Leyla Torres (1960-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1960, in Bogotá, Colombia; Education: Universidad de la Sabana, B.A. (arts and education); studied at Art Students League of New York.
Author and illustrator. Editor and translator of educational materials.
Authors Guild, Authors League, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, OrigamiUSA.
Honor Book in K-6 category, Society of School Librarians International Book Awards in the Social Studies, and Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature commendation, both 1999, both for Liliana's Grandmothers; Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature commendation, 1996, for Saturday Sancocho; Parent's Choice Illustration Award, 1993, and Book of the Year designation, Bank Street College, 1994, both for Subway Sparrow.
Subway Sparrow, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993, Spanish edition by the author published as El gorrión del Metro, Mirasol/Libros Juveniles (New York, NY), 1993.
Saturday Sancocho, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1995. Spanish edition by the author published as El sancocho del sábado, Mirasol/Libros Juveniles (New York, NY), 1995.
Liliana's Grandmothers, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998, Spanish edition by the author published as Las abuelas de Liliana, Mirasol/Libros Juveniles (New York, NY), 1998.
Two Days in May, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
The Kite Festival, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004, Spanish edition by the author published as El festival de cometas, Mirasol/Libros Juveniles (New York, NY), 2004.
Leyla Torres grew up in Colombia speaking Spanish. After training as an artist, she traveled to New York City, where she continued to study and discovered the wealth of English-language children's books on the shelves of the New York Public Library. Although she originally planned to stay only a year, Torres decided to make the United States her permanent home. In titles such as The Kite Festival, Saturday Sancocho, and Subway Sparrow, which are published in both English and Spanish editions, she has added to the growing number of books that focus on Latin American life. Praising Saturday Sancocho, in which Maria Lili and her mother gather the ingredients for a Central American dish at the local open-air market, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Torres' "text bounces with make-a-deal energy" while her watercolor illustrations "convey a serene domesticity." Praising the author/illustrator for contributing to the growing wealth of "good literature depicting the Latino culture," Lauren Peterson added in her Booklist review that Saturday Sancocho benefits from "bright, lively watercolors" and "colorful characters." Interestingly, Torres also includes some Polish words in her picture-book texts, making her gentle stories reach an even broader young audience; as Booklist reviewer Graciela Italiano noted, "the interjection of foreign phrases does not break the continuity of the plot" of either English or Spanish editions.
Torres told Something about the Author: "I have always loved to paint and to read. As a child growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, my parents ran an elementary school which exposed me to all kinds of books. One day, my mother gave me a small easel and a box of paints. My first painting was a group of six tall, thin green trees. I didn't have many friends and my two brothers and sister were much younger than me, so I spent a lot of time on my own either reading, painting or making rag dolls.
"When I went to college, I decided to study fine arts. In the beginning I was quite nervous because I thought that the teachers would expect accomplished drawings in the first day of class. To my surprise and relief, the teachers had me drawing pages and pages of circles and squares. I discovered that little by little my drawings improved, but it takes a lot of practice and patience to draw or do anything well at all.
"After receiving a degree in fine arts and education, I rented a small attic studio and found a job teaching art in a public school in Bogotá. I also worked closely with a group of puppeteers, designing and creating puppets and sets, and collaborated on the writing of scripts as well. I think it was at that time in my life that the idea of doing my own books was planted within me. I kept the desire to myself for a long time because I wasn't sure how to go about making a book.
"One day, I was sitting at my drawing table and felt this strong urge to travel. I wanted to see some of the art in the world's great museums. New York City would be a good place to start, so I decided to travel to this city in 1985 for one year.
"Once in New York, I learned how to speak English and I enrolled in a lithography class at the Art Students League. I also discovered a place that became like paradise to me, The central children's room at the New York Public Library. I had never seen so many children's books in one place. The desire to do my own book blossomed and each author was like a teacher to me.
"My year-long visit to New York turned into many more. I have written and illustrated some books which have been published and some others just for my family and friends. Besides writing and painting, I like to visit schools and share with children how to make books. I still make rag dolls and I love to fold paper to make origami figures. My husband, John, and I love to stroll in the streets of New York City and visit its museums and bookstores. But now we also take long hikes in the woods because we are living in a little yellow house we have in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
"I write and illustrate books to keep in touch with the child within, to keep memories alive, and to celebrate basic human relationships. I chose to make illustrated books because it allows me to combine my love for color and painting with my need to write about the world around me.
"People who want to write and illustrate must realize that stories and pictures do not come out perfectly on the first try. Struggle and frustration play an important role in the creative process, and it is very important to be willing to revise the work as one goes along. But if the desire to write and illustrate is big enough, through patience and persistence it is possible to develop ideas and achieve satisfaction and success with one's work."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 15, 1994, Graciela Italiano, review of Subway Sparrow, p. 940; June 1, 1994, Isabel Schon, review of El gorrión del metro, p. 1849; April 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Saturday Sancocho, p. 1508; July, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Liliana's Grandmothers, p. 1890; February 15, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Kite Festival, p. 1064.
Horn Book, March-April, 1994, Lolly Robinson, review of Subway Sparrow, p. 192.
Library Journal, August, 2001, Lucia M. Gonzalez, review of Saturday Sancocho, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1993, review of Subway Sparrow, p. 68; April 24, 1995, review of Saturday Sancocho, p. 71; May 17, 1999, review of Two Days in May, p. 78.
Leyla Torres Web site, http://www.leylatorres.com/ (October 26, 2004).
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