Tributes to Alma Flor Ada

ALMA FLOR ADA

by Yuyi Morales
[Yuyi Morales was awarded the 2004 Pura Bel­pré Medal for illus­tra­tion for her book Just a Minute: A Trick­ster Tale and Count­ing Book, as well as an honor award for her illus­tra­tions of Har­vest­ing Hope: The Story of César Chávez. These were her words dur­ing the award ceremony]

I met Alma Flor Ada at one of the first “Read­ing the World” con­fer­ences at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco a few years ago. She went around the USF build­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple, lis­ten­ing to all of those who needed to talk to her. It seems like every­body had ques­tions or requests for Alma flor. I was a reader; I had known Alma’s books for a long time, and she was already in my mind as some kind of war­rior from a Span­ish writ­ten tale –a woman who had come to a for­eign land, had con­quered, and was leav­ing a pre­cious legacy.

At the time I was already very inter­ested in writ­ing and illus­trat­ing children’s books, but I lacked direc­tion. When Alma Flor heard that I wanted to write, she invited me –a mere stranger who had just shaken her hand for the first time—to visit one of the classes she was giv­ing at the mul­ti­cul­tural lit­er­a­ture pro­gram at USF. The class was called “The Author Within,” and after that first class I was hooked. How could I leave her class if Alma was talk­ing exactly about what I wanted to learn, about raid­ing the sto­ries from inside me and shar­ing them out with the world? It took all my courage to ask Alma Flor, but she said yes; I could com­ing to the class, and along with the enrolled stu­dents I stayed for the rest of the semester.

Why does one stick with Alma Flor? Per­haps it is because she becomes some sort of a head­light in one’s life. Dur­ing this class, Alma Flor looked at me in the eyes many times and told me that I had tal­ent, that I was a writer. And I believed her.

Or per­haps because she has the man­ner of a mother; when she takes you under her wings, and her warmth sur­rounds you, you know you have arrived in a safe place.

Or per­haps it is because she is a role model, a Latina who came to the USA and crafter metic­u­lously her own life and career. And what woman doesn’t want to be like Alma Flor?

I do.

Nom­i­na­tion for the Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tion Research His­panic Research Issues Award

Con­ferred on March 2008 to Alma Flor Ada

As a teacher, scholar, author and poet, Alma Flor Ada has inspired and influ­enced count­less chil­dren, fam­i­lies, teach­ers and researchers in bilin­gual and lit­er­acy edu­ca­tion. No one else, to my knowl­edge, has woven these mul­ti­ple per­sona so successfully.

As a teacher, Alma Flor Ada began her career teach­ing lit­er­a­ture at the high school level in Lima, Peru. After receiv­ing her Ph.D. in the Human­i­ties, from the Uni­ver­si­dad Catolica del Peru, she came to the United States on a Ful­bright, con­tin­u­ing post doc­toral work at Har­vard. She then taught at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties, most notably the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco (1976–2004), where she was Direc­tor of Doc­toral Stud­ies in the Inter­na­tional Multi-Cultural Pro­gram in the School of Edu­ca­tion and where she founded and led the Cen­ter for Mul­ti­cul­tural Lit­er­a­ture for Chil­dren and Young Adults. Besides men­tor­ing as Chair more than 160 dis­ser­ta­tions dur­ing her tenure at USF, Alma Flor received numer­ous awards, includ­ing the Dis­tin­guished Teach­ing Award (1985). No one who has attended a work­shop or pre­sen­ta­tion with Alma Flor Ada can for­get the power of her approach as a teacher. Whether with an audi­ence of twelve or two hun­dred she moves par­tic­i­pants to write from the heart. At a recent work­shop at UC Davis, she asked us to remem­ber an impor­tant per­son in our lives and then through a series of one word line starters, had us all write our own mem­o­ries. She began the process, with “Oigo” ( I hear) , an evoca­tive cue that prompted emo­tion, pas­sion and the begin­nings of poetry.

As a scholar, Alma Flor Ada has pub­lished 12 books, many as sin­gle author, 15 chap­ters, numer­ous jour­nal arti­cles, co-founded and edited the NABE Jour­nal and chaired and co-directed numer­ous con­fer­ences in the United States, Latin Amer­ica and Europe on lit­er­acy devel­op­ment and children’s lit­er­a­ture. In addi­tion, over the span of her career, she has been lead author of lit­er­acy cur­ric­ula for a vari­ety of pub­lish­ers includ­ing San­til­lana and Harocurt Brace. In these activ­i­ties, she rep­re­sents the apoth­e­o­sis of the engaged scholar/teacher/poet. For exam­ple, her sem­i­nal work involv­ing par­ents as co-teachers and authors in Pajaro Val­ley (1988), explored the effec­tive­ness of a new par­a­digm for par­ent par­tic­i­pa­tion, with par­ents shar­ing and co-writing sto­ries with their chil­dren. This work inspired many of her doc­toral stu­dents in sim­i­lar paths and cul­mi­nated in one of her many pub­li­ca­tions in poetry: Gath­er­ing the Sun, an anthol­ogy of bilin­gual poems, pre­sented as an ABC book, that draws pow­er­fully from the lives of work­ers in the fields of Cal­i­for­nia. Mag­i­cal Encounter, Latino children’s lit­er­a­ture in the class­room, now in its sec­ond edi­tion, weaves research with prac­ti­cal advice for teach­ers, richly illus­trated with spe­cific sce­nar­ios on how to share the power of good books with chil­dren. Most recently, Authors in the class­room (co-authored with Isabel Cam­poy) effec­tively extends this work, explor­ing ways in which stu­dents can develop as writ­ers through the inspi­ra­tion of lit­er­a­ture and co-construction of their own work.

As an author and poet of children’s lit­er­a­ture and most recently of adult lit­er­a­ture, Alma Flor Ada’s is a remark­able story. Poetry, nar­ra­tive, mem­oir, biog­ra­phy and fables, are among the many gen­res she has tack­led, gar­ner­ing awards and inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion in each of these. Indeed, children’s lit­er­a­ture in the United States and in Latin Amer­ica would not be the same with­out her. Her sto­ries and poetry have cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion and broaden the land­scape of the Latino expe­ri­ence as seen through children’s eyes in sub­stan­tive ways. To date she has authored or coau­thored over two hun­dred books in children’s lit­er­a­ture. Among many notable entries of her work we include, in cuen­tos, Tales our abueli­tas told (2006) win­ner of the Lit­er­ary Guild Medal and Kirkus Reviews Best book of the year; in mem­oir, Under the royal palms (2000), Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion Award; in folk­tales, Medio Pol­lito (1997) Amer­i­can Folk­lore Asso­ci­a­tion; in poetry, Gath­er­ing the Sun (1997), Amer­i­can Book­sellers Association.

Finally, on a per­sonal note and I know I speak for many par­ents, Alma Flor’s books have helped us all in nur­tur­ing bilin­gual­ism, bilit­er­acy and social jus­tice in our chil­dren. This work has been made more pow­er­ful because of Dr. Ada’s engage­ment with children’s lit­er­a­ture as a point of inquiry in her own schol­ar­ship and the research of her stu­dents. Dr. Ada’s work as a teacher, with her stu­dents and still today with chil­dren, teach­ers and par­ents, she mod­els, facil­i­tates and evokes inspi­ra­tion and opens path­ways for unleash­ing the writ­ers within us. I urge the His­panic SIG to honor Alma Flor Ada for her accom­plish­ments and for her con­tri­bu­tions to our com­mu­ni­ties. — Bar­bara Merino, UC Davis