Kathie: Hi Alda, thanks for returning to MG Book Village to talk about your second book, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER (releases September 6th from Sourcebook for Young Readers.) It’s the sequel to BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA, and I’d love to hear more about what happens to Petra in this book?
Alda: Thank you, Kathie, for having me and Petra Luna back! Well, In THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER, Petra Luna has escaped both the Mexican Revolution and the terror of the Federales. She is now in America, but still, twelve-year-old Petra knows that her abuelita, little sister, and baby brother depend on her to survive. She leads her family from a smallpox-stricken refugee camp on the Texas border to the buzzing city of San Antonio, where they work hard to build a new life. And for the first time ever, Petra has a chance to learn to read and write.
Petra, however, sees in America attitudes she thought she’d left behind on the other side of the Río Grande—people who look down on her mestizo skin and bare feet, who think someone like her doesn’t deserve more from life. Petra wants more. Isn’t that what the revolution is about? Her strength and courage will be tested like never before as she fights for herself, her family, and her dreams.
Kathie: What was it like for you to write this sequel, and how did the experience differ from writing your debut?
Alda: Originally, this story began as an idea for a Highlights Magazine article. After much research, I found out that my great-grandmother’s powerful story was indeed true. It was then I decided to turn it into a picture book. At a writing conference, an agent suggested I turn the picture book into a middle grade novel. It turns out that the picture book I wrote is now the first chapter of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. I then had to work “backwards” and come up with a story that would become BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA. But writing the rest of sequel book wasn’t as daunting as the first books since my research skills had improved as well as my writing.
Kathie: What’s one way that Petra grows in your new book?
Alda: Petra must learn that just because she has struggled and sacrificed so much to reach America, the struggle continues just like it does for many immigrants. America is the land of opportunities and Petra quickly learns that it takes hard work to make things happen in the new land.
Kathie: Did you have to do more research for this story, and did you learn something new while writing it?
Alda: I did have to do more research for this book, especially because my family story deviates from that or Petra’s after the refugee camp. While at the refugee camp in 1913, U.S. Immigration announced that it would soon shut the refugee camp. Like Petra Luna and her family, my great-grandmother’s family was given the option to return to Mexico after the camp’s closure or stay in America, where she and her father would be guaranteed work. My great-grandmother, only nine years old at the time, talked it over with her father and after much consideration, they decided to return to Mexico. Upon their return, my great-grandmother and her family discovered that everything had been burned to the ground—homes, farmlands, entire villages—and found themselves starting over again from the bottom with nothing but the clothes on their backs. This is where Petra’s story diverges from my family history. While the story of my family’s return to Mexico was interesting, I found out that during the Mexican Revolution, over two million Mexicans made the United States their permanent home. I was intrigued by the lives of the immigrants who decided to make a new life in America and decided this would be Petra’s story.
Kathie: Do you find it challenging to step away from the accolades, praise and feedback from others while continuing Petra’s story, or does it positively influence your writing?
Alda: I’d say I’m positively influenced by feedback, especially when it comes from readers who say they can relate to my story because their ancestors went through similar journeys, or when people tell me my story ignited their passion to share family stories with their children.
Kathie: It’s interesting to think about how immigrating to the United States today compares to Petra’s experience. What do you hope young readers will think about while reading your story?
Alda: I want young readers to realize that Petra Luna’s story is not unique to my family or to Mexicans. It’s a universal story that transcends many cultures and eras. I want them to be inspired to seek their own stories and to realize how history repeats itself over and over again.
Kathie: Will Petra’s story continue after this book?
Alda: Great question. Not sure… maybe if the audience wants more Petra Luna?
Kathie: Where can we go to learn more about you and your writing?
Alda: You can visit my website at http://www.aldapdobbs.com
Kathie: I really look forward to reading THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER when it comes out, Alda, and the best with its release.
Thank you, again, Kathie. I always enjoy your questions!
Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the historical novels Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and its followup, The Other Side of the River (September 2022). Her debut novel received a Pura Belpre Honor and is a Texas Bluebonnet Master List selection. Alda was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. She studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.