Author Spotlight: Donna Barba Higuera

Aug. 21, 2020

Today we are pleased to feature author Donna Barba Higuera and her debut middle grade novel, LUPE WONG WON'T DANCE (Levine Querido, September 8, 2020).

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cover art © Mason London

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

Hi!  I’m Donna Barba Higuera and I write middle grade fiction and picture books.

I grew up in a small town, so as a young child my mind wandered to different, bigger worlds and made up places. Everyday happenings weren’t safe inside my imagination that turned the mundane events into bizarre and fantastic stories. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Griffin, convinced my parents (who had very little money) that I needed encyclopedias to explore. Well, those encyclopedias took my mind all over the world. I think I morphed what those books actually said into elaborate historical fiction of my own. (Thank you, Mrs. Griffin!)

As an adult, my reading gravitated toward middle grade and YA books. I also loved writing prompts and writing short stories. 
But I don’t think I ever felt like a “writer.” Epic bedtime stories I told my kids felt more natural to me than what I tried to put on paper. Because I felt more comfortable as a storyteller, writing a book intimidated me.

In around 2010 I started taking creative writing courses at the local college. Learning to write was a long road. I’ve since written several novels. (Thankfully some of those will never see the light of day.)

Congrats on your debut MG novel, LUPE WONG WON'T DANCE. Tell us about the story & what inspired you.

Lupe Wong just showed up at my dinner table one night. My younger daughter, Sophia, was telling us about her day at school. She was upset that she was going to have to square dance in P.E. …
not with her best friend, Gracie…
she had to dance with a boy… 
she had to dance with whomever asked her…

It just kept getting worse for her. In arguably one of the most awkward times in a child’s life, my daughter was experiencing this rite of passage, that I had as a kid too! Not only could I not believe they were still making kids do this, but the current rules of this American ritual still seem so archaic. Why had no one spoken out?
Enter my imagination, and a character who’s a combination of myself and my kids, but will do and say what we wish we’d had the guts to say and do.

Lupe Wong.

Lupe is a “work in progress” and more often than not, her filter fails. She's also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.

Lupe Wong IS going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues.

 Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who's Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she's not gonna let that slide.

Lupe sort of jumped off the page and said, “I am in control of this story now!” 

Lupe is funny, even though she doesn’t intend to be. So when more serious themes of racism enter the picture, Lupe must contend with something more sobering than her usual causes.

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?


I started novel writing in 2011. I began writing young adult novels, but I really think I was writing middle grade and trying to make them into something they were not. 

I had an agent for a few years with whom it didn’t work out. Nothing dramatic. We really liked each other, but our communication styles were different. And that’s okay. The important thing is to know when to call it quits and find the right agent. (Hey, Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio! Aka, the right one.)

Allison and I worked hard to revise LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE. This is where it gets weird. The weekend before she was going to send it on submission, I was at a local SCBWI conference in Portland, Oregon. I’d signed up for a first pages roundtable. I was going to bring something new, but my husband (also a MG writer, Mark Maciejewski, of the infamous, I AM FARTACUS series) encouraged me to bring the book going on sub the next day. He said, “What if this editor gives you advice, even a change of a few words, that makes it a better book?” 

He was right. So, I went to the hotel copy center and printed out 9 copies of the first page of LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE.

The editor at the round table was Nick Thomas of Arthur A. Levine books/Scholastic. Well, I guess he liked Lupe!

The book never went on submission the next day. He contacted Allison that same day. Within a week or so (I think) the book went to acquisitions. After an exciting shuffle of events, Lupe and I are now with Levine Querido. Still with Nick. And still with my agent, Allison. 

What an awesome story! What are some recent favorite MG reads?

I haven’t been reading much lately as I’m in the midst of edits. I’m very cautious about reading others’ work while editing as I don’t want to be subconsciously influenced.

But, my favorite read of the past six months was ROGUE by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. What a masterclass on voice and microtension! 

What projects are you working on now (and can you concentrate)?

I’m working on final edits for a new MG Sci-Fi novel, THE LAST CUENTISTA, wherein 12-year-old, Petra Peña, is relocating to a new planet after Earth is destroyed. She’s placed in suspended animation which fails during the 370-year journey, so when all the other children are mysteriously reprogrammed and the adults purged, Petra becomes the lone bringer of Earth's now forbidden stories and her grandmother's Mexican folklore to a changing humanity. It will be released Fall of 2021 with Levine Querido.

Also, illustrator, Juliana Perdomo, and I have just finalized our picture book, EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO!  in which the Mexican boogeyman, El Cucuy is just as afraid as the boy he terrorizes, about moving to a new city with unfamiliar people and places; the boy realizes if he can reassure and help El Cucuy to be fuerte y valiente, then perhaps he can be strong and brave as well. The editor is Emma Ledbetter and it will be released by Abrams Kids, Spring 2021

I’m admittedly having a horrible time concentrating! With all that is going on in the world, I think those of us with vivid imaginations go to the strangest of places in our minds. 

So to write, I try to wake up early, tune out the news and social media, and work for a few hours with my headphones on. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?

Don’t let others discourage you. Not everyone will understand or be supportive of your writing. Muting those voices is easier said than done. Give yourself permission to politely (or impolitely) extract those who can’t be supportive of your passions.

I absolutely would give this same advice to aspiring authors. Writing is hard. There is no room for bad energy in the room! Out, naysayers! 

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

Here we go! Let the heckling begin!

I’m a prepper. (No, I’m not going to tell you where I live.)
Part of this came from growing up near the San Andreas fault in California. But mostly, my imagination runs wild on the what-ifs. So yeah, you name a disaster, and you can bet I will survive it if it’s possible.

The few who did know about my prepping poked fun at me incessantly…until recently. 

Where can people find you online?

My website is
My twitter handle is @dbhiguera
Instagram @donnabarbahiguera


Donna Barba Higuera grew up in a tiny desert town in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. Rather than wrangling dust devils, she’d spend recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling the library’s dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted pioneers’ cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstone for inspiration. 

Donna’s middle grade and picture books reinvent history, folklore, and or her own life experience into compelling storylines. She still dreams in Spanglish.

​Donna lives in Washington State with her husband Mark, four kids, three dogs and two frogs. 

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  1. Hi! I cannot believe they still do square dancing in school, LOL! (Guess my own daughter was absent that day!) I love that your character, Lupe, wants to be in the Majors & that like me, she hates the wait time between Dr Who episodes!! TG for Netflix these days,LOL! Congrats on your book launch!

  2. My daughter is going to love this book!

  3. I love the story about how this book was published. This is going to be a fun read. Congratulations!

  4. Donna, your book brings back so many memories. I also grew up in the desert (El Paso, Texas)and spent my time preparing for possible missile attacks,devastating dust storms, and rattle snake bites. I also remember learning to square dance in PE,but with girls,as our PE classes were segregated by gender. Your book sounds wonderful! I look forward to reading it.

  5. Congrats! This book and its MC sound so kick-ass amazing!

  6. Great interview! I love that your husband is also a writer! What an amazing turn of events having your book land in exactly the right hands. Loved that story. Congrats!!

  7. Oh, the dreaded boy-girl dance class! UGH! I vaguely remember dancing in elementary/high school. But in college, oh boy. Not enough boys. LOL Congrats!


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