In these deliberately small-scale recollections, as Paredes noted, "it is a measure of Soto's skill that he so effectively invigorates and sharpens our understanding of the commonplace." With these volumes Soto acquired a solid reputation as a prose writer as well as a poet; (1990), extended his interest in memoir and vignette.
Consisting of thirty-nine short essays, the pieces form a mosaic of Soto’s youth.
He has received many awards for his work as a children’s author, including awards from the National Education Association and the PEN Center. Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California in 1952 to working-class parents who often struggled to find work.
Soto worked in both the fields of San Joaquin and the factories of Fresno as a young man; though he did not excel in school, by the time he was an adolescent Soto admits to having discovered the work of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jules Verne, and Robert Frost.
After providing background information concerning his holy roots, Soto leads the audience into a darker point of his childhood.
As he gazes upon the bountiful display of pies around the German Market, “[His] sweet tooth gleaming and the juice of guilt wetting [his] underarms”, he caves into sin before truly committing the crime.“In short,” he has said, “I was already thinking like a poet, already filling myself with literature.” Soto went on to college at Fresno City College and California State University-Fresno, where he earned a BA in English in 1974.While at Fresno, Soto studied with the poet Philip Levine whose sharp portrayals of working-class subject matter influenced Soto’s own poetry.A squirrel nailed itself high on the trunk, where it forked into two large bark scabbed limbs” as he prepares to dine on the fruits of his unlawful labor.Soto not only evokes the image of a languid summer day, but also employs a biblical metaphor of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.Gary Soto is known for a body of work that deals with the realities of growing up in Mexican-American communities; in poems, novels, short stories, plays and over a two dozen books for young people, Soto has recreated the world of the barrio, the urban, Spanish-speaking neighborhood where he was raised, bringing the sights, sounds and smells vividly to life within the pages of his books.Soto’s poetry and prose focus on everyday experiences while evoking the harsh forces that often shape life for Chicanos, including racism, poverty, and crime.Soto’s work for children is also noted for its seamless integration of Spanish words into English text, making it particularly useful in increasingly mixed-language classrooms.Soto's ability to tell a story, to recreate moments of his own past in a manner that transcends the boundaries of race or age, and to transport his reader to the world of his own childhood is felt within each of his written works.Other influences from this period include Edward Field, James Wright, Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.Soto earned an MFA from the University of California-Irvine in 1974.