Researching and Writing Historical Fiction with Gloria Amescua and Alda P. Dobbs

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Interview by Romy Natalia Goldberg

This past fall brought the publication of two fascinating books set during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA, a historical middle grade novel by Alda P. Dobbs (Sourcebooks Young Readers, September, 2021) and CHILD OF THE FLOWER-SONG PEOPLE: LUZ JIMÉNEZ, DAUGHTER OF THE NAHUA, a picture book biography written by Gloria Amescua and illustrated by award winning illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August, 2021). Both Texas-based authors took the time out of their busy debut schedules to talk to us about their processes for researching and writing children’s books based on historic events and real people. 

Romy Natalia Goldberg: Both your main characters, Petra and Luz, learn of their indigenous ancestor’s beliefs through their grandparents, who, in turn, learned from their own grandparents. Can you talk a little about researching beliefs and traditions, especially those that were predominantly passed down orally?

Alda P. Dobbs: First, I’d like to thank you, Natalia, for interviewing me. It’s an honor! A lot of the beliefs and traditions in the story were handed down orally by elders in my family. Others, I had to research. I found myself reading many books on curanderismo and stories that were recorded by Spanish priests who interviewed indigenous people during colonial times. Everything was so fascinating it was hard to choose what to include in the book while not bogging down the story.

Gloria Amescua: Thankfully, one of the important contributions Luz Jiménez made was to listen to and remember the mythologies and other stories that were passed down orally. The book Life and Death in Milpa Alta: A Nahuatl Chronicle of Diaz and Zapata (translated and edited by Fernando Horcasitas, from the Nahuatl Recollections of Doña Luz Jiménez) was one of my most important resources. Luz told Horcasitas what is in this book over time in Nahuatl. It included not only her childhood and things that she and the Nahua people of Milpa Alta experienced, their traditions and daily life, but also the stories that had been passed down orally. Horcasitas wrote it down phonetically. Milpa Alta hosted the First Aztec Congress, which mainly determined what written Nahuatl should look like in 1940.

What advice can you give for researching historical events? Anything you wish you’d known at the start of this process? 

Alda P. Dobbs: This is a great one! I wished I hadn’t been so shy and had asked librarians for help. I spent a lot of time trying to do the research on my own, which wasn’t bad, but I probably reinvented the wheel a couple of times. Having a physics and engineering background, I approached historical research as I would science, and I’ve learned that there’s a better and more efficient way. I would have saved myself time and frustration had I approached a librarian sooner.

Gloria Amescua: I wish I’d been more organized about gathering my information. My main advice is to make sure you get your sources down for everything. You may or may not use what you have read or taken notes on, but be sure to document everything. I keep meaning to learn about one of the several online organizers, but I haven’t yet. My advice is do better than I did. It will keep you from going back to find sources.

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Sanborn Map Company. San Antonio 1911 Vol 1, map, 1911; New York. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth549759/: accessed October 15, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

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Alda, I’ve heard you mention the importance of maps in your research before. Can you talk a little more about your source for maps and how they figured into your writing process? 

Maps were essential in my research. I used Sanborn maps, which are old insurance maps made in the 19th and 20th centuries that detail the types of buildings, their structure and use. I crossed referenced these maps with modern Google “street view” maps that allow me to see where the building once stood, or if I’m lucky enough, I could still see the same old building standing. I also used vintage photographs that allowed me to dig deeper into the research and find out where the photograph was taken. All these resources allow me to recreate a map that shows where my character lives, works, goes to school, shops, etc. I used Sanborn maps to recreate an old map of San Antonio, Texas that took up my entire office wall but gave me a sense of my character’s life there in 1913. 

What is your system for keeping information organized, easy to access, and backed up? 

Alda P. Dobbs: For my research, I kept both electronic files and physical divider tabs that were labeled with the following titles: photographs, maps, newspaper articles, academic papers, books, and of course, miscellaneous. I also kept a journal where I’d write everything down from research notes, to notes I’d take when speaking to librarians or historians. In my journal, I also jotted down ideas for scenes or dialogue or just plain brainstorming. I always backed up all my electronic files using a SSD hard drive.

Gloria Amescua: I wish I had a great system to tell you about. What I did was to create computer files that made sense to me. For instance, I have folders for my revisions by year. Other folders are for the language Nahuatl and images in which Luz appears with lists of all the artwork information and links. I copied articles from the internet as well as their links. Early on, I learned the hard way, since I had a certain link I had a difficult time finding again to an exposition featuring Luz in Mexico City. I used colored flags in my books.

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Alda shared a series of photos that inspired and informed PETRA LUNA on her social media platforms

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The internet has made research infinitely easier, but examining physical documents and visiting locations firsthand is still a part of the research process. I’m curious which parts of your research happened online and which was more useful or necessary “in real life.”

Alda P. Dobbs: I’d say both online research and “in-person” visits were essential for me. Almost every setting in my book took place in a location I had visited before, so I knew the way the terrain looked, the way it smelled and sounded. The old photographs, which many of them I found online, were essential in adding details to settings or constructing characters. 

Gloria Amescua: I didn’t get to visit any places in my book in real life. I would love to visit Milpa Alta and go back to Mexico City to see the murals I saw long ago that included Luz before I knew about her. Of course, without finding a pamphlet at the University of Texas in Austin that was about Luz Jiménez, I wouldn’t have known about her amazing life. The internet was definitely important because I found articles and images for Luz. I also wouldn’t have found my real resources, the books I used, including the one with Luz’s actual words. Through the internet, I also found Dr. Kelly McDonough, Professor of Native American and Indigenous studies at UT, who shared resources. She also introduced me to Luz’s grandson, Jesús Villanueva. Although we have yet to meet in person, Jesús and I corresponded through email. He was invaluable to me as he answered questions and shared booklets he was involved with writing about his grandmother and was part of my book launch!

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Jesús Villanueva, grandson of Luz Jiménez, participating in Gloria Amescua’s virtual book launch via The Writing Barn

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Gloria, Writing about real people, especially when there are living relatives involved, seems like an intimidating part of the biography process. Can you tell us a little about what it was like to approach and work with Luz’s grandson?  

Gloria Amescua: It was somewhat intimidating at first since it was my first book. I told him my qualifications as a poet, teacher, and studies in children’s literature, so he would know I was serious. Dr. Kelly McDonough, who volunteered to introduce us, is Jesús’ friend. They have worked together on projects, and I’m thankful for that gift of an introduction. Jesús Villanueva was as gracious as he could be and shared resources with me. He has few recollections of his grandmother since she passed away when he was very young, so his dedication has been to learn as much as he could. He has promoted her legacy through writing and presentations. He shared these with me. If I were to do it again, I would have kept in touch with him more frequently about the progress or lack of progress in the publishing journey since it took almost eight years.

Is there any one instance when you thought “Thank goodness for the internet!” or “Thank goodness I saw this in person!”? How did that experience improve your story and writing process?

Alda P. Dobbs: Yes, to both! My husband often traveled for work, and it was during the times when my kids napped or slept at night when I found myself doing most of my online searches. I’m also grateful to have met Mr. Tim Blevins, a librarian at the Pikes Peak Library system. He’s the one who introduced me to many wonderful research tools just when I was about to give up!   

Gloria Amescua: I’m sure it would have been next to impossible for me to write this story without the internet. I was able to find many of the images of Luz in art that I included in the text as part of what Luz learned as a child, weaving, twisting yarn with her toes, grinding corn, etc. It helped me weave details in the story early on that are echoed in the images of her as a model for artists as an adult. I love that it comes full circle.

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Double spread illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh for CHILD OF THE FLOWER-SONG PEOPLE: LUZ JIMÉNEZ, DAUGHTER OF THE NAHUA

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The Mexican Revolution brings chaos and fear to the lives of your main characters. Featuring trauma in a children’s book is a delicate matter, made even more challenging when you’re dealing with real events. How did you choose to address the topic and why? What do you hope readers will take away from seeing Petra and Luz navigate the challenges they face? 

Alda P. Dobbs: I chose to write about the Mexican Revolution because it’s a topic that’s close to me and it’s also one I’d never seen presented in children’s literature. The conflict itself is very complicated and in it, women and children played many different roles. It was a difficult subject to write about for young readers but thankfully, there are many brilliant, wonderful books who tackle trauma masterfully, like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and Avi’s Crispin, to name a few. 

Gloria Amescua: The Mexican Revolution changed Luz Jiménez’s life drastically. Her father and the other men were killed, their village destroyed, her education ended so that Luz and her remaining family had to find a way to survive in a new environment. I had to tell about it and not dwell on the hardships but move on quickly to how Luz overcame her struggles, how she found a new way of being herself, proud of being Nahua. The revolution created a powerful change in artists and how they wanted to honor the indigenous people and make art available to everyone in murals as well as paintings, photographs, statues. I hope readers will see how Luz’s strength was believing in herself despite the hardships she had to overcome. She realized her dream of being a teacher in a way she never expected. 

What books served as mentor texts for you? Along the same line, are there any authors or illustrators whose methods you found inspiring? 

Alda P. Dobbs: I named a couple of books in the previous answer, but other books that helped with structure, pacing, and dialogue were Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games book series and Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie

Gloria Amescua: I read many, many picture book biographies. I examined every aspect of each of them. A few include Bethany Hegedus and Arun Ghandhi’s Grandfather Ghandi and Be the Change, Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway, Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal and Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda and Waiting for the Biblioburro. I returned to these over and over as well as many others. They inspired me as I worked on mine, as I worked on structure, language, organization, etc. I especially loved the illustrations and the emotions expressed in the Ghandi books, the Mixtec style in Separate is Never Equal, and Pablo Neruda, where the illustrations include a river of words in trees, leaves, everywhere in English and Spanish. I wanted my book to be as beautiful and important as these books. 

Can you talk a little about what learning to read and write symbolizes to your characters, and by extension, what writing and sharing their stories means to you?

Gloria Amescua: Luz wanted to learn to read and teach future generations of “professors, priests, lawyers.” It was a way she could not only improve her life but also that of others. I am honored to share Luz Jiménez’s story because she brought to light the intelligence, beauty, and strength of the Nahua. I admire her resilience and pride in her culture. My writing this book means now many more people will know her and her contributions, her legacy. I hope it will lead readers to learn about other indigenous people as well.   

Alda P. Dobbs: Wow, what a great question! During the decade of the Mexican Revolution, in the 1910’s, only 20% of the Mexican population could read and write. My ancestors were part of the 80% who were illiterate. My grandmother, however, was determined to learn to read and write, and despite never having stepped inside a school, she taught herself how to read and write by the time she was twelve. I wanted to create a character with the same courage and determination my grandmother displayed throughout her life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: 

Gloria Amescua (Ah MES qua) has been a writer since she was a child, writing poems and stories throughout her life. She loves books that reach a young person’s heart, head, or funny bone and strives to do just that in her writing. She is an educator, poet, and children’s book writer. Abrams Books for Young Readers published her picture book biography in verse, Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua, August 17, 2021. Duncan Tonatiuh is the illustrator. An earlier version won the 2016 Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award. A variety of literary journals and anthologies have published Gloria’s poetry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published one of her poems in their national textbook literature series.  Gloria received both her B. A. and M. Ed. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.  The grandmother of two amazing granddaughters, Gloria believes in children, pets, and possibilities.

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Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda 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.

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Image of Romy Natalia Goldberg

Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators.

September 2021 Latinx Book Releases!

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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In addition to listing 2021 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month. CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these September book babies! Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any.

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Cover for Battle of the Bands

BATTLE OF THE BANDS, edited by Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith (Candlewick, September 7, 2021). YA Anthology. A daughter of rock ’n’ roll royalty has a secret crush. A lonely ticket taker worries about his sister. An almost-famous songwriter nurses old wounds. A stage manager tires of being behind the scenes. A singer-songwriter struggles to untangle her feelings for her best friend and his girlfriend. In this live-out-loud anthology, the disparate protagonists of sixteen stories are thrown together for one unforgettable event: their high school’s battle of the bands. Told in a harmonic blend of first- and third-person narrative voices, roughly chronological short stories offer a kaleidoscopic view of the same transformative night. Featuring an entry from Justin Courtney Pierre, lead vocalist of Motion City Soundtrack, Battle of the Bands isa celebration of youth, music, and meeting the challenges of life head-on.

With stories by Brittany Cavallaro, Preeti Chhibber, Jay Coles, Katie Cotugno, Lauren Gibaldi, Shaun David Hutchinson, Ashley Poston, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Sarah Nicole Smetana, Eric Smith, Jenn Marie Thorne, Sarvenaz Taghavian, Jasmine Warga, Ashley Woodfolk, and Jeff Zentner, and featuring Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre.

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Cover for Bright Star

BRIGHT STAR by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books, September 7, 2021). Picture Book.

Child, you are awake
You are alive
You are a bright star,
Inside our hearts.

Told with a combination of powerful, spare language and sumptuous and complex imagery that is typical of Yuyi Morales’s work, this is the story of a fawn making her way through a border landscape teaming with flora and fauna native to the region. A gentle but empowering voice encourages her to face her fears when she comes across an obstacle in the form of an insurmountable barrier. Yuyi Morales’ first book since her New York Times bestseller Dreamers is a book for very young children looking for their place in a world full of uncertainty. It is a book with resonance for all children, especially those whose safety is threatened due to the immigration crisis in the US.

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Cover for Hair Story

HAIR STORY by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Keosha Morris (Carolrhoda Books, September 7, 2021). Picture Book. Preciosa has hair that won’t stay straight, won’t be confined. Rudine’s hair resists rollers, flat irons, and rules.

Together, the girls play hair salon They take inspiration from their moms, their neighbors, their ancestors, and cultural icons. They discover that their hair holds roots of the past and threads of the future.

With rhythmic, rhyming verse and vibrant collage art, author NoNieqa Ramos and illustrator Keisha Morris follow two girls as they discover the stories hair can tell.

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Cover for La tierra de las grullas (Land of the Cranes)

LA TIERRA DE LAS GRULLAS, the Spanish edition of THE LAND OF THE CRANES by Aisa Salazar (Scholastic en español, September 7, 2021). Middle Grade. Betita, de nueve años, sabe que es una grulla. Papi le contó la historia desde antes que su familia emigrara a Los Ángeles buscando refugio de la guerra del narco en México. Los aztecas procedían de un lugar llamado Aztlán, en lo que es hoy el sureste de Estados Unidos, cuyo nombre significa “tierra de las grullas”, y establecieron su gran ciudad en el centro del universo: Tenochtitlán, la actual Ciudad de México. Cuenta una profesía que su gente regresaría un día a vivir entre las grullas en la tierra prometida. Papi le dice a Betita que ellos son grullas que han regresado a su hogar.

Un día, el querido padre de Betita es arrestado por el Servicio de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas y deportado a México. Betita y su mamá ingrávida se quedan solas, pero finalmente son también detenidas y deben aprender a sobrevivir en un campamento de detención de familias en las afueras de Los Ángeles. Incluso en estas condiciones crueles e inhumanas, Betita encuentra amparo en su propia poesía y en la comunidad que ella y su madre encuentran en el campamento. Las voces de sus compañeros en busca de asilo vuelan por encima del odio que los mantiene enjaulados y que amenaza cada día con hacerlos caer más bajo de lo que jamás imaginaron. ¿Podrán Betita y su familia volver a ser una sola?

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LOTERÍA by Karla Arenas Valenti (Knof, September 7, 2021). Middle GradeA perilous game of chance. A journey among myths and monsters. A girl whose fate hangs in the balance…It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of la Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.

Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

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MISSING OKALEE by Laura Onjeda Melchor (Shadow Mountain, September 7, 2021)Middle Grade. When compared to her nearly perfect little sister, Phoebe Paz Petersen feels she doesn’t measure up in her parents’ eyes. Okalee is smart and beloved for her sunny disposition, which makes it hard for Phoebe to stand out in their small town in Montana. But if she can get picked for the coveted solo in the school choir, she’ll stop being a middle-school nobody and finally get her chance to shine.

Despite her sister’s annoying perfection, Phoebe actually loves spending time with Okalee. They have one very special, secret tradition: River Day–when they hold hands and make their way across the cold, rushing Grayling River, to celebrate the first hint of spring. This year’s River Day crossing, however, goes horribly wrong, and Phoebe’s world is suddenly turned upside down.

Heartbroken and facing life without Okalee, Phoebe is more determined than ever to sing the solo in the school concert as a way of speaking to her sister one last time. But Phoebe’s so traumatized by what happened, she’s lost her beautiful singing voice.

Kat Waters wants the choir solo for herself and is spreading a terrible rumor about what really happened to Okalee on River Day. If Phoebe tells the truth, she believes her family will never forgive her and she may never get to sing her goodbye to Okalee. Even worse, somebody is leaving Phoebe anonymous notes telling her they saw what really happened at the river.

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PURA’S CUENTOS: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 7, 2021). Picture Book. Pura’s abuela always has a cuento to share. She crows ¡Qui-qui-ri-quí! for Señor Gallo, booms Borom, Borom for Señor Zapo, and tells of a beautiful cockroach who loves a mouse. Pura clings to these stories like coquíes cling to green leaves.

When Pura grows up and moves from Puerto Rico to Harlem, she gets a job at the library, where she is surrounded by stories—but they’re only in English. Where is Señor Gallo? Where is Pérez the mouse? Where is Puerto Rico on these shelves? She decides to tell children the tales of her homeland in English and in Spanish.

Pura’s Cuentos captures the exuberant spirit and passion of Pura Belpré: celebrated storyteller, author, folklorist, and the first Latina librarian in New York City. A pioneer of bilingual storytimes, she welcomed countless new families to the library, formed cultural bridges in her community, and broke the rules by telling stories that weren’t printed in books—at least, not yet.

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Small Town Monsters by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

SMALL TOWN MONSTERS by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Underlined, September 7, 2021). Young Adult. Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents’ reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she’s the family outcast, lacking her parents’ innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement.

Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he’s taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn’t recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father’s death might be something more…sinister.

When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil.

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WHERE I BELONG by Marcia Argueta Mickelson (Carolrhoda Lab, September 7, 2021). Young Adult. In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions–especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie–Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

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Image result for BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA

BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA by Alda P. Dobbs, illustrated by John Jay Cabuay (Sourcebooks, September 14, 2021). Middle Grade. 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 the family she has left–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.

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HELLO, TREE by Ana Crespo, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 14, 2021). Picture Book. When a wildfire comes roaring into the forest, all the animals and humans flee. But all the tree can do is wait. Wait until many days and nights pass. Wait until the fire loses the battle. And wait until the forest is still before the forest can be reborn and the animals and the girl can come back.
 
Inspired by the 2013 Black Forest fire and told from the viewpoint of a tree watching its home destroyed, Hello, Tree is about the kinship between humans and nature, and preservation of the environment.

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MIGHTY MILER: Keila Runs America by Keila Merino, illustrated by Ana Aranda (Six Foot Press, September 15, 2021). Picture Book. Feeling shy and uncertain and speaking only a few words of English, Keila finds an unlikely friend in her gym teacher, Mr. Jones. He shouts out instructions to the students as they play kickball and dodgeball, and at first Keila doesn’t understand him and doesn’t know what to do. Finally, he yells out to her, “Just run ” And then Keila starts running . . . and running . . . and running She discovers that she has a natural talent for the sport. Through running, Keila finds inside her a determination that she never knew she had. Learning to run like the wind, Keila bravely adapts to her new life in America and develops a confidence and sense of herself that will stay with her forever.

Mighty Miler is the true story of ultrarunning champion, coach, and New York City schoolteacher Keila Merino. An immigrant from Mexico, she discovered running in the schoolyards of Arizona and has harnessed the sport to hurdle barriers of language, gender, and class. Today she competes around the world and shares a message of optimism, hard work, and kindness that has shaped the lives of her students–many of whom are immigrants–as much as it has her own. Keila’s story shows that by following one’s passion and helping others, one can achieve the American dream.

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CUBA IN MY POCKET by Adriana Cuevas (FSG/Macmillan, September 21, 2021). Middle Grade.

When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.

Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?

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TEEN TITANS: Beast Boy Loves Raven by Kami Garcia, illustrated by Gabriel Picolo (DC Comics, September 28, 2021). Young Adult. It seems like years, but it’s only been a few days since Raven Roth recovered her memories, trapped her demon father, Trigon, into her amulet, and had her heart broken for the first time. But she doesn’t have time to think about the past…she has to focus on finding a way to get rid of Trigon for good.

Garfield Logan still can’t believe he has powers that allow him to change into different animals, but the price of knowing that his parents kept this secret hidden from him just feels too high. And what’s more, his difficulty controlling these abilities could have unexpected consequences.

Both are seeking answers from the one person who seems to have them all figured out: Slade Wilson.

When their paths converge in Nashville, Raven and Gar can’t help but feel a connection, despite the secrets they both try to hide. It will take a great amount of trust and courage to overcome the wounds of their pasts. But can they find acceptance for the darkest part of themselves? Or maybe even love?