It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited to be chatting with Terry Catasús Jennings about her Definitely Dominguita series! You may remember that I raved about the series back when I originally discovered it last year, and I’m excited to inform you that there are more adventures for Dom and her crew! So without further ado, I’ll let Terry tell us all about it.
Terry, thank you so much for agreeing to answer all my questions! I’m excited to chat about the most recent titles, but before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Devyn, I am delighted to be here at Mutually Inclusive. Thank you for having me.
The long and the short of me is that I am a Cuban -American children’s writer. I came to the United States not long after the Bay of Pigs Invasion—my father was jailed for three days during that invasion, so our family felt that we were no longer safe in Cuba. So we arrived on September 11, 1961 with $50 for our whole family. I was enrolled and attending seventh grade the next day—without knowing any useful English. At first we lived with two of our uncles (one at a time) because we had nothing, including no job for my dad, and then eventually we moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up. I wanted to be a writer since I was in third or fourth grade, I was a voracious reader. But in a creative writing class my teacher accused me of using the Thesaurus, imagine! She said I was using it to make my writing sound better because there was no way a Cuban kid could know the words I had used in my story on my own. Saying that I got ticked off would be to soft peddle what I felt. I got out of her class and decided I would major in math because I loved my math teacher. You know, she just caught me on the wrong day/ week of my teenage life and it’s a shame because I really shouldn’t have reacted that way. I actually ended up working in finance until I had kids and then I quit work because I didn’t have good options for day care. Remember, that was a million years ago. But stories continued to roll around in my head and when my daughter was fifteen, I wrote an essay about teaching her to drive and The Washington Post bought it immediately. I thought I was headed for the Pulitzer Prize In no time, right? Of course, it was a long slog. And I still don’t have that prize. I have done a lot of work for hire, written a lot of educational text (even for the Smithsonian) and finally the Definitely Dominguita Series landed me with a major publisher and I couldn’t be happier.
I recently read the two newest Definitely Dominguita titles, All for One and Sherlock Dom, and I just love this series! Can you tell us a bit about Dom and the series itself?
The series is about a Cuban-American third grader who has modern day adventures while pretending to be characters in. the classics her Abuela read to her as bed time stories. She is a spunky, resolute girl who has never really needed friends—she spends her time reading, and that is enough. Of course, you can guess that Dom will find friends and friendship and the threesome she makes is perfect. Pancho is another Cuban-American kid who loves to read and knows all sorts of things nobody else knows, Steph is a US-American girl who lives with her grandmother and is home schooled—Pancho and Dom accept her without question. They don’t hold the fact that she’s US-American against her at all (I hope you’re laughing here). The adventures that they have are normal third-grade kid adventures, and they are funny. All for One is inspired by The Three Musketeers and our heroes use chocolate covered toilet plungers as weapons to prevent the dastardly Bublassi brothers from ruining a quinceañera party. Sherlock Dom, as you can imagine, is about solving a mystery. The kids find the lost goat of Tapperville, a story which you can say resembles The Hound of the Baskervilles if you are generous.
What inspired you to start this series?
You know, my father was a great fan of Don Quijote, a fifteenth century man who one day decided that he would be a knight. Don Quijote never reached his goal. Whenever I do something that I know I have very little chance of success, like getting rid of the weeds in my yard, I think of Don Quijote. One day I was weeding, and a boy showed up in my head dressed in a cape and told me his name was Dom Capote, the Knight of the Cape. Don Capote/Don Quijote, that was a sign, right? I had to write a story about this Don Capote. But there was a problem. It had to be a girl. There are so many more obstacles that a girl would need to overcome to become a knight than a boy. I had to finagle a way to make the character still be Don Capote, or something close and that’s where the name Dominguita came from. One of my second cousins is named Dominguito, so I jumped on that and had her brother give her a cape from the army/navy surplus trash pile, and there you have it. She became Dom del Capote, Dom of the Cape, Dom Capote for short. It worked!
Title: All For One (Definitely Dominguita)
Author: Terry Catasús Jennings
Illustrator: Fatima Anaya
Published: August 17, 2021
Format: Chapter Book
If young readers only walk away from the series with one lesson, what would you want it to be?
I would want young readers to realize that Cuban-American kids are just like them—they love the same things, get upset at the same things—and it’s not just Cuban American kids, it’s anyone who is from another country, or has different preferences and abilities than they do. I hope they will always extend a hand of friendship whenever they meet. Also, if they come to try some Cuban food because of my books, I would be over the moon. It is so yum and everyone should try it.
I love Dom’s love of classic literature! Were the books that have inspired Dom and her friend’s adventures books that inspired you personally?
Absolutely. I read incessantly as a child. And even though I had friends, I still was perfectly fine being alone, like Dom, because I had my books. There was a series of books, they were yellow—kids’ versions of the classics and they were sold at a newsstand, close to my house. Now, my father very early he started me on an allowance. The only strings attached were that I write down how I spent my money on a green sheet of accountant’s paper. Well, every month, I spent all my money at the bookstore and killed two birds with one stone. I got my books, and I only had to make one entry a month. I read all of Robert Louis Stevenson, all of Jules Verne, all of Louisa May Alcott, all of Dumas, Most of them were kids’ versions of the classics, but they weren’t real easy. I’m sure they came from Spain. They were all a couple of hundred pages.
Title: Sherlock Dom (Definitely Dominguita)
Author: Terry Catasús Jennings
Illustrator: Fatima Anaya
Published: November 16, 2021
Format: Chapter Book
If you could spend the day with one character from the series, who would you choose and why?
I love Abuela. She is such a perfect mentor to Dom. She is soft, yet wise. She takes Dom seriously. She is able to make Dom see her situation from all sides, and make the right decision. Abuela is driven by honor, much like my father was. I would like to learn from her so that I can be a good grandmother to my grands. But I tell you what, I love all the characters. It is a great community.
What’s next for Dom and her friends? Will we see any more books in this series?
I sure hope so. I am dying to get back into that story and spend lots of time again with all my Dominguita friends. My agent has submitted three really good and fleshed out ideas to Simon and Schuster, and they are thinking about it. At least they haven’t said no, yet. So cross fingers and toes, they will decide to publish more. The Knight of the Cape did really, really well, it was Best Books of 2021 for School Library Journal, and Kirkus, and Parents Latina and it was also a Nerdie, so I am really hopeful. Actually, both All for One and Sherlock Dom were just made into audio books, and the boxed set of all four books will be coming out in mid March if the shipping gods allow.
You have two books releasing this year as well, is that right? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Thank you for asking that, Devyn. Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist is a biography in verse which I was very fortunate to co-author with Pauli Murray’s niece. It is coming out on February 8 from Little Bee Books. I “met” Pauli Murray in 2012 when I wrote The Women’s Movement: 1960-1990 from Mason Crest. She was a pivotal force in the women’s movement, yet no one knew about her. I wanted to write a book about her role in the women’s movement, but as I read about her, I found that she was as important for the civil rights movement. She conceptualized the arguments that won Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, desegregated schools, and eventually brought down Jim Crow, but she didn’t get any credit because she was a woman. I want to write that wrong and make sure everyone knows about Pauli Murray. The book is appropriate for fourth grade and up.
The other book is The Little House of Hope / La casita de esperanza. It is a picture book from Neal Porter Holiday House and it is illustrated by the award winning Raúl Colón! I am so excited for this little book to be out in the world. The illustrations are breathtaking, but more importantly, this book is part of my own story. It is about a family of immigrants who meet other immigrants who need help and they open their home to help them. This gesture allows the newcomers to get a little boost, save a little money, get their papers straight, and then move out into their own places. It is important to me because my family benefited from someone like that when we first came to the United States; but I also want readers to understand what the immigrant experience is like and to look with kindness at their immigrant neighbors. The little house is scheduled to come out on May 17th.
What else is on the horizon for you? Can you talk about anything else you’re working on?
You’re so sweet to ask, Devyn. I’m working on a lot, but nothing is under contract yet. We just finished edits with our agent on a Pauli Murray picture book which we really like. I also just finished edits with her (I hope) on a book about another Cuban-American girl—Gabby—and her grandmother, but in this case the grandmother is quite different. This grandmother is bossy, and loves to make everyone eat Cuban food even though some of it, admittedly, looks yucky. When the Abuela comes up to Virginia from Miami to live with the family, Gabby, who is trying to fit in at a new school is horrified at how her grandmother just seems to interject herself into Gabby’s life. Also Gabby wants to win a Scottie dog being given away (by application) by the most popular girl in her grade, and Abuela’s pushiness is unwittingly destroying all the chances that Gabby has of winning the little dog. When there is a racist incident, Gabby could keep quiet and keep her chances of getting the pup alive or she can call it out. I think it’s a very, very sweet book, of love and misunderstandings and the power of doing the right thing. I hope a publisher will think the same.
A second picture book about a “Yes” day with Grandpa is a bittersweet story that I hope will connect with all readers. That has just gone to my agent for the first time.
I am also working on two partially autobiographical books about the last few months before my family left Cuba and the first few months after we got to the United States. This is mostly fictional, but a lot of it is true. It includes the part about my father being jailed. The first one has had many iterations and I am now trying it in verse. My writer’s group likes the way it’s coming out. The second one is only an outline without a proper ending.
There are always picture books that get worked on when I’m stuck in my longer manuscripts. To be honest, this last year has been very busy with marketing Dominguita and editing the other two books. I have just recently been able to begin writing again and it feels wonderful.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Devyn, I love the mission of Mutually Inclusive. Thank you including me. It is so important to influence the hearts and minds of young readers, and Mutually Inclusive is doing a wonderful job. It has been a pleasure being here with you. Lots, and lots of hugs to all.
To learn more about Terry and her work, please visit her website at www.terrycjennings.com.