“Rambunctious art, gemstone hues, glowing pictures and paintings grand enough for a mural” are some of the words often used to describe Yuyi Morales’s artwork. Since having emigrated from Mexico in 1994 she has drawn strongly from her Mexican heritage to create some of the most celebrated books for children.
Born in Xalapa, the city of flowers and springs, Yuyi grew up among giant grandmothers, mossy house walls, and rampaging feral gardens. Amidst her family’s magical stories she learned to perceive the ordinary as extraordinary. She began drawing in her early years while believing herself the daughter of the most beautiful woman and the strongest man in the world. Eventually she would spend long hours replicating her family’s portraits, copying images from paperback graphic novels, and learning how to draw her face in front of the mirror. Under the influence of her mother, her homework brandished more drawings than words.
Yet, as a teenager, Yuyi’s penchant for imaginative stories and pictures was abandoned when she and her two sisters showed promise as competitive swimmers. Eventually she enrolled at the Universidad Veracruzana where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Physical Education and Psychology and then worked as a swimming coach until 1994, when she immigrated to the US with her gringo fiance and their newborn son.
As a Spanish-speaking immigrant and new mother, Yuyi struggled with English and her sense of loneliness in the foreign culture. She took solace in the 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 now so much admired. She also bought her first set of paints and brushes, and studying the picture books she loved she began learning how to paint.
In 1998, along with a handful of writers, Yuyi founded the Revisionaries writers group, consolidating for herself a community that would support her in pursuing 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 Cesar Chavez (written by Kathleen Krull), skyrocketed Yuyi’s work to the top of best-books-of-the-year lists, and earned her an ALSC Pura Belpre Honor, 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.
Yuyi’s book of her own, Just a Minute; A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, earned Morales’s The America’s Award, a Tomas Rivera Award, and her first Pura Belpre Medal, an award given to a Latino illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
Asked about her work Morales says, “I strive to capture the incredible beauty of the every day forms using textures and colors as another way to reveal the heart of the story. I also pursue glow and luminosity with resolve. If I could ask for a talent, it would be to become a color genius.”
Residing in the Bay Area, Morales continues creating beloved books, like the Golden Kite Medal winner, Little Night, co released in Spanish as Nochecita. Upon winning the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (written by Marisa Montes,) Yuyi Morales became the first author/illustrator to be three times recognized by the Pura Belpre Committee and was established as one of the leading children’s book creators working today.
Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet book.
Roaring Brook Press
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