Pam Muñoz Ryan used her grandmother's experiences in Mexico and the U.S. as inspiration for her latest book, Esperanza Rising.
I was born and raised in California's San Joaquin Valley. I grew up with aunts, uncles and grandparents nearby and consider myself truly American because my heritage is part Spanish, Mexican, Basque, Italian and Oklahoman. My grandparents on my mother's side came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1930's. I am the oldest of three sisters and the oldest of twenty-three cousins on my mother's side, so many of my childhood memories revolve around big, noisy family gatherings. Today I live about 30 miles north of San Diego, California — the town is called Leucadia — with my husband, my four children and our dogs Buster and Barney. Our house is six blocks from the Pacific Ocean and with four teenagers coming and going with volleyballs, beach towels and surfboards, my house is still pretty noisy!

Growing up, I spent many long, hot valley summers riding my bike to the library. The library became my favorite hang out because my family didn't have a swimming pool and the library was air-conditioned. That's how I got hooked on reading and books. After college, I knew that I wanted to work in a profession that had something to do with books, and so I became a teacher. A friend encouraged me to write a book myself, and that's when I discovered what I really wanted to do with my life. Today, I am a full-time writer and I still spend a lot of time at the library. When I start a new book, if it is nonfiction or historical fiction, the first thing I do is go to the library for research.

When I actually start writing, there's really no mysterious secret. I sit at my computer and I just type a first draft. My first draft isn't very well written, but it gives me a jumping off place. By the time one of my stories becomes a book though, I have usually rewritten it somewhere between 20–30 times. I have written books for adults, picture books for children, and recently I completed my first novel for older students. I also write for children in Japan through a Japanese publisher. Maybe it's the teacher in me, but I want to make sure children everywhere are excited about reading, so I visit schools and go to conferences to speak about reading and literacy. I want kids to be hooked on reading and books, like I was.