Centering Central America in Children’s Fiction: A journey home, a guest post by María José Fitzgerald
Homesickness is par for the course for immigrants. I’ve been homesick more times than I care to remember. I’m even a little homesick as I write this. I was born in a small and little-known gem of a country in Central America: Honduras. A country most people would struggle to find on a map. I go to Honduras less and less these days, what with work, and children, and even a pandemic that interrupted our travel. Perhaps this is why I started writing my novel way back in 2019. Because, unconsciously at least, I needed to go back home.
Having immigrated to this country nearly twenty-five years ago, I now know the drill: “It’s south of Guatemala and north of Nicaragua. In Central America, that thin isthmus that connects the northern half of the continent to the southern one.” I’m always pleasantly surprised when the person knows something about Honduras, or even better, when they’ve been there. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017, 940,000 people living in the United States identified themselves as being Honduran, and Hondurans were the eighth-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States.
I grew up knowing that books could take us places. Outer space. California. Narnia. What if I wrote a book that could take readers to my home? Or their home? A book that could take me home? A land so close and yet so far, rich with natural beauty, the kindest people, and delectable food? An excellent idea, right? Yet, when I began writing Turtles of the Midnight Moon, I wasn’t consciously thinking about any of these things. Instead, my primary goal was to tell the story of two girls who, despite being worlds apart, came together for one amazing purpose: justice for an environmental cause. As a lover of nature and all its creatures, I wanted to focus my story on an ecological problem that was understandable yet complex enough to be interesting. I wanted readers to care about an issue that I was passionate about. I knew I’d be writing about our oceans and the effects we, as humans, have on them. Drawing from my own personal experiences, and coupling that with much research, I landed on the topic of sea turtle egg poaching paired with the problems we’ve caused due to single-use plastics.
I also created strong, unique, artistic, and smart Honduran characters whose mission to save the sea turtle hatchlings took me on a journey that I am still pinching myself about. I learned a lot from all my characters, especially Barana and Abby. They reminded me what home means to me. Their story took me there. They reminded me to fight for what I believe in. To look for beauty everywhere I go. To forgive. I even learned something from Luna, the special leatherback sea turtle with whom Barana has a magical connection. Luna taught me that as an immigrant, I have a lot in common with leatherback sea turtles. Like them, I have traveled far and wide, and I can always find my way back home. In my heart, on the page, and whenever I am able to visit. Luna taught me to be steadfast, patient, and strong.
I grew up feeling like there was magic in the Honduran jungles and beaches. I could not write a story set there without magical elements. Barana’s mystical connection to the sea turtles and her beach is a reminder that we, too, are connected to our place of birth and its living things. The magical turtle totems the girls find also add an element of mystery to the story. Abby’s urge to learn more about her father’s homeland takes her on the adventure of a lifetime to Honduras. While there, she discovers that home for both her father and for herself can be carried within, the same way she had been carrying the magical totem inside her pocket.
I am proud to have written this book. I am proud that it is set in my place of birth. There aren’t many works of children’s fiction set in Central America, and the best compliments I’ve received are those about my novel’s setting. Honduras is beautiful. Our people are diverse, talented, and smart. Seeing my country’s flag on the inside pages of my novel brought literal tears to my eyes. Seeing the word “Honduras” on the back cover is and always will be a source of pride. Because representation matters, and as difficult as it may have been to write and publish a debut novel, it was worth it. My daughters can hold this book and feel proud of their roots.
While Turtles of the Midnight Moon is a fast-paced, heart-pounding eco-mystery, at its core it is also a story about friendship, family, and community—it is a story about home. I hope Turtles of the Midnight Moon will resonate with readers, and that perhaps a reader with Honduran roots will enjoy being transported home via the written word.
Meet the author
María José Fitzgerald is a writer of children’s books. Her favorite stories usually include animals, friendships, family, and magic. She grew up snorkeling and hiking in her homeland of Honduras, where nature and culture nourished her soul. Her debut novel, Turtles of the Midnight Moon, will be published by Knopf in March 2023. When she’s not writing, you can find her teaching, reading, walking her dogs, relaxing on the couch with her family, or maybe out on a mountain bike ride. She is represented by Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties. You can connect with Maria on Instagram at @mariajosewrites and at mariajosefitzgerald.com.
ABOUT TURTLES OF THE MIDNIGHT MOON
When poachers threaten the island they love, two girls team up to save the turtles—and each other. An eco-mystery with an unforgettable friendship story at its heart from a fresh new voice in middle grade.
Twelve-year-old Barana lives in a coastal village in Honduras, where she spends every spare minute visiting the sea turtles that nest on the beach.
Abby is feeling adrift in sixth grade, trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs after her best friend moved away from New Jersey.
When Abby’s papi plans a work trip to Honduras, she is finally given the opportunity to see his homeland—with Barana as her tour guide. But Barana has other plans: someone has been poaching turtle eggs, and she’s determined to catch them! Before long, Abby and Barana are both consumed by the mystery, chasing down suspects, gathering clues, and staking out the beach in the dead of night. Will they find a way to stop the poachers before it’s too late?
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/14/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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