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*The Red Umbrella* by Christina Gonzalez- young readers fantasy book review
The Red Umbrella
by Christina Gonzalez
Ages 11-14 288 pages Knopf May 2010 Hardcover    

Drawing attention to a little-known event in Cuban/American history, The Red Umbrella is the story of fourteen-year-old Lucia and her younger brother, Frankie, as they are sent by their parents from their home in Cuba to the United States at the time of Castro’s communist revolution in 1961.

In Cuba, Lucia is a typical, middle-class teenager; her life revolves around her best friend, Ivette, boys, fashion, etc. When her Catholic school closes and soldiers surround all activities, at first her parents try to keep up appearances as if they support the revolution, but they do not. Most of Lucia’s friends, classmates and even her uncle support Castro and his promises of a redistribution of wealth and prosperity for all.

Tensions rise when Lucia’s father loses his job at the bank and the family’s personal wealth is confiscated. Without much notice, her parents arrange for Lucia and her brother to become part of a Catholic relief effort – Operation Pedro Pan - and the children are sent to Miami to an orphanage.

Eventually the children are paired with an older couple in Nebraska, who welcome them into their lives, help them learn English and assimilate into American life. Although she does experience some prejudice, Lucia makes genuine friends and has a positive experience in America. Occasional phone calls and letters from Cuba keep Lucia and her brother in touch with their parents and friends.

Clearly demonstrating the power of propaganda, Ivette’s letters to Lucia and assumptions about the evil Americans and how Lucia’s new life must be so dreadful stand in sharp contrast with her actual experience. Then Lucia’s father is injured in an “accident,” and the children do not hear from their family for an extended period of time. With a hopeful ending sure to please readers who have come to know and love Lucia and her family, The Red Umbrella is an uplifting story of when Americans opened their arms to the oppressed people of Cuba.

Based on her parents’ and in-laws’ actual experiences with Operation Pedro Pan, Gonzalez’s first novel reads as a genuine memoir directly from the heart of a teenage girl. With a smattering of Spanish throughout, most readers with a beginning level of Spanish will understand the foreign words; for those who do not, a Spanish glossary, including a pronunciation guide is included at the end of the story.

Lucia is a character with whom today’s girls will certainly relate to. Students and teachers will find Lucia’s story easy to compare and contrast with other historical stories of children who have been separated by from their families in times of political conflict. Highly recommended for grades 5-8.
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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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