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
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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