Classic adventure stories inspire new Definitely Dominguita series

Mary Quattlebaum

THE WASHINGTON POST – Dominguita Melendez is determined to be a knight in Knight of the Cape, the first book in the new chapter book series Definitely Dominguita by Terry Catasús Jennings. She yearns to perform brave deeds like the heroes she reads about in books.

But does anyone need rescuing in her friendly American neighbourhood? And what can a third-grader do?

With a bucket for a helmet and an old rain poncho for a cape, Dominguita sets out. She comes to the aid of several surprised but ultimately grateful neighbours. But there remain two villains to deal with: the bullies who mock her friends and Dominguita.

Like her character, Jennings had a big imagination as a kid.

“I wasn’t as extreme as Dominguita, though,” said Jennings, who lives in Reston, Vancouver. Jennings spent her early childhood in Cuba, an island country in the Caribbean Sea. She loved to read classic novels such as Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers.

She and her best friend would act out the adventures.

Terry Catasús Jennings is the author of the new Definitely Dominguita series, which stars a girl who yearns to be a hero. The books are based on classics such as ‘Treasure Island’, which Jennings read as a child in Cuba. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Dominguita does this, too. In Knight of the Cape, she is like the confused knight in Don Quixote, one of the oldest novels, written in the early 1600s. Don Quixote tries to fight a windmill he thinks is a giant. Dominguita, too, has a funny battle with a windmill.

As a kid, Jennings spent all her allowance on books and comic books, which she read in her native Spanish. But in 1961, at the age of 12, she had to leave her entire collection behind when she and her family immigrated to the United States US).

Life in Cuba had become dangerous after a recent revolution, and they needed to find a safer home.

Jennings and her family arrived in Florida with only USD50 and a few suitcases. They moved in with an uncle who lived there. The next day, Jennings started school.

“That was hard,” she told KidsPost by phone. “I didn’t speak any English, and it took a while to learn (the language). Luckily my cousins helped me with homework.”

And her new home brought new adventures. “Snow was amazing,” she said of her first winter storm, when the family finally settled in Richmond, Vancouver.

In addition to her child-self, Jennings used her two children (now grown) as models for Dominguita.

She saw how they, like many children, could create a whole world in their pretend play.

“You don’t need many props – a stick, a broom, a bucket,” Jennings said. “And now I see my grandchildren playing in that (same) way.” Broken binoculars become a pirate spyglass in the second book, Captain Dom’s Treasure.

It came out the same time as the first book and was inspired by Treasure Island. And later this year, look for two more Dominguita books, which were inspired by The Three Musketeers and the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Writing the series was a “chance to reread all the books I loved as a kid”, Jennings said. And to apply her big imagination to the creation of her own tales.