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Susan M(iddleton) Elya (1955-) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1955, in Des Moines, IA; Education: Iowa State University, B.A.; University of Nebraska at Omaha, M.A. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Buying and selling antiques, gardening, reading, sewing.


Writer and educator. High school Spanish teacher in Ashland, NE, 1977-79; teacher of Spanish and English at Lewis Central Middle School in Council Bluffs, IA, 1979-85, and Spanish teacher at Lewis Central High School, Council Bluffs, 1983-85; Olive Pierce Junior High School, Ramona, CA, teacher of Spanish and English as a second language, 1986-87; Ramona High School, teacher of Spanish, 1986-87.


American Association of University Women, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild.


Say Hola to Spanish, illustrated by Loretta Lopez, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1996.

Say Hola to Spanish, Otra Vez (Again!), illustrated by Loretta Lopez, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1997.

Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1999.

Eight Animals on the Town, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2000.

Home at Last, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2002.

Eight Animals Bake a Cake, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2002.

Oh No, Gotta Go!, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2003.

Eight Animals Play Ball, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2003.

Geez Louise!, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2004.

Fairy Trails, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Cowboy José, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2005.

F Is for Fiesta, G. P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2006.

Baby Goes Shopping, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.

Work in Progress

Sophie's Trophy, Tooth on the Loose, Nell's Holidays, and Oh No, Gotta Go Number Two, all for Putnam.


A former Spanish teacher who has taught in Iowa, California, and Nebraska, Susan M. Elya writes books that often contain "Spanglish" texts. While working as an English as a Second Language, or ESL, teacher in California, she came to realize the importance of presenting dual English/Spanish texts for English-speaking children learning Spanish. Among Elya's books focusing on building language skills are Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, Eight Animals Bake a Cake, F Is for Fiesta, and Cowboy José, the last which was praised by a Kirkus Reviews contributor for Elya's creation of "rollicking rhymed 'Spanglish' couplets" that relate the story of a singing cowboy, or vaquero, and his golddigging sweetheart.

In Say Hola to Spanish, Elya's first picture book, over seventy Spanish words are introduced to young listeners in a rhythmic text highlighted by illustrator Loretta Lopez, all adding up to what Booklist contributor Annie Ayres described as "a fiesta of lively language fun." The companion volumes, Say Hola to Spanish Otra Vez (Again)! and Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, are similar in theme, the latter book featuring a family's trip to the Big Top and "mixing English and Spanish in just the right proportion so readers and listeners can clearly understand the text," according to Sally Bates Goodroe in School Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg also praised the volume, noting that Elya and Lopez present "another rambunctious, brightly illustrated introduction to the language."

Elya focuses on an immigrant family in Home at Last, which finds a young girl and her parents newly arrived in the United States from Mexico. Ana and her father soon begin to learn English, Ana at school and her father, Mr. Patino, at his new job. Meanwhile, Ana's mother remains unfamiliar with English while at home with Ana's younger siblings. However, with family encouragement, Mrs. Patino confronts her shyness and takes English lessons, resolving the book's central story and a common situation of immigrant children, according to Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper: "the inability or unwillingness of a parent to learn English."

Another family-centered tale, Oh No, Gotta Go! focuses on a common concern among youngsters recently graduated from potty training and features humorous illustrations by G. Brian Karas. When her family goes on a Sunday drive, a young girl in her Sunday best announces that she needs to use the rest room pronto, and the search that follows is studded with fifty Spanish words or phrases, each clearly identified in the text. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor described Oh No, Gotta Go! as a "rollicking gallop of a tale" that is "perfect for bilingual classes stretching their English wings," while Cooper added in Booklist that "Elya does a fine job of making the poetic text work" while weaving together two languages.

More humorous in tone are Eight Animals on the Town, Eight Animals Bake a Cake, and Eight Animals Play Ball, all of which find a horse, bird, cow, dog, cat, pig, mouse, and frog working or playing together. Praised by a Kirkus contributor as a "delightful story [that] will have even the youngest children speaking and understanding Spanish," Eight Animals Bake a Cake uses English and Spanish words interchangeably in its upbeat story about eight animales who each bring one ingredient required in a cake recipe, their quick thinking when things go awry creating a delicious result. Julie Cummins, reviewing the work for Booklist, deemed Eight When her family moves from Mexico to the United States, Ana helps her mother see the importance of learning the language needed to build a life in their new home. (From Home at Last, illustration by Felipe Davalos.) Animals Bake a Cake "clever in both concept and design," while in Instructor Judy Freeman predicted that young readers "will learn Spanish … effortlessly." In Eight Animals Play Ball Elya's "infectious rhyme" relates how the group manages to sort out the variety of sporting equipment brought for a day's outing and "provides both a bridge between languages, and a lively take on conflict resolution," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer.

Elya once told Something about the Author: "I have always wanted to make books. When I was ten, I wrote The Enchanted Island. I drew the pictures and stapled them into a construction paper book. Thirty-five years later, I still have it in the attic. One of my first poems was called 'If I Had a Penny.' It's up there, too. I kept diaries and journals for years but never tried to write for publication until I was thirty-two.

"I didn't sell a book for six-and-a-half years. In 1994, after submitting dozens of manuscripts and receiving hundreds of rejections, I finally sent the right thing to the right editor at the right time. Say Hola to Spanish was perfect for Lee and Low, a multicultural publisher looking for books about Spanish for English-speakers. My mother had told me all along that I should be using my Spanish in my manuscripts; after all, I had taught it for ten years in the public schools. I finally listened to her."

Elya finds time for her writing wherever she can: "at breakfast, during my children's naps, waiting for the car pool. I started Eight Animales while sitting in the car outside my daughter's piano lesson while my other two children played in the back seat. I keep all the tiny scraps of paper with story ideas on them. I never, ever write something in one sitting. The 'Say Hola' books were written one couplet at a time. I'd think of a rhyme on my way to somewhere and write it down at a stop light. Some of my best rhymes come to me while driving. I highly recommend keeping a pad of paper and pen in the car."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, May 1, 1996, Annie Ayres, review of Say Hola to Spanish, p. 1509; July, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, p. 2036; December 1, 2000, Marta Segal, review of Eight Animals on the Town, p. 720; January 1, 2001, Isabel Schon, review of Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, p. 972; May 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Home at Last, p. 1532; July, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of Eight Animals Bake a Cake, p. 1857; June 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Eight Animals Play Ball, p. 1784; November 1, 2003, Abby Nolan, review of Geez Louise!, p. 500; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, p. 599.

Childhood Education, spring, 2004, Marie Schmehl, review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, p. 161.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Home at Last, p. 567; July 1, 2002, review of Eight Animals Bake a Cake, p. 953; January 15, 2003, review of Eight Animals Play Ball, p. 142; June 1, 2003, review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, p. 802; March 1, 2005, review of Cowboy José, p. 285.

Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1997, p. 75; June 17, 2002, "True Companions," p. 67; February 24, 2003, review of True Companions, p. 74; May 26, 2003, review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, p. 69; December 22, 2003, review of Geez Louise!, p. 59.

Reading Today, August-September, 2002, Lynne F. Burke, "School Supplies—Are Stories on Your List?," p. 32.

School Library Journal, June, 1996, p. 100; January, 1998, p. 98; July, 2000, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus, p. 93; September, 2000, Jody McCoy, review of Eight Animals on the Town: Ocho Animales, p. 195; July, 2002, Diane Milliken, review of Home at Last, p. 90; August, 2002, Grace Oliff, review of Eight Animals Bake a Cake, p. 155; March, 2003, Lisa Gangemi Kropp, review of Eight Animals Play Ball, p. 192; July, 2003, Tali Balas, review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, p. 95; December, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of Geez Louise!, p. 112.


Susan Elya Web site, http://www.susanelya.com (April 2, 2005).

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