Plantation Key School fourth graders were all ears and overflowing with questions during a recent visit by author S.A. (Salli Anne) Rodriguez. “What kind of dive certified are you?” asked one student. “Our teacher’s a divemaster,” added another. 

Rodriguez was invited into the PKS media center to read a few pages from her soon-to-be released children’s novel, “Treasure Tracks.”

The book, ideally suited for children ages 8-12, is primarily set in the Florida Keys with scuba diving, turquoise waters and abundant marine life all essential to the narrative. 

“It’s amazing to be down here in the Keys; these kids, they get the love for the ocean. They really get it,” said Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez also read to a sixth-grade class at PKS and to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Ocean Studies Charter School in Key Largo and received similar acclaim.

“You can see their eyes light up because they’re so excited. There haven’t been many books, especially at the middle grade level, set here,” she added.

Plantation Key School fourth graders listen as S.A. Rodriguez reads excerpts from her new Keys-based novel, ‘Treasure Tracks.’ KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

The fast-paced adventure revolves around a 12-year-old boy on a treasure hunt for undersea riches to help his ailing abuelo (Spanish for “grandfather”). The protagonist, Fernando or “Fin,” encounters danger at every turn as he dives deep into a journey to save Abuelo’s life. 

But “Treasure Tracks” is more than just a thrilling read for upper elementary and middle school students. The novel is brimming with local Keys history and includes a myriad of facts about our marine environment with emphasis placed on conservation. 

The inspiration for “Treasure Tracks” came during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rodriguez spent the entire lockdown at her Key Largo home with her three sons, who were going to school virtually.

Author S.A. Rodriguez is a part-time Key Largo resident whose novel, ‘Treasure Tracks,’ will launch June 28 at Sandbar Books. CONTRIBUTED

“We were locked indoors and I wanted to take kids on a great adventure. I was living this inspiration and it was important for me to really integrate the local history and the rich marine diversity we are fortunate to enjoy. It’s our local treasure,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to bring that treasure into the book.”

Honing her craft as a writer and getting published took patience, perseverance and a lot of grit. “I think if you ask any author, you get a lot of rejection. I was no different, I had to keep going and push past the no’s. Books are very subjective,” said Rodriguez.  “Some people can connect to a particular story, some people don’t. You can’t take it personally.”

Persistence paid off in June 2021. Rodriguez learned literary powerhouse Macmillan wanted to publish “Treasure Tracks.” “I got lucky with ‘Treasure Tracks.’ It’s the third novel I’ve written, and the one that got picked up right away,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is not only an author and researcher; she is also the former head of U.S. Hispanic marketing for Citibank. She studied communications at Loyola University in New Orleans and holds a master of business administration degree from the University of Miami. 

When asked by Macmillan where she wanted to officially launch “Treasure Tracks” later this month, Rodriguez did not hesitate. The launch event belonged in the Keys.

“It was almost serendipity that Sandbar Books had just opened in Tavernier. It’s this beautiful, ocean-themed bookstore,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez already has an enthusiastic future customer in PKS student Alexandra Evelein. The fourth-grader holds the distinguished honor of having read over 1 million words this past school year.

“I think it sounds really cool and I’m really excited to read it,” said Evelein.

If you’d like to take your child to the official launch of Treasure Tracks, just head over to Sandbar Books on Tuesday, June 28 from 4 to 6 p.m. The bookstore is located in Tavernier Towne Center at 91272 Overseas Highway. Rodriguez will be signing copies. There will be prizes, nibbles and fun for the whole family.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.