Y he seguido estudiando su pensamiento y aprendiendo de él siempre. Creo que sus Cartas a María Mantilla contienen la mas hermosa visión de lo que es educar.Como autora de libros infantiles Martí es mi modelo más importante. Su respeto al niño es profundo y auténtico. Y creó para ellos todo un nuevo estilo de decir, con el comienza la buena literatura infantil en Hispanoamérica y definitivamente debemos considerarlo el primer autor Latino de literatura infantil.
- El filósofo peruano Augusto Salazar BondyDe él aprendí sobre la dominación, la opresión y sus consecuencias sobre individuos y sociedad, aun antes de haber leído a Freire.Me ayudó con mi tesis doctoral, cuando creí no poder continuarla y me relacionó por primera vez con un editor y, gracias a su recomendación, publiqué mis primeros libros de texto.
- El filólogo argentino Raimundo Lida. Estudié con él, cursos de post-grado en Harvard. Y tuvo la generosidad de continuar trabajando conmigo para convertir la tesis con la cual había obtenido el doctorado en el Perú, en mi primer libro de crítica literaria: Pedro Salinas. El diálogo creador (Gredos). De él aprendí rigor, a tamizar las afirmaciones, a buscar la posibilidad de nuevas interpretaciones y a dar peso y valor a cada palabra.Y su profunda sabiduría e incomparable sensibilidad incrementaron mi capacidad de disfrutar de la poesía a niveles que no hubiera imaginado
- El educador brasileño, Paulo Freire ha tenido profunda influencia en mí, porque encarnaba su propio pensamiento con total autenticidad, como he querido hacerlo yo siempre
- Mi hija, Rosalma Zubizarreta aunque ella posiblemente protestaría contra esta afirmación lo cierto es que ha sido para mí una gran maestra a lo largo de la vida. Tiene una profunda capacidad reflexiva y a ello le une el valor de vivir sus convicciones, inclusive en aquellas situaciones donde no es f’acil. Gracias a su aprecio por todo ser viviente, y el nivel de comprensión y compasión que siente y expresa hacia todos los seres humanos, y a su clara percepción de los errores tan prevalentes en todas las sociedades, que son etnocéntricas y opresivas en esencia, me ha enseñado y me enseña constantemente.
- Mi madre, Alma Lafuente Salvador, y sus hermanas Virginia y Mireya
fueron grandes maestras, que enseñaron con idealismo,entusiasmo, creatividad
- También han sido muy importantes en mi visión de la educación mi maestra de sexto grado, Rosa María Peyrellade, que no vaciló en salirse del programa para ayudarme (tenía grandes problemas con la ortografía, por una forma de dislexia) y para estimular mi creatividad
- Y la maestra de cuarto grado de mi hijo Miguel Zubizarreta, Miss Ivonne Larin (en Vetal School Detroit)
Su influencia y mi deuda hacia ella están claramente descritas en la sección “The 1,000 book classroom” en el libro A Magical Encounter.
- Por estimularme a seguir una carrera universitaria con gran rigor la Dra. Elena Catena de Vindell, de la Universidad Complutense en Madrid. En un momento en que estaba sola y sin mucha guía o dirección en Madrid, ella vio en mí la potencia para seguir un doctorado y me estimuló a hacerlo con gran cariño y generosidad, cosa nada frecuente en aquel momento de parte de un profesor español hacia un alumno hispanoamericano.
- Y para la creación escrita, tengo una enorme deuda de gratitud a una editora extraordinaria: Bernice Randall