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Pam Muñoz Ryan wins Tomás Rivera Children's Book Award

Date of Release: 07/21/2005

Book cover for Becoming Naomi LeonThroughout history, few things hold as great a power and symbolism as do names in regard to identity and family, and Pam Muñoz Ryan explores these ideas in her children's book, Becoming Naomi León.

For her efforts, Becoming Naomi León has been honored with the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award for books published in 2004. The award, established at Texas State University-San Marcos in 1995, is designed to encourage authors, illustrators and publishers to produce books that authentically reflect the lives of Mexican American children and young adults in the United States.

The award will be presented to Ryan in the fall on campus. Scheduled events for Ryan include speaking engagements and book signings on campus and in the community.

Life at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California, is happy and peaceful for Naomi Soledad León Outlaw. That is, until her mother reappears after seven years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover and proclaim who she really is. Now, her mother wants to take Naomi to live in Las Vegas--away from Gram and her little brother, Owen. According to Gram's self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her soap carving--a talent at which she excels--which serves her well on a voyage of self-discovery that takes her deep into Mexico in search of her missing father.

Ryan credits the Oaxacan art of wood carving as inspiration for the book.

"I came across a one-line reference to the Night of the Radishes. The event sounded so magical I knew I had to see it," Ryan says. "In 1997, on the 100th Anniversary of La Noche de los Rabanos, I visited the romantic and mysterious Oaxaca City, a feast of colors, tastes, pageantry, and festivals.

"When I began writing Naomi's story and she evolved into a soap carver, my imagination rushed me back to Oaxaca," she said. "Or was it Oaxaca's spell that first mesmerized me, and inspired the lioness, Naomi Leon?"

Ryan has written more than 30 books for young people in many genres, including the novel Esperanza Rising, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal, Jane Addams Children's Book Award, Américas Award honorable mention and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. When Marian Sang was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and her varied picture books--including Mice and Beans and Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride--have received many accolades including the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for excellence in non-fiction as well as being named American Library Association Notable Children's Books. She is the two-time recipient of the Willa Cather Literary Award for Writing.

Born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, she received her bachelor's and master's degrees at San Diego State University and lives in North San Diego County. For more information, visit

About the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2005 with a reunion of 14 past author and illustrator winners.

The decade celebration, sponsored by the Texas State College of Education, will be Oct. 28-29 in the San Marcos Activity Center and Public Library. This program is made possible in part by grants from Humanities Texas, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and support from the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State.

The authors and illustrators will appear in a joint discussion panel Friday evening, Oct. 28, followed by a book signing. On Saturday, Oct. 29, authors and illustrators will again participate on a variety of panels, with additional sessions featuring experts on Mexican American literature, culture and history.

Texas State developed the Tomás Rivera award to congratulate and acknowledge authors and illustrators dedicated to depicting the values and culture of Mexican Americans. The award is endowed by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. Rivera, who died in 1984, graduated from Texas State with both his bachelor's and master's degrees before receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. A Distinguished Alumnus of Texas State, Rivera published his landmark novel in 1971 titled ...y no se lo tragó la tierra/ ...And the Earth Did Not Part. In 1979, Rivera was appointed chancellor of the University of California-Riverside, the first Hispanic chancellor named to the University of California system.

For more information on the Rivera Award, please visit