Interview with the Author: Kaela Rivera

By: Shanleigh Klassen

Hello, bookworms! We're so happy that for our April 'Legendary Courage' box, we were able to feature debut author Kaela Rivera and her magical middle grade adventure, Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls.


Interested in this book? Extras of our 'Legendary Courage' boxes are available now for one-time purchase! Grab yours before they're gone.

Hi, Kaela! You’ve created such a gripping and captivating adventure in Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls. What first inspired your story?

Hola! Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls was largely inspired by the stories my abuelo (grandpa) shared with me about what it was like growing up in northern Mexico. I grew so fascinated and passionate about this part of my family's history that I wanted to write a story centered around it. I even started researching more latinx and mesoamerican folklore because of abuelo's stories about La Llorona and other tales. That desire and research eventually turned into Cece! There are lots of little allusions to my abuelo's stories throughout, some subtle, and some less subtle. Keep a look out for La Llorona and mentions of burros and goats when you read!

Cece embodies our theme ‘Legendary Courage’ so perfectly. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with this character?

Absolutely! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write a story similar to Spirited Away, where a girl encounters frightening things and learns to be courageous despite the challenges. But there was another layer to Cece's character that brought her to life: for many reasons, my mom and I had both been criticised heavily because we were seen as "weak" for being emotional. The more I wrote Cece's character, the more I pulled my mom's experience and mine to showcase that our emotional depths were not weaknesses—they were strengths, too. Like us, Cece feels very deeply, including fear and sorrow as well as kindness and determination. Because of that, fear is particularly powerful to her--which makes her courage in overcoming it all the greater. After all, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." Cece was a way of expressing and defending that part of me and my mother. Our bravery grows to even greater heights than the depths of our fears because of how powerfully we love whatever we defend from our fear. That makes for some legendary courage after all, I think.

Left image shows OwlCrate Jr exclusive edition of Cece Rios, showing a dark purple sunset fading into pale yellow. Right image shows regular cover of Cece Rios, a light purple sunrise fading in to yellow.

It was so hard finishing the book and having to say goodbye to Cece and the criaturas! Do you have plans to continue the story you’ve set up in Desert of Souls?

I think there are lots of great possibilities for expanding on the story setup in Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls. I'd particularly like to take readers on another adventure with Cece, Juana, and the criaturas—this time into Devil's Alley! Keep your fingers crossed, and it may just happen.

If you could meet any criatura, who would that be?

Oof! That's a hard one. But I think I'd have to pick Coyote. I love all of the criaturas, but Coyote has a special place in my heart, and I'd be so excited to see and listen to him in real life. Plus, it's not every day you get to hang out with the Great Namer. Maybe I could even help him remember how to Name again.

Are there any great middle grade novels coming out that you have your eye on?

There are so many great middle grade novels coming out! I'm excited about the upcoming Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (June 1), Josephine Against the Sea (July 6), and The Verdigris Pawn (July 7)! They're all fantasy (fantasy and I are best friends, so we spend lots of time together) and each filled with interesting themes like familial relationships and the effects of power. I'm super excited for these 2021 debuts!

Thank you so much, Kaela! 

Starting on Monday, join us for our Cece Rios readalong right here!


  • Discussing chapters 1 - 15 on Monday, May 17th
  • Discussing chapters 16 - 29 on Wednesday, May 19th

If you participate in our readalong discussions, you'll be entered in to win a FREE OwlCrate Jr box!


And don't forget to join us next Friday, May 21st at 3:00 PM PST/6:00 PM EST for our live OwlBabble author chat with Kaela!

More details to follow next week, so keep an eye on your inbox. 

Text reads OwlBabble With Author Kaela Rivera with an arrow pointing down to author photo. Author photo shows Kaela smiling at the camera in a green field. OwlCrate Jr exclusive edition of Cece Rios at left of author image.

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Graphics by Michelle Gray.
Book photo by @a.o.tales