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Come In, My Friend

Latino children's author Carmen Agra Deedy gets inspiration from her own experience as a Cuban refugee

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When fires force five animals from their homes, they come knocking at Wombat’s burrow door. And kindhearted Wombat says to each “Come in, my friend. Come in.” Before long, his peaceful burrow becomes pandemonium, with each guest appropriating a favorite item of Wombat’s.

What, oh what, is a bighearted Wombat to do? Once the fire passes, Wombat is relieved to finally find himself alone. Or is he?

Taking inspiration from stories of the Australian bushfires as well as her own experience as a Cuban refugee, Latino bestselling author Carmen Agra
Deedy
published “Wombat Said Come In” (Peachtree, April 2022), her latest children’s book, illustrated by Brian Lies.

“When I was little I wanted to be a doctor or a scientist. English was difficult for me when I was growing up. I’m also dyslexic, so writing wasn’t on my career radar. However, I did grow up among great Cuban and Southern storytellers. That fueled a lifetime love story,” Deedy explained in a recent interview with AL DIA.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Deedy emigrated to Decatur, Georgia, as a Cuban refugee. “I grew up in a time when childhood in a small town meant great freedom. My friends and I played outside for hours; we put pennies on the railroad tracks, rode our bikes to the corner store for candy, caught tadpoles in the creek, and gave ourselves bellyaches (and chiggers) from eating blackberries off the vine until we were ‘full as a summer tick’”, she said. In short, they were feral children.

“And I was lucky, I suppose, that my childhood friends were Cubans and Southerners. The differences in culture and language were soon lost when we
were at play,” she added.

DEEP GRATITUDE 

If there is anything that impacted his happy childhood memories, it was the help her family received from the Decatur First Baptist Church. “There were many organizations helping Cuban refugees at that time. They asked church families to be sponsors,” she recalled.

Aid also came in the form of jobs, donated clothes, furnishings, and medical help.

“This small town was inundated with traumatized refugees. The fact that so many opened their homes, businesses, and lives to help us during that unsettling time is still a wonder to me. You never forget those who help you in times of great difficulty.” 

The author of twelve books for children, including The Library Dragon, The Cheshire Cheese Cat, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, and 14 Cows for America, a New York Times Bestseller, this time Deedy chose an Australian wombat who opens his borough to animals seeking shelter from a wildfire as the main character of her story.

Carmen Agra Deedy. Photo: Courtesy of the author
Carmen Agra Deedy. Photo: Courtesy of the author

The idea came to her just before the pandemic, when she found in the news an intriguing story about wombats during a wildfire in Australia. “After the fire abated, animal rescuers discovered that many wombats had been saved by staying in their burrows . . . only many of them weren’t alone. Other, smaller, animals had been allowed into wombat burrows by the shy little marsupials,” Deedy explained.

As an animal lover, she was so taken by this story that she started researching wombats and other Australian animals and their habitats. “The more I read, the more fascinating the reading became. In the end, I suppose wombat’s generosity put me in mind of the many kind people I had known as a child,” she said. “This story is for the many “wombats” from the small town of Decatur who said “Come in!” to my family and so many other people in need. And, as wombat did with sugar glider, they continue to do so today,” the author concluded.

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