Yuyi Morales was born in Xalapa, Mexico, where she currently resides.
A professional storyteller, dancer, choreographer, puppeteer, and artist, she has won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration five times, for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2003), Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2006), Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2008), Niño Wrestles the World (2013), and Viva Frida (2014), also a Caldecott Honor Book.
Her latest book, Dreamers, won this year’s Pura Belpré Award and was also named a New York Times Best-Illustrated Book.
Newbery Medalist Meg Medina introduced Yuyi, saying, "What she has been, most of all, is vibrant and living proof that there is a way for us to dream."
Yuyi started with an important question: Why do we make children's books?
She believes "there is an inner purpose—it's something that sounds like love."
We can learn how to make children's books through the SCBWI. But how do we learn to love?
"We usually learn how to love when we get together. We learn how to love when we share what we know. No one knows everything, and no one knows nothing."
She offered her experience, hoping we can make a connection and learn from each other.
When Yuyi was a child, she loved to draw, and she learned how to copy. And she'd often go into her bedroom to draw because it felt like such an intimate thing. She learned how to draw herself by looking in the mirror so much that she can draw her eyes and nose without even looking.
She didn't have children's literature when she was a child. She was born in Mexico and grew up there. They didn't have children's books, but they did have comic books and graphic novels. She studied those and learned what she liked. When she was 12, she discovered Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and then she became a teenager and stopped drawing and didn't think about it again until she became an adult and had a son.
She started drawing her son, again and again. And when he was two months old, her family came to the United States. It wasn't something she'd planned to do, but her future husband was a U.S. citizen. Then, because of the complexities of immigration, she couldn't go back and she lost her support system.
Then her mother in law took her to a public library, and that changed her life forever. "In the public library, I fell in love with books. In picture books I finally found something I understood and something that understood me."
As she learned how to do art, her dining room table served as her schooIn 2000, she won the SCBWI's Don Freeman grant. That submission became a book called Just a Minute.
She told us the origin stories of more of her books, which are answers to questions and struggles and fears. "Once I started making stories about things I was scared of, maybe they become my friends."
She is drawn to the craziest ideas she can imagine—and that's how she decides. If it's crazy, then it's for her. Five years ago, Yuyi returned to Mexico. She eventually had a place she could create again.
After the 2016 presidential election, she struggled to create. But then decided maybe it was time for immigrants to tell their stories. "It is time for everybody to say who we are. Not who others think we are."
And that's how Dreamers came about. She wanted to tell her story, about a woman who came from Mexico to the United States. Her story was also her baby son's story. She wondered at first who would be interested in the story. Initially, when people asked her story, she said she came with nothing. But she started rethinking that. And she realized she didn't come with nothing: She came with her stories, her hopes, her talent, her passion, her hands.
"I decided for this book, I was going to tell that truth."
(Written by Martha Brockenbrough for Mike Jung)