Tributes to 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