Each Tiny Spark

by Pablo Cartaya
Grade 5-6


Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels. Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear. Each tiny spark is a tender story about asking big questions and being brave enough to reckon with the answers.

Discussion questions from SOMN

  • What is representation, and why is it important? What communities, identities, etc. are represented in Each Tiny Spark?
  • In this interview, author Pablo Cartaya said, “Emilia’s life exists in multitudes; her experiences and challenges guide who she is and who she is becoming.” What do you think of this statement and the way the author tells Emilia’s story? What are Emilia’s challenges? What are her strengths?
  • Why do you think many students in Emilia’s class don’t know about the history of Park View and Merryville?
  • When Emilia discovers that the Olympic stadium was built by immigrants who then risked deportation, she wonders about the fate of her family members who are immigrants. She thinks, “Who makes the rules about who gets to stay somewhere and who has to leave?” This is a big question. Should someone have the power to dictate where another lives? If they stay or go?

Classroom activities from SOMN

  • Emilia and Gus’s video makes a big impact on their school, and Mr. Richt even hopes to share it with the community. In keeping with this moment in the text, make a video, like Emilia and Gus, about something going on at your school. The videos should include interviews and other footage relevant to the topic.
  • So many of Pablo Cartaya’s books seek to understand familial connections, but they also highlight the families that we make for ourselves that often transcend biological relations. Keeping this in mind, create family trees (biological and/or chosen), doing research on your family archives to construct relations and see connections. These projects should be creative and should be accompanied by a brief, reflective writing where you explain your creative processes.
  • Read and discuss this interview with author Pablo Cartaya. What did you find most interesting? What did you think about his reasons for writing the book, and his reasons for how he chose to represent Emilia’s journey?