Wednesday, January 26, 2011

From Cuba to Nebraska

America is a land of opportunity, freedom, and safety. Most of us–or our ancestors--came here from someplace else, different times, different reasons. Our stories are our treasure.

THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Knopf, 2010

Lucia is 14, a typical teen with a best friend, a social life about to blossom, and a crush on a boy her best friend thinks might feel the same way. Does he?

It’s 1961, two years after the Communist revolution. Not much in Lucia’s life has changed. Yet. Then soldiers arrive in her town. Freedoms disappear along with some of her neighbors. Her friends are changing, too. Then comes the creepy realization that her family is being watched.

Fearing that the new regime might take their children away to indoctrinate them, Lucia’s parents do what they must. Fearfully and bravely, they make arrangements for Lucia and her brother to travel to America alone. Ultimately, the children arrive in Nebraska and a life with a family, neighbors, schools, classmates, and customs very different from the land and home they remember and miss.

Most histories are written from the perspective of adults. It’s their letters, diaries, and journals that writers delight in discovering. Author Gonzalez based The Red Umbrella, her first novel, on the experiences of her parents and the children who came to the United States to escape Castro’s regime. The program was called Operation Pedro Pan and 14,000 unaccompanied minors were participants.

Young teens will relate well to Lucia and her struggle to fit in as a teenager in a new country. They will note that teen attitudes are much the same, however. Most of all, they will want to befriend her.

To ground the reader, each chapter is introduced with a headline from a major United States newspaper reporting on the revolution. A list of Spanish words and English translations adds authenticity.

Read more about the author at her website.

My thanks to two Book Log readers who sent links to lists of books and authors that expand on the immigration experience in general and Latin-American roots in particular. Some of the listed authors also write books for children, so if you decide to focus on a culture, as our home schooling readers do, I hope these links will give you much to explore.

Erin Lenderts sent a link
to “20 Essential Works of Latin American Literature”

Julia Watson sent a link to “50 Greatest Works of Immigration Literature”


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