39 pages 1 hour read

Alda P. Dobbs

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna is a young adult historical fiction novel by Alda P. Dobbs, which details protagonist Petra’s struggles during the Mexican Revolution. The novel was published by Sourcebooks Young Readers in 2021. Upon its release, the novel was well-received by many critics and was the recipient of several children’s book awards including NYPL Best Book of 2021, NPR Best Book of 2021 Based on a True Story, and Pura Belpré Honor Book (2022). Dobbs is a children’s book author who is passionate about writing stories to help connect children to history, nature, and their communities. In 2022, Dobbs wrote a follow up that continues Petra’s Story entitled The Other Side of the River.

Content Warning: The source material features discussions of death, grief, war, and violence.

Plot Summary

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna follows protagonist Petra during the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. Petra feels different from other girls her age. She has no interest in becoming a wife or learning to cook and clean. After Petra’s mother’s death, her father is forced by Federales to join the fight for Mexico’s independence, and Petra takes over as the main breadwinner and caretaker of her family. She gathers and prepares food and firewood for her family and sells extra firewood to people in her village to earn money.

One day, when Petra and her sister Amelia return from selling firewood, their home is ransacked by the Federales searching for Petra’s cousin, Pablo, whom they intend to enlist into the army. A young boy warns Petra that the army plans to burn down their hut. With the boy’s help, they escape the fire, but they’re left to wander the countryside in search of shelter and safety.

After days of walking, Petra and her family come across a church, where they are welcomed with open arms. At the church, Petra meets Adeline, a white American girl her own age who has spent her life in Mexico. The two become fast friends, and Adeline teaches Petra how to write her name. When it is announced that the Federales will come to raid the church, everyone prepares to leave. Adeline offers Petra a seat in the car taking Adeline and her mother to America, but Petra denies the offer in order to stay with her family.

After more days spent walking, the family comes across a water source from which they happily drink. It is there that they realize that Luisito, the baby, has a fever. Petra runs to a nearby village to find a doctor, only to be turned away for not having enough money. Petra begs for alms in the street and meets a woman, Marietta, wearing pants. She takes Petra and the baby to a doctor at a nearby rebel camp. A doctor examines the baby and gives Petra medicine for him. Over the course of the next day, Marietta and Petra get to know one another. Marietta invites Petra to join the rebels as a soldier. The next day, the camp boards a train headed for the border. Petra climbs atop the train in search of Marietta to discuss becoming a rebel, but the train crashes, and Marietta is injured. She sends Petra and her family to the next train, which will take them to the border.

Petra and her family struggle to cross a bridge through a storm and meet a group of rebels who help them onto the train. When the train stops, they have reached the United States border.

Petra and her family try to cross the border, but they are told that it will cost a lot of money to get through. They decide to wait near the gate and see what happens. While looking for food, Petra comes across Federales who tell her to warn people that the army officials are on their way to the border. Back at camp, people are in a frenzy. Petra comes across a bird and decides to follow it. The bird leads her back to her family shortly before the Federales approach. The American soldiers open the gate, and everyone rushes through to cross the border. Petra’s grandmother, Abuelita, cannot run fast enough, so she tells Petra to go ahead with the children. When she reaches the other side, Petra waits for her grandmother, relieved and proud of how far they have come.

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