A Conversation with Alda P. Dobbs, Author of The Other Side of the River + Giveaway!

Holly Schindler here, administrator of Smack Dab in the Middle. When I got the ARC for The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, I knew, just a handful of sentences in, that I was reading something really special. And I was utterly thrilled to get my hands on the sequel, The Other Side of the River. Alda P. Dobbs was kind enough to join us for a second chat:

HS: Hey, Alda! You know I’m a serious fan of Barefoot Dreams, the first installment of Petra’s story. I immediately tore into The Other Side of the River. It was as though Petra and I had never been apart! How’d you tap back into the tone of her voice?

AD: It’s a pleasure to be here with you doing a second interview! Very interesting question. The idea of writing my great-grandmother’s story came to me after my first completed manuscript went nowhere. At that time, I thought I’d give children’s magazines a shot. I published an article for Highlights Magazine and when they requested a second one, I considered writing about my family’s story. It took me almost two years to verify that indeed my family’s story was true, and at that point I decided to turn the article into a picture book. Thanks to the advice of an agent during a conference, that picture book morphed into two novels. But the picture book I had written, ended up being the opening chapters of The Other Side of the River! So, Petra’s voice was born in that picture book.

HS: Petra’s story in Barefoot Dreams is based to a great extent on your own family history. But the second book diverges pretty significantly from your family story. Can you talk a little about the inspiration and why you decided to deviate a bit here?

AD: My great-grandmother talked about the time when the refugee camp she was living in was about to be shut. She described how refugee families were given the option to return to Mexico (the federales were no longer a threat) or remain in America. The US government would aid refugees in finding work and housing if they decided to stay. My great-grandmother, who was nine years old, motherless, and the oldest sibling, talked it over with her father and both decided to return to Mexico. After all, Mexico was their homeland and they wanted to help restore her. In my research, I found out that many Mexicans returned home, and yet over two million Mexicans made America their permanent home. With this in mind, I wondered how my great-grandmother’s life and that of her descendants would have differed had she remained in America. I also wanted Petra Luna to see her new country with the same eyes my mother and I saw it as immigrants.

HS: This might piggyback on your answer above, but there are so many topical issues in this book, even though it’s historical fiction—but that’s when historical fiction is at its best! It puts a mirror in our modern-day faces. I see connections with small pox / Covid, as well as our current immigration debates. Is that part of the reason you wanted to follow Petra up in the US rather than Mexico?

AD: It's funny, but I never realized how similar these two periods were until I began doing the research. I placed Petra in the U.S. following the thought of “what if” and later realized how much history repeats itself. That’s why I urge readers, especially young ones, to capture family stories and discover their parallels in history and cultures.

HS: Which was more difficult—writing the first book or second? How so?

AD: Both had their moments of “Oh, my goodness, what am I doing??” but in the end, I’d have to say the second was a teeny bit more difficult because for the first time I had a real, one-hundred percent genuine deadline – with a capital “D” – hanging over my head. It makes a big difference when it’s a self-imposed deadline versus one where a whole team is waiting for your story.

HS: With two books under your belt, has your approach to historical fiction changed? 

AD: I’d say I feel more confident about research. Having a physics and engineering background, I used to approach research in a totally different manner which was very inefficient for writing purposes. I now know where to go and I’m not afraid to approach librarians. I’ve discovered that they’re amazing, wonderful people who are eager to help J

HS: Did you find it hard to write family history? Everyone has their own memories or versions of events. What was the family response to Barefoot Dreams?

AD: Some of the scenes were difficult to write because I knew they had really happened to my family and at times it was difficult to process the pain and anguish they must have felt under those circumstances. On the bright side, I’ve had extended family members thank me because many of the family stories had been lost and my book helped reignite that passion and curiosity for our past. Now they’re able to share our stories with the next generation. Personally, I’m still waiting for my mother to read it. She only speaks Spanish, and it really bothers her (and me!) that she can’t yet enjoy it. BUT a little bird told me that the Spanish version may be coming out soon….

HS: I had to tell you my favorite passage: “A strange thing happens when a country fights itself. There are no winners or losers. One side may claim victory, but in the end, it’s a loss for everyone. It’s like two parts of a single body fighting each other. If the head claimed victory over the feet and destroyed them, then the body could no longer walk to explore and find a better place. If the feet destroyed the head, then the body could no longer think nor plan for a better future.” I find this so timely. Do you have a favorite passage?

AD: Aww, thank you, Holly. Timely is a perfect word for it. One of my favorite quotes is from a hunched-back woman, also a Mexican refugee, who is selling tacos in the street when Petra first arrives in San Antonio. As the old woman holds the coins a customer just paid her, she shows them to Petra and says, “This here is opportunity…and opportunities are everywhere in America…but opportunities don’t fall from the sky like rain…They only come to you when you work hard.” I like this quote because as an immigrant, I have received so much from the U.S., my adoptive land, but the many doors that have opened for me – studying physics, being in the military, living overseas, writing a book – are amazing opportunities that took a lot of work and perseverance. The beauty, though, is that these opportunities were within my reach, they existed. I believe that despite America not being a perfect country, it’s still one of the best places in the world.

HS: Has your perspective on your great-grandmother changed since spending so much time with Petra?

AD: It has. I admire her so much more and value her legacy. I also admire the passion my mother has for sharing family stories that have shaped me in many ways.

HS: What do you most want young readers to take away from these books?

AD: I want them to realize that Petra’s story is not unique to my family or to Mexicans. It’s a universal story that transcends periods and cultures. Avi’s book Crispin shows a character whose life very much resembles Petra’s, yet both worlds are completely different. I also want them to realize the immense strength they carry within. Like Petra Luna, they too are fighters, warriors, survivors. They too have the same courage. 

HS: What’s next?

AD: I am working on another historical fiction that is set in a different time but maybe the same place? Stay tuned!

As always, thank you, Holly, for these amazing questions!


The Giveaway! One copy of The Other Side of the River. Simply comment below to enter.  Giveaway ends 9/25!


  1. Sounds like an inspiring book!

  2. This sounds like an excellent read! Thank you for bringing it to my attention!


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