Adrianna Cuevas’ latest novel for young people takes place in the sixties. Their seeds were also planted.
The author, who lives outside of Austin, is a first-generation Cuban American whose father came to Miami alone as a teenager after Castro’s rise to power. He had always known that his grandparents sent him to the United States, but he did not know many details. As he reflected on the ideas for the book that would follow his debut, honoring Pura Belpré, “The Total Eclipse of Néstor López,” he realized it was time to delve deeper.
Part of it was the inherent drama that would be ideal for a story aimed at children ages 8-12. An even bigger part, Cuevas explained in a phone interview, was his realization that the time to hear this family story was getting shorter.
“He knew he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to find out what it was really like for him to come to the United States,” he said. “It was something I knew, but it wasn’t really discussed. It wasn’t a conversation at the table. Although he had heard small pieces here and there, he had never had the whole story, nor the opportunity to ask him how things were ”.
Cuevas used his father’s experiences as a springboard for “Cuba in My Pocket” (Farrar Straus Giroux BYR, $ 16.99). She launches the book with a virtual event at 6 p.m. on Sept. 21 at BookPeople, in conversation with Ellen Oh, author of “Finding Junie Kim” and co-founder of We Need Diverse Books. Registration is free and signed and personalized books are sold.
“Cuba In My Pocket” focuses on twelve-year-old Cumba, whose parents send him to live in Miami to avoid being enrolled in the Young Rebel formation that the new Castro-led government led. With an altered passport and in a strange country with limited knowledge of the language, Cumba learns to navigate his new life, though he holds out hope that the rest of his family will join him in a few months. as promised.
Going to school is a particular challenge, with its swirling sounds of unfamiliar words and customs: “School is a noise hurricane,” Cumba writes to his younger brother, Pepito. “Do you remember when that storm happened when you were little and the branches of the banyan hit the windows all night? We couldn’t sleep. This is the school. Everything sticks, all noise. I see everyone’s movement, to see what they do and I guess if that should do too.
Cuevas, a former ESL teacher, was well aware of what her alumni were going through, as well as her father’s crystal clear memories.
“Of all the things my dad told me about his experience, I could tell that his experience at school must have been the one he had left the most,” he said. “I was 72 when he told me all this when I was 15, and that was the most vivid information he gave me. He remembers the teacher who mispronounced his name, he remembered the teacher who basically ignored him. He remembered the teachers at the next school who recognized and helped him could.
“As a middle-class author, our books are widely used in classrooms and the keepers of our books are teachers and librarians. I almost wanted to include these scenes to talk to the teachers … so they could see what a student is like in their classrooms. “
Cuevas still loves school environments. This school year, it offers free 30-minute visits to the virtual classroom, booked through its website. And he is aware that while “Cuba in my pocket” has its roots in history, its lessons remain relevant.
“When I was writing the book, the news was dominated by undocumented minors crossing the U.S. border with Mexico,” he said. “While this is my personal story and this is a family story, there is nothing new in terms of the history of the United States. We didn’t have that influx of Cuban immigrants and then it ended. Always, because of world politics and humanity, this happens. These are the decisions that parents must make to protect their children.
Related:Austin writer Gloria Amescua on how the life of Luz Jiménez inspired her picture book
More children’s books in September
September marks the start of the full fall book season. Here’s a brief look at this month’s featured new titles, including many with links to Texas.
“Fast Pitch” (Crown BYR, $ 17.99): “Dear Martin” author Nic Stone reinvents “The Sandlot” with a team of black middle school girls ready to shine (and win) in the competition. However, family secrets threaten to sink the attention of captor and team captain Shenice Lockwood. Stone’s story of tackling history on different levels also highlights the bond between Shenice and her peers in this hectic story of adulthood. Get out now.
“I Survived: Hurricane Galveston, 1900” (Scholastic, $ 5.99): Lauren Tarshis ’blockbuster historical fiction series for elementary school students depicts key events from a child’s perspective, including Pearl Harbor and the 2011 tsunami in Japan. His new installment examines the turn-of-the-century hurricane that remains one of the deadliest disasters in the United States, a storm that changed population growth in Texas and underscores the importance of accurate climate science. He launches the book at practically 6pm on September 7th at BookPeople, with “Ground Zero” author Alan Gratz. A purchase of BookPeople books is required for entry to the event.
“Hello (from here)” (Dial Books, $ 18.99): Austin author Chandler Baker (“The Husbands”) returns to his youthful roots with this novel, co-written with “The Feros” author Wesley King. Maxine and Jonah are in a California grocery store just before pandemic-related blockades occur. The courtship of 17-year-olds goes through FaceTime and distant hangouts, but the struggles for connection, identity, class, and mental health will be equally familiar to teen readers. Published on September 7th.
“Yusuf Azeem is not a hero” (Quill Tree Books, $ 16.99): Saadia Faruqi of Houston (the “Yasmin” series) sets her new middle-grade novel in the small town of Texas, where Yusuf would love to focus only on the next regional robotics competition that is finally old enough to enter. But the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is approaching and he is already dealing with the Islamophobic sentiment of his classmates and neighbors. Published on September 7th.
“There was a camel” (Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy, $ 17.99): Newbery’s honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt tour the Texas desert storytelling in this sensory delight of a youth novel from 8 to 12 years. The wise old camel Zada keeps two young kestrels quiet in a dust storm sharing stories while the trio take refuge in a cave. Illustrations by Caldecott winner Eric Rohmann accentuate Appelt’s calm, rhythmic words. Published on September 7th.
“My two border cities” (Kokila, $ 17.99): David Bowles makes his picture book debut with this look at the life of a young boy riding two countries, beautifully illustrated by Erika Meza. Bowles is a prolific author (the award-winning multiple “They Call Me Güero”), professor, lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley, and co-founder of Dignidad Literaria, a movement dedicated to raising Latinx (Bowles’ favorite term and of the group)) representation in the publication. This sweet tale, available in English and Spanish editions, highlights the time a father and son cross the border, from visits to Uncle Mateo and the paleter to leaving supplies for asylum seekers. Bowles and Meza launch the book virtually at BookPeople at 6 p.m., Sept. 14. The event is free, but books are on sale. A free guide for the teacher can also be downloaded through the editor.
“The other talk: consider our white privilege” (Atheneum / Caitlin Dlouhy, $ 18.99): This accessible, talking volume comes from Brendan Kiely, the white author who paired with National Youth Literature Ambassador Jason Reynolds more than a decade ago in “All American Boys “. The two had been arguing for a long time about how black parents talk to their children about how to stay safe in a world that treats them differently. Aimed at high school and high school students and with a prologue by Reynolds, “The Other Talk” provides a framework for white families to start their own conversations about the alliance. Published on September 21st.
“Ben Y and the ghost on the machine” (Chronicle Books, $ 17.99): This is the second title in the “Kids Under the Stairs” series by Austin author KA Holt, aimed at readers ages 10-14. Ben Y is fed up with everyone calling her Benita, confused by the change in her family. response to the death of her older brother and frankly irritated by her director’s devotion to dress codes. Holt’s previous verse novels include “Rhyme Schemer,” “House Arrest,” and “Redwood and Ponytail.” The format makes these books more appealing to readers who might resist a page full of prose, and their stories are sophisticated and character-based. Published on September 28.