A sly, mustached cat from an east Los Angeles barrio invites five naive mice over for dinner. Little Maria believes she has lost her mother’s diamond ring while kneading the masa for Christmas tamales and eats all of them looking for it.
These are just two of the characters who have emerged from acclaimed children’s author and poet Gary Soto’s life and imagination.
"He’s part of the canon of Chicano writers," said Jaime Herrera, director of Southwest studies at Mesa Community College.
Soto, who will read excerpts from his children’s books Tuesday at MCC, burst onto the literary scene in the 1970s. His body of work is an eclectic collection of poetry, children’s books, essays and short stories that draw upon his boyhood experiences as a Mexican-American growing up in California’s Central Valley.
His poems are odes to closeknit neighborhoods that recall running through sprinklers and eating snow cones on a hot day. Soto’s characters are usually poor, but they never dwell on the negative and always solve their own problems.
But it is works like 1995’s "Chato’s Kitchen" and 1993’s "Too Many Tamales" that showcase Soto’s versatility and have made him an important fixture in what Herrera calls the "third golden age " of children’s literature.
It’s a time when Hispanic, black, Asian-American and other groups reflecting our multicultural heritage grace the pages of children’s books.
Adults and children alike are drawn to the honest vulnerability of character’s like Maria and Chato’s hip joie de vivre.
Soto was a finalist in 1995 for both the Los Angeles Times Award and National Book Award. He occasionally teaches English literature at the University of California Riverside.
• "Baseball in April and Other Stories"
• "Chato and the Party Animals"
• "The Old Man and the Door"
• "New and Selected Poems"
If you go
What: Children’s author and poet Gary Soto will read from his books
When: 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday Where: Southwest Reading Room of the Elsner Library at Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave.
Information: (480) 234-0059