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My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood Hardcover – August 10, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 4-6–In an author's note, Wells explains that she first heard a radio interview with the architect Secundino Fernandez in 2001 in which he spoke of leaving his homeland at the beginning of Castro's regime. Wells related to his story and tracked him down; the result is this engaging fictionalized tale. It follows Dino's idyllic childhood in Cuba to his years of living in Spain with his maternal grandparents, back to Cuba, and then describes his life as a Spanish-speaking immigrant in New York City in 1959. He laments the cold, drab winter and his difficulties with the language. He gets lost on the way home from school; his Puerto Rican classmates speak a different dialect; and his teacher is mean to him until his drawing skills win favor. By the end of the school year, Dino has made a friend, been promoted, and discovered Coney Island. "New York sunlight, shimmering with the promise of summer, settles round my shoulders like the arms of my mother. It is almost like my Havana." The story is a window into the early life of an artist; Fernandez sees his world differently, noticing colors, shapes, and textures–even temperatures–of the buildings around him. Readers are introduced to several infamous dictators and political figures including Castro, Che Guevara, Franco, Hitler, and Batista. Striking, full-color, full-page illustrations, along with black-and-white thumbnails and a few childhood photographs, capture the magical memories that inspired this tribute.Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

In this fictionalized, first-person account, Wells teams up with architect Fernandez in a portrait of a child’s life under Castro’s Cuba, Franco’s Spain, and Eisenhower’s America. Small and observant, “Dino” loves to draw his colorful Havana surroundings. At age six, he visits his grandparents in Madrid, and his shock over his new surroundings changes his drawing style as he develops his unique visual perspective. A highly anticipated homecoming in Cuba is short-lived, though; after threats from Che Guevara, Dino’s family flees to “terribly black and gray” New York City. Eventually, Dino is able to draw on old memories as well as the thrill of new friends, a new language, and fresh visual inspiration to help him assimilate and grow up to become a respected and accomplished architect. Full-color and black-and-white illustrations throughout add to the strong atmospheric language to make for a literary piece that will be understandable to anyone who’s ever left one place and made a new life in another. Grades 3-5. --Andrew Medlar

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 - 10 years
  • Grade Level: 2 - 5
  • Lexile Measure: 760L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 72 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; 1 edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076364305X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763643058
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #657,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in New York City, Rosemary Wells grew up in a house "filled with books, dogs, and nineteenth-century music." Her childhood years were spent between her parents' home near Red Bank, New Jersey, and her grandmother's rambling stucco house on the Jersey Shore. Most of her sentimental memories, both good and bad, stem from that place and time. Her mother was a dancer in the Russian Ballet, and her father a playwright and actor. Mrs. Wells says, "Both my parents flooded me with books and stories. My grandmother took me on special trips to the theater and museums in New York. "Rosemary Wells's career as an author and illustrator spans more than 30 years and 60 books. She has won numerous awards, and has given readers such unforgettable characters as Max and Ruby, Noisy Nora, and Yoko. She has also given Mother Goose new life in two enormous, definitive editions, published by Candlewick. Wells wrote and illustrated Unfortunately Harriet, her first book with Dial, in 1972. One year later she wrote the popular Noisy Nora. "The children and our home life have inspired, in part, many of my books. Our West Highland white terrier, Angus, had the shape and expressions to become Benjamin and Tulip, Timothy, and all the other animals I have made up for my stories." Her daughters Victoria and Beezoo were constant inspirations, especially for the now famous "Max" board book series. "Simple incidents from childhood are universal," Wells says. "The dynamics between older and younger siblings are common to all families."But not all of Wells' ideas come from within the family circle. Many times when speaking, Mrs. Wells is asked where her ideas come from. She usually answers, "It's a writer's job to have ideas." Sometimes an idea comes from something she reads or hears about, as in the case of her recent book, Mary on Horseback, a story based on the life of Mary Breckenridge, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service. Timothy Goes to School was based on an incident in which her daughter was teased for wearing the wrong clothes to a Christmas concert. Her dogs, west highland terriers, Lucy and Snowy, work their way into her drawings in expression and body position. She admits, "I put into my books all of the things I remember. I am an accomplished eavesdropper in restaurants, trains, and gatherings of any kind. These remembrances are jumbled up and changed because fiction is always more palatable than truth. Memories become more true as they are honed and whittled into characters and stories."

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wells, a bestselling children's author was moved to tell Secundino Fernandez's story after hearing a 2001 radio interview with the architect. When Fernandez was a boy he and his parents had to leave his home in Havana, Cuba.

In 1954, Secundino (Dino) is six years old. He loves Havana and is constantly sketching the city buildings. Oct. 1954, is the first time the Fernandez family leaves Havana. The family moved to Spain for 3 years. Dino's father must look after his brother's family, while he recovers from a rooftop fall. Dino still carries a sketchbook but many times the pages stay empty. Dino misses home. At school Dino is teased for his Cuban accent. It's in Spain, where Dino first hears the word dictator and what it means to be ruled by one.

Abuela buys eggs and butter in secret from a man who hides them under his cloak and comes to the back door at night. Almost nothing from the outside, goods or medicine, ever makes its way into Francisco Franco's Spain. "Franco makes himself and his friends rich," says Abuela Maria "while the rest of us live on bread and water." She says this very softly as if someone might be hiding and listening.

In 1956, the Fernandez family move back to Havana. Dino's parents go back to work at the restaurant they own. In 1959 when Fidel Castro comes into power, its time for the Fernandez family to say good bye to Havana.

The book is filled with many facts and is very readable. I can almost see Fernandez sharing his childhood memories with Wells. I don't know where Ferguson, the illustrator was, but he couldn't have been very far. The gorgeous illustrations perfectly match the text. Also think they make My Havana that much more appealing to young readers.

There aren't many books for the 8 and older set that mention 1.
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Format: Hardcover
During the first six years of his life, Dino Fernandez lived in Havana, Cuba - a city built by angels, as his father fondly liked to claim. Dino may have been even more enamored of the city than his parents. He especially admired the architecture and could spend hours drawing buildings, domes, and courtyards in his sketchbooks.

It thus came as a rude shock when a family emergency led Dino and his parents to leave Havana for Spain. For a two-year period marked by frugal living under Spain's dictatorial Franco regime, Dino struggled with intense homesickness as he longed for Havana's splendor and friendlier way of life. Upon returning home, however, he learned that Cuba's own political problems would make it impossible for his parents to continue operating their restaurant in Havana. Leaving Cuba permanently proved heart-wrenching for Dino until he found comfort in building his own kind of Havana.

Based on the personal recollections of New York City-based architect Secundino Fernandez, My Havana offers readers a unique glimpse of Havana and its inhabitants in pre-Communist times. The narrative blends in several economics concepts, including the economic role of government in socialist economies and the importance of small business opportunities for supporting household well-being. Exquisite illustrations add a visually appealing element and help readers to better understand Dino's attachment to Havana's culture and architecture.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I may be significantly biased, as this is a fictionalized story about my father's childhood, but this is a fantastic book. Beautifully illustrated and fantastically written, this book relives a vivid story of the Havana as it existed without the shackles of Communism.

It is impossible to read this book without hoping that someday the beautiful buildings of Dino's Havana will once again flourish and thrive.
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Format: Hardcover
Writer Rosemary Wells and Cuban-born architect Secundino Fernandez have teamed up to chronicle the events of his childhood. The young "Dino" depicted in these pages is a remarkable little boy. Even from an early age, he is in love with Havana's buildings, taking note of the colors and architectural quirks that make these places special. When he and his family move from Cuba twice during his childhood, first to Spain to care for a sick relative, and lastly to the US to flee Castro's dictatorship, it is not without a sense of mourning. What makes the story so poignant is its emphasis on homesickness and longing, reminding the reader of things they may take for granted. Ferguson's vibrant oil paintings only add to this rich experience. Recommended for Ages 9-12.
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My Cuban born husband said, "yup, that's the way it was" when it came time to leave his beloved country as a 9 year old child.
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