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Susan Miles Gulbransen: Authors Pat Mora, Meg Waite Clayton and More to Speak in Santa Barbara

Two local institutions long ago grabbed my heart: our public library and CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation). If you’re a reader and book lover, both have upcoming events that would be worthy your attention.

One of my strongest memories as a child was walking under the Central Library’s colorful, artistically carved door, then the main door, on the Anapamu Street side of the building.

My mom took me and my brother there every two weeks, and I loaded up on whatever books caught my eye. The world in those books opened up endless learning curves and emotional ties.

Perhaps that is why I was pleased with the recent news that the Association of Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association, will present their prestigious national May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture here in Santa Barbara this year April 15.

The talk provides a forum for “new voices speaking with new insight and new emphasis in the field of children’s lectures.”

Past reipients have included Lois Lowry, Maurice Sendak, Philip Pullman and Ursula Le Guin.

This year, noted and award-winning author Pat Mora, a contributor and supporter of bilingual literature, will speak on “Bookjoy! Alegria en los Libros!”

Bookjoy, her own phrase, describes the power and pleasure of words. Raised in a bilingual, bicultural family, she writes for a wide range of readers, adults and children.

Mora and I recently spoke about the importance of bilingual books for children and how the industry is treating this genre. We began with how she got into writing.

“My parents gave me a typewriter at my request when I graduated from Catholic schools in El Paso, Texas. With it was a fine box of stationary. After my graduation party when everyone went home, I sat down and began to write religious poetry,” she said.

Her first dream in establishing a career was to write children’s books.

“Like many people who decide to write a book, I thought it doesn’t look that hard and children’s books don’t have that many words. I submitted manuscripts but got discouraged after many rejections, so I began writing poetry,” she said. “It became an odd turn around because it was easier to place poetry, thanks to certain presses. I ended up with two books published for adults.”

One of those, Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints, was based on the voice of one woman who cleans for a church.

Mora said, “There are some very devoted women of Mexican descent who have personal approach to the Saints so that’s what I wrote about: conversations with their favorite saints."

A friend then followed, “Why not work on your children’s books again?”

About that time Mora went to Finland with her husband, a university professor, for a  conference. While he was busy, she visited their public library and talked with the children’s librarian.

“I asked if she had books in languages other than Finnish. She said, ‘Oh, yes, we have them in 17 languages. We want our children to be well read, know other languages and have a broad view of languages,’” Mora said.

That struck home with Mora, so she turned to writing children’s bilingual books in Spanish and English side. She includes code-switching, a pattern in which bilingual people tend to mix native words with their second language. That time her manuscript was published.

“You never know what’ll trigger a publisher to select your manuscript out of what we called the ‘slush pile.’ Now you need to have agents and the publishing business has become more corporate.”

In addition to the corporate influence on publishing, Mora believes that the industry is not yet diverse.

“It’s still a struggle to have bilingual books published, read, purchased and promoted — even in second language as popular as Spanish. Publishing ventures are economic ventures, always looking for a profit. What publishers should also be asking is why do we need this book, not just how will it make money,” Mora said.

When talking about the importance of bilingual books, her answer became almost poetic.

“All languages are beautiful and have their own rhythm. Bi-lingual books not only help our growing Latino population but give them a chance to see themselves in books,” said Mora. “It’s also good to be familiar with the second most popular language in U.S. These books help children who don’t speak Spanish, but their parents do. At one of my library appearances, a grandmother asked me if bilingual books are on tape. She herself didn’t speak Spanish but wanted her granddaughter to.”

Mora takes that second language idea a step further.

“So many people say we shouldn’t teach another language to children because they won’t learn English as well. Studies have proven that wrong. Children learn more not only about the language but about other people,” she said. “To be candid, the publishing world markets to people familiar to them, readers like themselves. It’s difficult for the bulk of the publishing world to become excited about finding, sharing and promoting a variety of voices that make up our lingus wealth in this country.”

Libraries have played an important part in Mora’s life from growing up in a household filled with books, the publication of her over 30 books, raising three children and now her bonus with a granddaughter.

“An important role for libraries, book lovers and families is to encourage youth to read. So much to do,” Mora said. “We need to recognize the power of books in children’s lives. It breaks my heart that some parents aren’t nudged to believe that books are good gifts and to encourage their children to read. The same for children from Spanish speaking homes. That’s why an award like this means so much.”

Mora’s talk will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, 2016, at Garvin Theatre at Santa Barbara Community College. Click here for free tickets.

                                                               •        •        •

My first introduction to CALM was the red phone on a chair in the corner of our dining room for 30 days back in 1968. On it was a handwritten note, “Don’t answer!”

At that time, my mom, Claire Miles, a former nurse, and my father, Harold, a doctor at Cottage Hospital, realized that abused children kept coming into the emergency room, but nothing was being done to help them.

Earlier that year a 19-year-old overworked and overtired Santa Barbara City College student became so frustrated and upset at his little boy crying, he shook the baby to death.

The young man’s social worker, who knew my mother, asked, “Why?”

The father said, “I had nowhere to turn.”

Along with the red phone that month was an ad in the Santa Barbara News-Press requesting anyone aware of child abuse in our community to call, even anonymously.

About 30 calls came in, enough to indicate that there was indeed a problem that it was not being dealt with. Hence CALM came about.

Thanks to an incredible number of local people giving their time, talent and treasure over the years, CALM now serves over 2,000 children and families in the county with more than a hundred staff available to deal with child abuse, and it is still reaching out.

Move up the timetable to 1986 when the go-getter CALM Auxiliary began its annual fundraiser, the CALM Celebrity Authors Luncheon. In those 30 years it has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of CALM’s mission.

This year’s event will feature a host of authors with their books as well as speakers Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X, 2016), Frances Schultz (The Bee Cottage Story, 2015) and Meg Waite Clayton (The Race for Paris, 2015).

Clayton’s book took some odd twists getting to publication. While still practicing corporate law in her “tidy blue suit,” she had a book in mind about two women, a journalist and photographer who defied military regulations and gender barriers at the end of World War II. They had joined the race to be at the liberation of Paris.

The manuscript did not work as she hoped, so she moved to writing four other books, among them, The Wednesday Sisters. Two years ago Clayton resumed researching and writing The Race to Paris.

She talked about how it feels to have the book published after nurturing it all those years.

“That it happened — that’s the greatest surprise and the greatest pleasure. I started The Race for Paris literally before the turn of the century. It’s been my passion, the book I kept going back to, trying to get it just right.

“It’s also been an incredible pleasure to see how wonderfully it has been received, by booksellers who named it an IndieNext Great Read and other awards honoring it as one of the two best American historical novels of the year, by reviewers who have noted the fresh look at WWII from the perspective of female journalists and readers who have been absolutely lovely,” she said. “In the process they have all made it a national bestseller.”

My last question was why she was driving down from Palo Alto to appear at the CALM Luncheon.

“So many reasons: to support a great cause, to connect with readers and, of course, to have an excuse to return to Santa Barbara and see old friends!”

That just about sums it up what many of us see in the CALM Celebrity Authors Luncheon. Check out details at

— Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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