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First Chapter Fridays: Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

First Chapter Fridays continues with entry #5, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs.

To see the entire series of First Chapter Fridays, click a link at the bottom of this post.

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs

This book releases Tuesday (Sept. 14, 2021), so if you are reading this post soon after, you may not yet have it in your school library.  If your library does not have it yet, the entire first chapter is available on Amazon.

This would be a great book to read for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15-October 15, or for Mexican Independence Day on September 16. Note that the war in the book is the Mexican Revolution, from 1910-1920. Mexican Independence (from Spain) Day on September 16th celebrates the Mexican War of Independence about 100 years earlier, from 1810-1821.

What is it about?

The story is set in 1913s, three years into the Mexican Revolution.

Petra, her younger sister, and their baby brother live with their grandmother in Mexico. When the story opens, Petra is jumping from tree to tree with an ax, cutting branches to use for firewood. Her younger sister Amelia watches from below. Times are tough since the local coal mine where Petra’s father worked has now shut down. Their mother died in childbirth nearly a year ago, and their father has been forced to fight in the Mexican Revolution.

Ultimately, Petra and her family will flee north, hoping to cross the US-Mexico border into safety.

Pre-reading discussion

This first chapter is short, but it tells readers a lot about Petra. Before you read aloud, ask your students to pay attention to what the first chapter tells us about Petra. What do we know about Petra based on her words, thoughts, and actions?

Some examples:

  • Petra is tough and strong–she is climbing a tree with a dress on and an ax in her hands.
  • She shuns “traditional” female roles–she hates her skirt and was wearing a boy’s pants for a time before her grandmother took them away.
  • She grieves for her mother, who died just 11 months ago in childbirth.
  • She tries to protect her emotions–she will not give names to animals that could later be killed.
  • She grieves for her mother but won’t talk about it–Petra ignores her sister Amelia’s question about whether Petra misses their mother.
  • Petra is fiercely protective and extremely brave. Her father chose to face the firing squad over joining the Mexican Federal Army, but Petra ran outside before he was executed. She put herself between her father and the guns, begging that he not be shot. Her father was taken away, but in the process, her dad promised he would live long enough to return.
  • Again, Petra is protective–she promised her father to keep her family safe while he was gone.

Post-reading discussion

After reading the first chapter, ask students to predict the obstacles Petra will face when she flees for the border.

How will Petra fare on this journey? For example, from the first chapter, we know that Petra will do anything to protect her family, including risk her own life. She can climb trees and use an ax. She will not give up easily. She will probably also have to deal with her grief along the way.

  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Keywords: 1910s, death of a parent (mother), early 20th Century, Mexican Revolution, grandmothers, US-Mexico border, immigration, literacy, hope, war
  • Protagonist: Petra Luna, girl, Mexican, age 12
  • Length of Chapter 1: 5 pages (entire first chapter is available on Amazon–click the book cover to view)


Read more about First Chapter Fridays (includes criteria for my selections)



Do you do First Chapter Fridays? What titles have been popular with your students?

Add your favorites in the comments below (don’t forget to add grade levels)!

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