Leyla TorresI have always loved to paint and to read. When I was a young child growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, my parents ran an elementary school that exposed me to all kinds of wonderful books. One day my mother gave me a small easel and a box of paints. My first painting was a group of six tall, thin, dark green trees. I didn't have many friends, and my two brothers and one sister were much younger than I, so I spent a lot of time alone either reading, painting, or making rag dolls.
When I went to college, I decided to study fine arts, which at that time was not a popular choice among students. For a while, I worried I would be the only one in the class! I also thought that the teachers would expect to see accomplished drawings on the first day. I was quite nervous because I didn't think my drawings were very good. To my great surprise and relief, twenty-nine other students were in the art program that year, and the teacher started us all drawing page after page of circles and squares. I made some friends, and I discovered that it takes a lot of practice and patience to draw, or to do anything well at all.After receiving my degree in Fine Arts and Education, I rented a small attic studio and found a job teaching art in a public school in Bogotá. I also worked closely with a group of puppeteers, designing and creating puppets and sets, and collaborated on the writing of scripts as well. I think it was at that time in my life that the idea of doing my own books was planted within me. I kept this desire to myself for a long time, because I wasn't sure how to go about it.One day I was sitting at my drawing table and felt a strong urge to travel. I wanted to go to some of the world's great museums, to see in person the works of art I had studied and learned from at the university. Since I had an aunt and uncle who lived in New York City, that seemed like the place to start. They were very generous and offered me a place to live for one year.Once in New York, I not only visited the art museums but enrolled in a lithography class at the Art Students League. I also discovered something that became like paradise to me -- the Central Children's Room at the Donnell Branch of the New York Public Library. I had never seen so many children's books in one place. The desire to do my own books blossomed, and each author was like a teacher to me. I positively sensed that with hard work and perseverance I could write and illustrate children's books.My yearlong visit never ended. I met and married a wonderful man, John. We both love New York City, and we also enjoy spending time in a little yellow house we have in the Green Mountains of Vermont. John has learned to speak Spanish, and now when we visit my parents and family back in Colombia we all have a lot of fun!
The Subway Sparrow
Leyla Torres; Illustrated by the author
An English-speaking girl, a Spanish-speaking man, and a Polish-speaking woman might not be able to converse, but when a sparrow trapped in their subway car needs help, their common concern bridges...