Thursday, January 26, 2023

Q&A with Alda P. Dobbs




Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the new middle grade novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She also has written the middle grade novel The Other Side of the River. She lives near Houston, Texas.


Q: You write that family stories inspired you to write Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. How did you create your character Petra?


A: 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!


Q: Can you say more about how you researched the book? What did you see as the right balance between history and fiction as you wrote the story?


A: 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 (about 92 percent!), 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. 


Q: The Kirkus review of the novel says, in part, “The parallels between past and present government corruption and violence make this historical fiction that is as relevant as ever. Though the author drew inspiration from her own family stories from a century ago, the bones of the story could easily apply today.” What do you think of that description?


A: I couldn’t agree more given the current events. 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. It’s important that we, and especially young readers, realize the importance of family stories, and how through them we can see how history repeats itself. 


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I chose my book’s title, "Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna," long before it was submitted for publication. In many of my family stories everyone from my great-grandmother all the way to my mother was always barefooted. This paralleled the many pictures I came across in my research of poor children living during that era and led me to envision the word “barefoot” as part of the title.


The word “dream” came to me knowing how bad my grandmother wanted to learn to read and write one day, just like Petra Luna. Now, the phrase “Barefoot Dreams” has a deeper meaning that is revealed in the story.


As far as the character’s name, I wanted a strong name and “Petra” came to me, which means “rock.” Given the recurring themes of rock in the story I thought it worked out great, not to mention that “Petra” is a very Mexican name. I also wanted to complement Petra’s name with a gentle last name that would resemble her soft-natured spirit towards her siblings, and Luna came to me. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on another historical middle grade book with a different setting and cast of characters. This one, though, has a mystery to it. Stay tuned!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for your time, Deborah. If you’d like to learn more about me or my books, please visit You can also find me on Instagram @aldapdobbs. I also offer a quarterly newsletter where I do giveaways, make announcements, give writing tips, book recommendations, and offer behind-the-scenes snippets of my writing life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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