Hannah Carmona’s newest picture book, Anita and the Dragons, takes readers to the Dominican Republic. We meet Anita, who imagines she is a princess. Bravely, she’s about to face a “dragon” — the airplane that will take her and her family to a “distant land far, far away.” There will be hot water and a real dryer in their new home, Anita’s mother tells her, and they will learn English.
Just as she’s about to board the dragon, Anita must face her very real fears. She will miss her island. She also wonders what she will do if she is lonely or sad in her new home — or if she hates it there.
The story, featuring Anna Cunha’s muted palette and velvety soft, textured illustrations, captures with honesty and reverence the experience many emigrant children face when having to leave their home countries.
Chapter 16 talked to Hannah Carmona via email about her personal connection to this story.
Chapter 16: What prompted this story? Is it based on a personal story of emigration or perhaps one from your extended family?
Hannah Carmona: This story is based on my mother’s emigration story. She often talks about what it was like to grow up in the Dominican Republic and her love for her island. My mom came to America as a child, around the same age as Anita (which, by the way, is my mother’s childhood nickname). I am so fortunate that she allowed me to share her story to serve as a window for other children to see themselves through.
Chapter 16: This story is told from the point of view of a child. Do you vividly remember your own childhood impressions and perceptions — and did you yourself imagine planes as dragons?
Carmona: I had a huge imagination as a child, and I’ve found, thinking back to my childhood, that the imagination and intuition I tried to suppress, growing into a young adult, were really what life is all about. I believe that as adults we should play more and allow ourselves to get whisked away by our imagination. That is how the correlation between airplanes and dragons came about. In the story, Anita refers to herself as a princess, and I asked myself what the scariest thing would be for a princess to face. It only made sense that it would be a dragon. And when I thought of the features of a dragon, in relation to the airplane she was going to have to board to leave the place she loved, my vision became crystal clear.
Chapter 16: What is your favorite thing about Anna Cunha’s illustrations for your story?
Carmona: Everything! I wish I had a more detailed answer for you, but truly everything! The moment I saw them, I felt she had seen my heart as I wrote this story and brought those images to life.
Chapter 16: How does your work with the Collective Art School of Tennessee inform your writing, if at all?
Carmona: I co-founded Collective Art School of Tennessee in 2017 with a friend of mine, Hollie Knight. Though I am no longer with the school, my experience there, and as a children’s theater director for five years prior, encourage me to always see things from a different point of view (and the majority of times, a child’s point of view). I allow myself the same freedom of expression as I expected of my students and the same positive self-talk that I encouraged them to have. My second book, Dazzling Travis, is actually based on a former theatre student of mine.
I am so grateful for the joy and hope the school brought to my life and, though I’m slightly biased, I think that everyone in the area should check them out and find that playful spark again.
Chapter 16: How often do you do school visits (virtual or otherwise), and what is it that you love about working with students?
Carmona: I love to connect with my readers and make myself available for free virtual classroom visits every Friday. All that teachers/educators need to do is email me at the address on my website.
Chapter 16: How did you get started in doing audiobook voice-over work?
Carmona: I am constantly listening to an audiobook while doing laundry, walking, or working. So when the pandemic hit, like many people, I was looking for a creative form of income. I already had a background in theater, so when I heard about working from home as a narrator, I jumped at the opportunity to try something new.
Chapter 16: What is one thing you hope that American children will take away from this story about the courage it takes for children like Anita to start over in a new country?
Carmona: I hope that it brings a sense of empathy. I also hope it serves as a window such that, even if they can’t fully relate, they can remember a time when maybe they felt fearful like Anita — and can see her bravery as an example of all the beautiful things that are to come.
Julie Danielson, co-author of Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and The Horn Book. She lives in Murfreesboro and blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.