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Cover image for Becoming Naomi León
Becoming Naomi León
Publication Information:
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2004.
Physical Description:
4 sound discs (ca. 72 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:

Compact disc.
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From the Pura Belpre and Jane Addams Peace Award winning author of Esperanza Rising comes a riveting novel about family and identity, drawn from the warmth, wisdom, and love of Pam Munoz Ryan's own Mexican and Oklahoman heritages. Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life: her name for one thing. Then there are her clothes (sewn of polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, and her status among her classmates as "nobody special." But according to Gram's self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her soap carving, a talent at which she excels. And life at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California, with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. When Naomi's absent mother resurfaces to claim her, Naomi runs away to Mexico with her great-grandmother and younger brother in search of her father.


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One evening, everything Naomi has known with Gram and her little brother begins to unravel. Naomi's mother wants to kidnap her. Gram is willing to go to the end of the earth to save Naomi, but will that be enough? A quiet life in Lemon Tree, California, becomes a runaway journey to find an estranged father in exotic Oaxaca, Mexico.


"I always thought that the biggest trial in my life was my name, Naomi Guadalupe Zamora Outlaw, but little did I know that it was the least of my problems, or that someday I would live up to it."

One evening, everything Naomi has known with Gram and her little brother begins to unravel. Naomi's mother wants to kidnap her. Gram is willing to go to the end of the earth to save Naomi, but will that be enough? A quiet life in Lemon Tree, California, becomes a runaway journey to find an estranged father in exotic Oaxaca, Mexico.

Author Notes

Author Pam Muñoz Ryan was born in Bakersfield, California on December 25, 1951. She received a B. A. in child development and a M. A. in education from San Diego State University. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a bilingual Head Start teacher and as an early childhood program administrator. At first, she wrote adult books about child development, but soon switched to writing children's books.

She has written over twenty-five picture books, novels, and nonfiction books for young readers. The novel Esperanza Rising, winner of the Pura Belpre Medal, the Jane Addams Peace Award, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, and the Americas Award Honor Book, is based on her own grandmother's immigration from Mexico to California. Riding Freedom has also won many awards including the national Willa Cather Award and the California Young Reader Medal. When Marian Sang, a picture book about singer Marian Anderson, won numerous awards including the ALA Sibert Honor and NCTE's Orbis Pictus Award. In 2015 her title Echo made The New York Times Best Seller List. She also won a Kirkus Prize in the children's literature category with her title 'Echo'.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fifth-grader Naomi's great-grandmother has been a loving guardian for Naomi and Owen, her handicapped brother, since their mother divorced their father and abandoned them in Lemon Tree, Calif., seven years before. When the children's mother, Skyla, makes a sudden reappearance, she wants Naomi to leave Gram and Owen to move to Las Vegas-and Gram fears that Skyla and her new boyfriend have ulterior motives. "What locked the possibility of catastrophe in my mind, was that Gram and Fabiola were going to miss Wheel of Fortune, and that was going to mess up their 744 nights-in-a-row record," Naomi thinks. Feisty Gram takes action: she and Fabiola and her husband, who hail from Oaxaca City, Mexico, and who knew the children's father, take the children and embark on an odyssey of sorts, in search of their father at Oaxaca's annual radish-carving festival. Once again, Ryan (Esperanza Rising) crystallizes the essence of settings and characters through potent, economic prose. Through Naomi's first-person narration, the author gently captures the girl's simultaneous attraction to and wariness of her mother with Naomi's first impression: "I couldn't take my eyes off her lipstick. It was the exact same color as her hair and went up and down in a perfect rounded M on her top lip." And the heroine's skill with carving connects her to her father long before they finally meet. Sharing her protagonist's love of language, artistic sensibility and keen sensitivity, Ryan creates a tender tale about family love and loyalty. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Intermediate) Eleven-year-old Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw's great-grandmother has always told her that ""the good and the bad of any situation [are] sometimes the same."" This point is driven home when Naomi's long-absent mother appears unannounced at the California trailer park where Gram, Naomi, and Naomi's little brother Owen have been happily living for the past seven years. Though Naomi loves Gram more than anything, she's often fantasized about having a mom. Skyla (nee Terri Lynn) doesn't match any of the types that list-maker Naomi has included on her roster of fantasy mothers; but will she be better than nothing, or much, much worse? With its quirky characterizations and folksy atmosphere, this engrossing family drama resembles a Sharon Creech novel on the surface, but it has its own uniquely affecting emotional core. One of the more moving elements is Skyla's callous attitude toward Owen, a sweet, smart second-grader whose minor deformities (a tilted head and uneven legs) clearly repulse her. Ryan enriches the mix by sending Gram and the children to Oaxaca, Mexico, in search of the children's father. There, Naomi further explores her talent for carving, inherited from her dad, and gains the confidence to grow into her family name, Leon -- Spanish for lion. Though she remains on the shy side, by the end of the novel she has become, in her words, ""a mouse with a lioness's voice."" (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Gr. 4-7. Half-Mexican Naomi Soledad, 11, and her younger disabled brother, Owen, have been brought up by their tough, loving great-grandmother in a California trailer park, and they feel at home in the multiracial community. Then their alcoholic mom reappears after seven years with her slimy boyfriend, hoping to take Naomi (not Owen) back and collect the welfare check. Determined not to let that happen, Gram drives the trailer across the border to a barrio in Oaxaca to search for the children's dad at the city's annual Christmas arts festival. In true mythic tradition, Ryan, the author of the award-winning Esperanza Rising (2000), makes Naomi's search for her dad a search for identity, and both are exciting. Mom is demonized, but the other characters are more complex, and the quest is heartbreaking. The dense factual detail about the festival sometimes slows the story, but it's an effective tool for dramatizing Naomi's discovery of her Mexican roots and the artist inside herself. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Gram, Naomi, and Owen are happy at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho until the day the children's mother arrives. After being gone so long that they don't recognize her, Skyla enters their lives, lavishing attention and presents on fifth-grade Naomi; however, she never seems to include Owen. After several weeks, the truth about her reappearance becomes apparent. Clive, her new boyfriend, wants Naomi to live with them and become the permanent baby-sitter for his daughter. The ensuing custody battle forces Gram, Naomi, Owen and a neighbor couple to make a hasty trip to Mexico to look for Santiago, the children's biological father and a well-known wood-carver. After a physically and emotionally exhausting search, they finally find him at the annual Christmas festival in their ancestral village. Even though the children will continue to live with their great-grandmother, this reunion gives them the reassurance of their father's love and support. Ryan has written a moving book about family dynamics. While she explores the youngsters' Mexican heritage and gives a vivid picture of life in and the art of Oaxaca, her story is universal, showing the strong bonds and love that make up an extended family. All of the characters are well drawn, and readers will share Naomi's fear until the judge makes the final decision about her future.-Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, OK (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

First-person narrator Naomi León Outlaw and her bright, physically lopsided little brother Owen feel safe in the routines of life in Lemon Grove, California, with great-grandmother Gram. Naomi, a soft-voiced list-maker and word-collector, is also a gifted soap-carver--something inherited, it turns out, from the Mexican father from whom she and Owen were separated as small children. The unexpected arrival of Naomi's long-absent mother throws everything off balance. The troubled young woman's difficulties threaten to overturn the security Gram has worked to provide for Naomi and Owen. With friends' help, Gram takes the children to Oaxaca City to find their father and gain his support in her custody appeal. Here they are immersed in a world of warmth and friendship, where Naomi's longing to meet the father she dimly remembers intensifies. The annual December radish-carving festival gives Naomi's creativity a chance to shine and makes the perfect setting for a reunion. Naomi's matter-of-fact narrative is suffused with her worries and hopes, along with her protective love for her brother and great-grandmother. Ryan's sure-handed storytelling and affection for her characters convey a clear sense of Naomi's triumph, as she becomes "who I was meant to be." (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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