Fourth-graders at Plantation Key School were all ears and brimming with questions during a recent visit from author SA (Salli Anne) Rodriguez. “What type of certified diver are you? asked one student. “Our teacher is a divemaster,” added another.

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

The book, ideal for ages 8 to 12, is set primarily in the Florida Keys with scuba diving, turquoise waters and abundant sea life all central to the narrative.

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

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 accolades.

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

Plantation Key School fourth-grade students listen to SA Rodriguez read excerpts from his new novel based on Keys, “Treasure Tracks.” KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL / Weekly Keys

The fast-paced adventure revolves around a 12-year-old boy in search of underwater riches to help his sick abuelo (Spanish for “grandfather”). The protagonist, Fernando or “Fin”, encounters danger at every turn as he plunges deep into a journey to save Abuelo’s life.

But “Treasure Tracks” is more than just an exciting read for elementary and middle school students. The novel is packed with local Keys history and includes myriad facts about our marine environment with a focus on conservation.

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

Author SA Rodriguez is a part-time resident of Key Largo whose novel, “Treasure Tracks,” will launch June 28 from Sandbar Books. CONTRIBUTED

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

Perfecting your craft as a writer and getting published took patience, perseverance and a lot of courage. “I think if you ask any author you get a lot of rejection. I was no different, I had to go on and push the noes back. Books are very subjective,” Rodriguez said. “Some people can connect to a particular story, others don’t. You can’t take it personally.

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

Rodriguez is not just an author and researcher; she is also the former Hispanic American Marketing Manager for Citibank. She studied communications at Loyola University in New Orleans and has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami.

When Macmillan asked her where she wanted to officially launch “Treasure Tracks” later this month, Rodriguez didn’t hesitate. The launch event belonged to the Keys.

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

Rodriguez already has an enthusiastic future client in PKS student Alexandra Evelein. The fourth-grader has the great honor of having read more than a million words in the last school year.

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

If you want to take your child to the official launch of Treasure Tracks, just drop by Sandbar Books on Tuesday, June 28 from 4-6 p.m. The bookstore is located at Tavernier Towne Center at 91272 Overseas Highway. Rodriguez will sign copies. There will be prizes, snacks and fun for the whole family.

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