Book Notes: A Holiday List for the Younger Set

In the midst of the shopping frenzy, I thought it might be nice to share some children’s titles. Most of them have a Cubans-in-America connection, however slim.
This week’s read was El Lector (Ages 9-12) by William Durbin. Read this one for the slice of life in Tampa and its cigar factories circa 1930. Youngsters will learn a bit about American history at the same time they read about young Bella who dreams of going to high school and of becoming a Lector, or reader, at a cigar factory like her grandfather. But economic necessity and the social morés of her time send her to the factory to strip tobacco leaves for a dollar a day. Throw labor unrest and strong-arm tactics into the mix, as well as the advent of radio and the Great Depression, and you have the plot of the novel. It all works out in the end, though.

Cuba 15 (Ages 10-14) by Nancy Osa follows the life of Violet Paz, whose Cuban father won’t discuss his roots, as she prepares for her quinceanero at the instigation of her Cuban grandmother. (I can’t guarantee this one, but it is popular with the teens.)
In Under the Royal Palms, (Ages 9-12), author Alma Flor Ada evokes the world of her childhood growing up in post-war Camaguey. Reading it is by turns sweet, nostalgic, and bittersweet. It’s a slim volume, illustrated with personal photographs.
For younger children, there are some picture books you might want to consider. There are a number of picture books about Celia. The bilingual Me llamo Celia/My Name is Celia by Monica Brown and Rafael Lopez and Azucar by Ivar da Coll are personal favorites. One of them (I don’t remember which) ends with Celia in heaven where the angels greet her with her trademark “Azucar!” Oye, Celia, a new one published in April, is more of a celebration of Celia and of being Cuban and less autobiographical.
One of my all time favorites in the picture book category has to be the bilingual Drum, Chavi, Drum by Mayra Dole and Tonel. A little girl wants nothing more than to drum in the 8th Street parade in Little Havana, which she is forbidden to do because she is a girl. Notable for actually having “De Nada, Monada” in the text. Fun, feminist and very Cuban.
For a story based on a Cuban folktale, get the The Bossy Gallito by Lucia Gonzalez. The little rooster is placed against the backdrop of the courtyards and patios of Old Havana. The building repetition makes it a particularly good read for the young ones.
Just a smattering of titles to consider.

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