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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
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Workshop 7: Social Justice and Action - Alma Flor Ada, Pam Munoz, and Paul Yee
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Alma Flor Ada
Biography
Work
Interview
Pam Munoz Ryan
Biography
Work
Paul Yee
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Biography

Raised in a family of storytellers, Alma Flor Ada grew up listening to tales of all kinds, from folktales to stories about Cuban history to fantasies about other worlds. Her grandmother taught her to read before she was three by writing the names of flowers and plants on the ground with a stick. Yet Ada only began writing books when she became a teacher. Unsatisfied with the materials she was given, she began to write her own. A professor in one of her college classes saw what she was writing and helped her to get it published, and soon she was writing textbooks. One day, however, her four-year-old daughter told her that the textbooks she was writing were "ugly" and asked her to write books for her instead. "At that time," Ada says, "I didn't know what I know now. I didn't know that everyone is an author; that everyone has stories to tell. I was very shy and so I started by telling the stories my grandmother used to tell me." Now Alma Flor Ada has over 200 books to her name, many drawn from her own childhood or from the folktales her family told her.


Ada was born in 1938 outside Camaguey, Cuba, and grew up there. As a young woman she moved to Peru and began teaching, but this, her first immigrant experience, left her lonely, afraid, and yearning for familiar food and friends. After 10 years in Peru, she moved with her husband to the United States and, once again, had to negotiate the life of a person of two cultures -- a theme that appears again and again in her work. Yet, she says, "The beautiful thing is that I now know that although I live in another country, I don't have to stop being who I am or change the way I think or feel. I bring a richness, a value to this country, and I can serve as a bridge between two cultures." Immigrants are "border crossers," Ada says, but "the important thing is to learn that we can eliminate that border" by virtue of being people who understand two cultures. Reading about other cultures, she believes, also helps us cross borders in understanding different people and their traditions. "Through the wonderful multicultural literature that exists, you can really make friends with children of other cultures."

A fierce proponent of bilingual education, Ada was a professor at the University of San Francisco, where she directed the Center for Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. In her school visits, Ada constantly reminds students to find and use their true voices to express their ideas and speak up for what is right. Because she greatly admires people like César Chávez who fought for the rights of others, she reminds young people that "we cannot just wait for another César Chávez to appear. Every one of us has to be a César Chávez inside and do our part so that this happens."

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