4 books that will transport you to cuba (or at least give you a strong sense of the rich culture)

These books are set in Cuba or give a sense of the culture.

epic fail

  1. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Arturo is looking forward to the summer … playing basketball and working at Abuela’s restaurant.  But, things turn out differently than he expects when cute Carmen arrives and the future of the restaurant is threatened by a greedy land developer.  As the weeks pass and he spends more time with Abuela, Arturo learns a lot about his Cuban roots and discovers the power of poetry and protest.

From Arturo’s discovery of Jose Marti’s revolutionary poetry to the contagious passion of his civic minded cousin Vanessa, this novel is all about finding your voice and standing up for what you believe in – no matter your age!  I loved Arturo’s big noisy family, his funny friends, the times spent together around good food at Abuela’s restaurant, and the powerful message that everyone can make a difference.  The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is an epic success!

brigadista year

  1. My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1960, he issued a bold literacy initiative – everyone in the country would learn to read and write in one year.  The government recruited more than 250,000 volunteers (most of them between the ages of 10 – 19!) to travel throughout the country and educate all.  This novel tells the story of Lora, a fictionalized character based on the true stories of many young Cubans who volunteered.  Like Arturo, Lora gleaned inspiration from the impassioned poems of Jose Marti’ and from her Abuela who supported her desire to make a change in the world.

This was a piece of history of which I was completely unaware … one of my favorite things to read!  The story is so powerful.  Lora, like many, traveled far from her home for the very first time, to live in a remote area with no modern conveniences.  I loved how the volunteers were trained to come with humility, ready to work alongside their students to gain their trust and respect.  And, what a joy to read of the farmer who had no education and could only sign his name with an’ X’, but worked so hard to learn to read and write so he could soon proudly sign his full name!  Castro was a ruthless dictator, yet his literacy imitative greatly impacted the Cuban country which still has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.  This is an unforgettable story of the power of education, courage, and service.

lucky broken girl

  1. Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

After Fidel Castro took over, many Cubans fleed their homeland.  Young Ruthie Mizrahi went with her family to start a new life in New York City.  She struggled to learn English, was placed in remedial classes due to her lack of mastery of the language, and was very homesick for lush, warm Cuba.  Just as she started to gain confidence, she was in a horrible car accident that left her in a full body cast and in bed for months.  She and her family were forced to make major adjustments, but they also grew in unanticipated ways through Ruthie’s long bittersweet road to recovery.

This novel is based on the author’s true experience as a young girl in NYC who suffered a devastating accident.  Ruthie’s experience allows the reader to feel the struggle of moving to another nation on top of dealing with a traumatic, life-changing accident.  The novel explores her worries, her fears, her frustrations as well as her discoveries about herself and the world.  The reactions of the children and her family around her are honest and thought-provoking.  The characters throughout the novel – many who are immigrants from a variety of countries – are interesting and give the reader a view into the immigrant experience that is rich and authentic.   I cheered for Ruthie as she worked so hard to recover and was proud of the stronger girl who emerged on the other side.

Havana

  1. All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato

For a vivid visual journey, travel All the Way to Havana with this young boy and his family.  They are on the way to celebrate his new baby cousin’s zero year birthday.  The family – and a lot of neighbors needing a ride – travel to the bustling city.  After a fun celebration that goes into the night, the family returns home in their trusty car that will one day be his.

Mike Curato’s illustrations bring the Cuban streets to life.  The perfectly rendered, colorful old cars zoom off the page, complete with the clucks, putts, and honks of Margarita Engle’s perfect, poetic word choice.  As author and illustrator mention in their notes, the book is a tribute to the ingenuity of the Cuban people in their care of their cars and also celebrates “classic beauty, perseverance, and family loyalty.”

martis_song_for_freedom_cover

Possible Pairing: 

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal

This recently released bilingual picture book biography looks to be a good partner for these titles to learn more about the poet activist ” who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, the abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom.”  (-from description on Amazon).  I haven’t read it yet, but will soon!

3 reasons to attend ala annual

For the last several years, I have attended ALA Annual Conference.  A few reasons why it’s worth the time and expense:

  1. Hearing about new books

The whole conference is abuzz about upcoming releases!  From the exhibit floor, booths, and Book Buzz Stage to the publisher previews and special events, it’s all about new books. Hearing about the upcoming titles allows you to start building your book order lists and to start imagining which readers will love each new book.  You may also be lucky enough to leave with a few ARCs and F&Gs to get a head start on your reading!

  1. Celebrating literature

Annual Conference is where the authors and illustrators who won the year’s literary awards are honored.  These gatherings are such uplifting celebrations of books, creators, and the impact literature makes on lives. For several years, I have had the honor of attending the Newbery Caldecott Wilder Banquet, and it is always an absolute joy.  Everyone is dressed up, the speeches are heartfelt and emotional, and each evening is unique.  It’s librarian prom!  This year was no different.  I particularly enjoyed Javaka Steptoe’s speech, his reference to Langston Hughes’s poem Genius Child, and his message about sharing the truth from children.

For the first time this year, I attended the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast.  It was absolutely unforgettable.  It started with a phenomenal prayer and singing, and then preceded with stirring speeches from today’s literary greats.  Luckily my friend April, a seasoned pro, came prepared with tissue!  I left with no make-up, but completely energized, invigorated, and so thankful to be somehow involved in the world of literature.  If only every day could start like that!

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Jason Reynolds accepts CSK Author Honor for As Brave as You.  Nicola Yoon, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and the back of Roger Sutton’s head also pictured. 😉
  1. Connecting

The first time I attended the annual conference I only knew a handful of Texas librarians who were also in attendance.  At several of the events I didn’t know a soul; but, I introduced myself, had some great conversations with new people, and joined committees.  Now, I am fortunate to  know librarians and people in the book business from all over the continent. Each summer I look forward to the conference as a time to reconnect and catch up.  And each year, I meet more lovely people and continue expanding my circle!

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4 swoon-worthy summer romances

  1. Summer is the perfect time to catch up on some romance reading while relaxing in the sun.  If you enjoy love stories, here are a few titles to add to your beach bag:

Once and for all

1.Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

The daughter of a wedding planner, Louna has grown up around love but doesn’t believe in the happily-ever-after herself.   Her own first love ended quite sadly and has left her very skeptical about fairy tale endings.  When she meets Ambrose – a carefree, wickedly handsome heart breaker – she detests him instantly.  But, he seems to turn everywhere she is and is proving to be much more than she first thought.

This novel is classic Dessen – a charming love story that also explores complex issues including loss, family relationships, and self-discovery.  It is a funny, honest, heartwarming tale of first loves and second chances.  You’ll race through and then lament having to wait for her next release.

always and forever

2. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

In this final volume in the To All the Boys I Love Before trilogy, Lara Jean is enjoying her senior year, hopelessly in love with her boyfriend Peter and making plans for college in the fall.  But an unexpected turn of events sends Lara Jean on a new path she did not expect.

Jenny Han’s books are a delight.  The characters are interesting and well developed, and the relationships are authentic.  I just want to be part of the Song family, sitting in the kitchen, talking, laughing at Kitty, and smelling the delicious cookies that Lara Jean is baking.  Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the perfect end to the trilogy.

LS - love & gelato

3. Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

After her mother passes away, Lina travels to Italy for the summer to get to know the father she never knew.  There, she comes across her mother’s journal from when she lived in Italy.  As Lina reads and retraces her mother’s steps – with the help of the quite charming Ren , she learns a lot about her mother and herself.

Love & Gelato is a story of loss, love, adventure, and family.  It sweeps the reader away to the landscapes of Tuscany, heavenly smelling hidden bakeries, and colorful gelato stands. Che bello!

when dimple met rishi

4. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple is elated her parents are allowing her to attend Insomnia Con the summer before college.  She dreams of being a web developer, and this will give her the jump start she needs.  What she doesn’t expect is meeting Rishi, a boy her parents have selected as a possible husband!  The summer is full of many more surprises, the biggest of which may be the boy who came to meet his future wife.

What a delightful rom-com!  Both smart and quirky, Dimple and Rishi are struggling, each in their own way, to figure how to balance their parents’ expectations with their personal dreams.  Their story is original, funny, and absolutely adorable.

3 reasons for a new blog

  1. Lists.   I love lists.  I love making them, and I love content delivered through them. The Buzz Feed-ish list posts are always my favorite on any blog and instantly draw me in.  So, why not give them a try on my own blog?  I think it will be a fun format that will allow me to think about books in new ways and write about more books more often.
  2. Change is good.  As George Couros says, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”  No promises that this blog will be amazing, but change is exciting and inspiring.  I have a new perspective and passion in my work.  I believe strongly in literature’s power to broaden horizons, build empathy, and teach kindness. Literature touches and expands hearts. It can motivate people to take action and to make positive changes personally and in the world around them.  A freshly formatted blog allows me to share my passion for literature and its transformative power in a new way.
  3. Fresh starts.  And, who doesn’t love a fresh start?  A new school year, a crisp blank journal, a fresh box of crayons, a sassy fun haircut.  It’s a chance to take a deep breath and begin anew, hopeful for the journey ahead.  Will you join me?