“Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna” by Alda P. Dobbs

Some people call them “chores.”

In a way, though, they’re responsibilities, which sounds better, doesn’t it? You’re responsible for taking out the trash, doing the dishes, keeping your room clean, helping around home, and that’s important stuff. Although – as in the new book, “Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna” by Alda P. Dobbs – nothing’s bigger than being responsible for keeping your family alive.

She never minded bringing Amelia along.

Even though her little sister could be slow sometimes, twelve-year-old Petra Luna understood Amelia’s need to follow her: Amelia was just six, and tired of taking care of their baby brother. Diapers, rocking, and baby-feeding became Amelia’s work after Mama died giving birth and Abuelita coiuldn’t always do it, and so tagging along while Petra harvested wood to sell was a nice something-different for them both.

She knew that climbing trees and selling sticks wouldn’t be forever. No, Petra had dreams – “barefoot dreams,” Abuelita called them, dreams for the poor. Petra imagined going to school, learning to read, and life when Papa came home from the revolution. Meanwhile, cutting wood brought in a few pesos, at least. It was 1913, the Mexican Revolution was everywhere, and even a few pesos could keep away hunger.

But pesos couldn’t buy safety: through the kindness of a soldier, Petra and her family escaped death when the Federales came and destroyed their village and their home. He sent them away with the clothes on their backs and their serapes, to run.

They ran into the desert, where Abuelita had knowledge to help them survive; they’d have to find food in the cactus and water in the sand. They ran, until they eventually found shelter with Pancho Villa’s people and directions for a new life, if they could run some more. Could they ever be safe from the Federales? And since they were gone from their village, how would Papa find them at the end of the revolution?

Based on a lifetime of stories told to author Alda P. Dobbs by her great-grandmother, who lived during the Mexican Revolution, “Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna” is breathlessly exciting for an adult. Imagine how much a kid will love reading it.

It will capture young readers, in fact, right from the outset when they see what Dobbs has in store for her main character. That’s a sneak peek that comes in the first few pages, and things move swiftly from there, in a way that makes this tale feel urgent, as if speedier reading helps Petra and her family move faster. Most curiously then, and quite wonderfully, the suspense is heightened by occasional, subtle reminders of the time-frame of the story, while it also gains a modern feel with echos of current events.

This tale is set more than a century ago, but forgive a kid who forgets that.

Be sure your 8-to-14-year-old reader goes beyond The End to read Dobbs’ author note; it’s relevant to the story and to today’s headlines. Once they’ve seen it, loving “Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna” will be no chore.