Since migrating to the US from Mexico in 1994, Yuyi Morales has created some of our most celebrated children’s books. She is a multiple winner of the Pura Belpre Medal, an honor bestowed by the American Library Association for authors and Illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children. Other honors include the Americas Award, the Golden Kite Medal, the Christopher Award, the Jane Adams Award, and the Tomas Rivera Award. In 2015 she received the Caldecott Honor for her book Viva Frida.
Born in Xalapa, the city of flowers and springs, Yuyi grew up among giant grandmothers, in a house with mossy high walls and abundant gardens. Eventually she enrolled at Universidad Veracruzana where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Physical Education and Psychology and then worked as a swimming coach until she immigrated to the US with her fiancé and their newborn son.
As a Spanish-speaking immigrant and new mother, Yuyi struggled with English and with loneliness in a culture foreign to her. She took solace in public libraries, where she and her son practiced English by reading children’s books. In her library visits she found a renewed interest for stories, and Yuyi enrolled in evening writing classes to learn how to tell stories in English like the ones she so much admired. She also bought her first set of paints and brushes, and studying the picture books she loved she began to paint.
In 1998, along with a handful of writers, Yuyi founded the Revisionaries writers’ group, and became part of a community that would support her goal to pursue a career in children’s books. In 2000, she won the SCBWI Don Freeman grant for her work as a promising illustrator, and shortly afterwards she illustrated her first picture book for the school market, written by Isabel Campoy, titled Todas las Buenas Manos.
In 2003 her illustrations for Harvesting Hope, the Story of CesarChavez, written by Kathleen Krull and published by HMH Books for Young Readers, garnered much acclaim, and were awarded the first of four ALSC Pura Belpre Honors, as well as a Christopher and a Jane Adams Award, these last two in recognition of the causes of peace, social justice, and the higher human spirit. The book is also available in Spanish as Cosechando Esperanza: La historia de Cesar Chavez Yuyi then wrote and illustrated, Just a Minute; A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, published by Chronicle Books, earning her The Americas Award, a Tomas Rivera Award, and her first of five Pura Belpre Medals. Next came Los Gatos Black on Halloween, written by Marisa Montes and published by Henry Holt and Co. It also won the Pura Belpre award for illustration. In 2007, she published Little Night /Nochecita (Neal Porter Books/ Roaring Brook Press), which won the Golden Kite Medal and Just in Case ((Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press) which won a Pura Belpre Award for illustration and Honor for narrative. My Abuelita ,by Tony Johnston (HMH Books for Young Readers) won her a Pura Belpre Honor for illustration. In 2009, she illustrated Ladder to the Moon (Candlewick Press) written by Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister of President Obama and Yuyi’s first book to reach the New York Times Best Sellers List. Yuyi’s book, Niño Wrestles the World (Neal Porter Books / Roaring Brook Press) made her the first author/illustrator to have won the Pura Belpre Award four times. Her book and has reinforced her reputation as one of our leading children’s book creators. Her book Viva Frida (McMillan Publishers) received not only the Caldecott Honor, but also won Yuyi her fifth Pura Belpre Award, cementing her reputation as one of the leading children’s book writers and illustrators.
Today, Yuyi’s little son has grown up and enrolled as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College. She divides her time between her birthplace of Xalapa Veracruz and her adopted home in the San Francisco Bay area.