age range: 8-12 years
genre / topics: historical fiction; Mexican Revolution
Petra Luna Discussion Guide
Dobbs’ wrenching debut, about family, loss, and finding the strength to carry on, illuminates the harsh realities of war, the heartbreaking disparities between the poor and the rich, and the racism faced by Petra and her family. Readers will love Petra, who is as strong as the black-coal rock she carries with her and as beautiful as the diamond hidden within it.
— Booklist, STARRED review
With vivid and poetic imagery and artfully balanced narrative tension, Dobbs’s assured writing blazes bright, gripping readers until the novel’s last page.
― Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
What hunger would you endure, what history would you sacrifice, what hazards would you brave to lead your family through a war? Petra Luna’s incredible odyssey in pursuit of her ‘barefoot dreams’ is as vital and perilous and hopeful as that of today’s dreamers, who still set off across the desert seeking a better life in America more than a hundred years later.
— Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee
Please tell us about your book.
It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for her family―her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito―until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.
Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios―they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border―a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.
What inspired you to write Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna?
Growing up I loved listening to many family stories about my great-grandmother’s experiences during the Mexican Revolution. They all told of extraordinary events and unbelievable trials she endured as a child. One story in particular intrigued me. It was of my great-grandmother and her family anxiously waiting for the US border to open along with thousands of other people so that they could cross into safety. I decided to do some research to find out if it was true. Without having an exact date, I searched through old newspapers and after many months of research (and almost giving up!), I found an article that described the event exactly as my great-grandmother had recounted it. I knew then I had to share her story, and Petra Luna was born!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research?
Attempting to find out if the old family story was true, I began my research journey by reading over 40 books, both in English and Spanish, on the Mexican Revolution. It wasn’t until I read three years’ worth of newspapers printed in that era that I was able to confirm the accuracy of my family’s story. I read books written by journalists and anthropologists who interviewed people living during the conflict. I also researched mundane things such as desert plants, curanderismo, Aztec mythology, Náhuatl, music from that era, etc., and even though some things never made it into the book, they allowed me to know the characters and settings more intimately. I also printed out segments of Sanborn maps and assembled them together like puzzle pieces to let me know what streets Petra Luna had walked on. When I cross-referenced the map with old photographs, I could see buildings she came across and even walked into. Also, I kept a timeline handy that followed actual dates chronicled in newspapers to help weave in the fiction.
What were some challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
The Mexican Revolution has a complex history which can be difficult to follow. I found it challenging to narrate the story of Petra Luna while giving a sense of the war without sounding academic. I tackled this challenge by using settings and characters’ actions and beliefs to give readers an insight to the conflict and to its effects on the population, especially on impoverished women and children.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The themes in the book include the vast economic gaps and the social prejudices that prevailed in Mexico and led to the country to a revolution. These are very similar to the disparities and injustices currently present here in America and around the world. The topic of people escaping violence in their homeland and coming to the U.S. for safety is as prevalent today as it was back in 1913 when Petra and her family escape her village. To me the most important lesson is how Petra Luna, even as a child, overcomes these forces and ensures she protects what matters most.
Alda has graciously offered to give a copy of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna to one of my blog readers. The giveaway is open to residents in the US and Canada only. To enter, simply comment below. If you’re reading through email, be sure to click through. A winner will be selected Monday, December 20.
Sarah M says
This sounds like a fantastic book. I love it when there is so much historical information in the novel, too. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I know nothing about the Mexican Revolution, so reading this will be really informative for both myself and my two young teens. Thanks for the opportunity.
I love these interviews and behind the scenes peeks into authors’ processes. I especially love when novels are sparked from someone’s family history. I look forward to reading this book!
This sounds like a book rich in culture and history! It will be a great addition to my classroom library and read a-loud
Linda Jackson says
Sounds lovely. I just recommended for our public library. 🙂