Mexico is full of tales of foreigners who visit and then become writers and artists, but few of them are under the age of 12.
Arden Pala, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from San Diego, has made many trips to Mexico with his family: Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas and, most recently, Cancún. He’s also the author of a new children’s book about exploring Mexico in a unique form of transportation: a flying car.
In The Adventures of Noah’s Flying Car in Mexico, young Noah and two of his friends, Scotty and Kaden, go on a trip to Mexico to complete a class assignment. Their red flying car allows them to travel across the country with the ultimate goal of seeing the monarch butterfly migration in the World Heritage Site forests 100 miles northwest of Mexico City.
“We landed and stepped out of the car and were greeted by millions of butterflies,” narrator Noah writes. “We walked through the forest and were mind-blown by the butterflies swarming above us in the oyamel fir trees.”
Proceeds from the book benefit a Covid-19 relief fund in San Diego that has already received US $1,000 from the book’s sales.
The story’s voyage, whimsically illustrated by Philippines-based artist Pavel Goldaev, takes readers from the monarch migration to a different kind of migration — gray whales in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur.
“I love the monarch butterfly picture,” Pala said when asked which was his favorite illustration. “It’s beautiful. I like the dolphins and the whale watch. All are really magnificent.”
In one dolphin illustration, Noah and Scotty watch from the flying car as three of the friendly cetaceans leap out of the water. In another, Noah watches as Kaden feeds a fish to Dolly the dolphin in Cabo San Lucas. The illustration of Noah and his friends on the whale watch shows them amazed at the size of a tail rising through the water above them.
“We all gasped when we saw a whale breaching,” Noah writes. “This was an amazing experience, and I was excited to learn more for our project.”
Pala said the book has gotten “a lot of good responses. Sometimes it sells out on Amazon. People really like the fact that the proceeds are donated.”
The book includes visits to multiple natural and cultural wonders of Mexico, from a swim with the dolphins of Cabo San Lucas to landmarks like Chichén Itzá and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Noah and his friends marvel that the nearly 500-year-old basilica can fit 10,000 people and that several million traditionally visit for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on December 12.
At Chichén Itzá, they visit the main temple of El Castillo, the ballfield once used to settle criminal trials and the marketplace, where Noah buys presents for his friends.
Pala said he has seen most of the attractions in the book from previous trips with his family, although the butterfly migration is still on his to-do list.
“I love Mexico City,” he said. “It’s very beautiful. I love the beaches. Cancún is beautiful. Cabo San Lucas is [too].”
Of his New Year’s trip to Cancún last year, Pala said, “One of the highlights was going to Chichén Itzá … The beaches were beautiful — the waves. We stayed at a resort that was very nice.”
Noah and his friends also enjoy Mexican culinary delights, such as tacos with guacamole and chips in Mexico City, and enchiladas mineras with fried potatoes and carrots in Guanajuato after a trip to the city’s famous tunnels.
“I love the food,” Pala said. “I love tamales and tacos, and especially burritos.”
Despite his young age, this is Pala’s third book in a series. The previous books are about visits in a flying car to China and to Turkey. Both are also illustrated by Goldaev.
Pala usually takes an entire summer to write his books, researching on websites and other sources. He talks about his project with his mother, Zeynep Ilgaz, and his friends.
Asked if he has any advice for fellow young authors, Pala said, “Definitely construct a storyline. Make sure to take your time writing a book. Make sure whatever type of plot you’re going to do, the whole structure at the end, tie it into the plot.” He then added, “Of course, have fun.”
Pala is also an accomplished actor. He has been acting in stage productions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas since he was 6 and recently won a best child actor award for a short film, Tahz, in which he played the titular character.
“I really enjoy acting,” he said. “It’s the best part of my life.”
As for the Mexican trip depicted in the book, it earns narrator Noah an A-plus from his teacher, and he has some fond words for the journey: “This was definitely our best adventure yet.”
Rich Tenorio is a frequent contributor to Mexico News Daily.