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Gary Soto: 1952—: Children's Author, Novelist, Poet

Wrote Picture Books For Children

Over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, Soto added to his body of literature for children, writing books of poetry, novels, and picture books in addition to short stories. One of his most popular picture books, Too Many Tamales, was the story of a girl named Maria who loses her mother's ring while helping to cook a family meal at Christmas time and tries to keep eating tamales until she finds it; others dealt with a cat named Chato. Though his material for young people was naturally lighter in tone than his writing for adults, it often touched on the sadness that comes with poverty. Soto continued to write poetry and prose for adults as well; his literary production, already high, only accelerated after he gave up teaching to write full time in the mid-1990s.

Far from relying on what he was already familiar with, Soto branched out into new forms and media. He wrote a biography of a California union organizer, Jessie de la Cruz: Profile of a United Farm Worker, scripted several short films, and wrote the libretto for an opera, Nerd-landia, that was staged by the Los Angeles Opera company. Numerous honors came Soto's way; his volume of New and Selected Poems, was named a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times book award, and he became one of the youngest poets included in the prestigious Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Soto did not slow down in the early 2000s, releasing the picture book If the Shoe Fits in 2002 as well as several other books. An inspiration to younger Mexican-American writers through the sheer quantity and range of his work, Soto held writers' meetings at his home in the Berkeley hills and often appeared at school assemblies. His young readers often asked him where he got the ideas for his stories. "I always tell them, 'From you,'" Soto told NEA Today. "You tell me a story, and I'll make it bigger." The Mexican-American experience, indeed, loomed larger in American literature as a result of his efforts.

Selected works

The Elements of San Joaquin (poems), University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

The Tale of Sunlight (poems), University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978.

Living Up the Street: Narrative Recollections, Strawberry Hill Publishers, 1985.

Small Faces (prose memoirs), Arte Público, 1986.

Lesser Evils (memoirs and essays), Arte Público, 1988.

A Summer Life (autobiography), University Press of New England, 1990.

Baseball in April and Other Stories (short stories for young readers), Harcourt, 1990.

Too Many Tamales (picture book), Putnam, 1992.

The Cat's Meow (picture book), Scholastic, 1995.

New and Selected Poems, Chronicle Books, 1995.

Novio Boy (play), Harcourt, 1997.

Nerd-landia (play and opera libretto), 1999.

Jessie de la Cruz: Profile of a United Farm Worker (biography), Persea, 2000.

The Effects of Knut Hamson on a Fresno Boy: Recollections and Short Essays, Persea, 2000.

If the Shoe Fits (story for young readers), Putnam, 2002.

Shadow of the Plum: Poems, Cedar Hill Publications, 2002.



Authors and Artists for Young Adults, volume 37, Gale, 2000.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 82: Chicano Writers, First Series, Gale, 1989.


Booklist, November 1, 2000, p. 512.

Horn Book Magazine, July-August 2002, p. 451.

NEA Today, November 1992, p. 9.

New York Times, May 20, 1990, Section 7, p. 45.

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 21, 2002, p. E1.

San Francisco Chronicle, April 27, 2003.


"Gary Soto," Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003; reproduced in Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (May 23, 2003).

Gary Soto Official Website, www.garysoto.com (May 23, 2003).

—James M. Manheim

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyGary Soto: 1952—: Children's Author, Novelist, Poet Biography - Weak Student In High School, Depicted Central Valley In Poems, Wrote Picture Books For Children