Rancho Santa Fe woman’s first novel entwines storytelling and peace advocacy

Cintia Alfonso Fior displays her novel, “Moraline.”
Cintia Alfonso Fior displays her novel, “Moraline.”
(Photo by Grace Gresli)

Rancho Santa Fe resident Cintia Alfonso Fior has fulfilled numerous roles in her life, including clinical psychologist, human rights advocate, peace facilitator and mother of three.

Now, she has added another niche to the list: novelist.

Her debut book, “Moraline” was officially released Wednesday, March. 1.

“Moraline” is a 212-page work of fiction geared toward middle-school aged students. The book relates the story of a sixth-grader who overcomes bullying, loneliness and other challenges with the help of magical interventions and newly formed friendships.

Fior ascribes her inspiration for writing a book exploring themes of social and environmental justice to her experiences working with underserved children in South America, Africa and the United States, including New York and San Diego.

Born and raised in Argentina, Fior earned a masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies from the USD’s Kroc Institute of Peace Studies. She now is working toward a PHD from Loma Linda University and heads the Family Policy and Human Rights Committee of the American Family Therapy Academy.

“I wanted to tackle some big issues through fiction to make these issues more digestible for kids,” she said in a recent interview. “So I combined my expertise of 20 years working as a child psychologist with my experience as a peace builder to expand the possibilities of teaching conflict analysis and resolution skills.”

The cover of “Moraline”
The cover of “Moraline”
(Copyright of Cintia Alfonso Fior)

The book, which is available in soft and hard cover editions, comes with a 60-page student handbook promoting discussion of the issues entwined in the narrative.

“Hopefully, it will be used in the classroom, especially within social studies or English language arts, to really explore issues that are part of our society,” she said.

The main character for whom the novel is named is a girl who has recently moved from New York to San Diego — a number of scenes are placed in Balboa Park. The book, which incorporates the technique of magical realism, opens with Moraline on a school camping trip to Portola Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California.

As she flees into the forest after being humiliated by several classmates, Moraline undergoes mystical experiences, including an encounter with a Native American spirit, that enable her to confront her fears and challenges.

Moraline discovers she is a descendant of the Ohlone tribe that once inhabited the West Coast. She bonds with a neighboring girl saddened by the loss of her mother, a boy who is an immigrant from Congo, and another boy who has come with his family from Mexico to work in agriculture.

“One of my characters is a refugee,” Fior said. “This (past) year we had the highest displacement of refugees and 45 percent of them are kids. ... (In their new countries) they’re not easily incorporated within the system. Teachers are not trained (to work with them). Classmates don’t know what to do, how to behave.

“The idea of (learning) the narrative and understanding of kids who are from different backgrounds and embracing whatever they have to share is well-developed in the book.”

Through the character from Mexico, the book looks at the issue of employers illegally exploiting child labor.

“The idea is to use the book to do advocacy, especially relating to children’s rights,” she said.

Advance copies of “Moraline” have received enthusiastic reviews.

Suzanne Kamata of Clarion Reviews writes, “There are instances of caring and kindness that support the book’s messages of hope. ... Gentle lessons regarding conflict resolution and stewardship for the earth and its living beings are delivered too.”

Kirkus Reviews describes the prose as “simple but elegant. ... The story moves at a good pace, infused with the vivacity and inquisitive spirit of its protagonists.”

The review summarizes the work as “powerful but not preachy middle-grade fiction that speaks from the heart and invites readers to share in a better future.”

Fior published “Moraline” and is marketing it in conjunction with Rising Advocates, a platform she founded to promote children’s rights and environmental justice through storytelling and education. Information on the platform can be found at risingadvocates.com.

By going to the website, consumers can order the book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and indiebound.org.