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El Lector

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Overview

This heart-warming story is about Bella, a 13-year-old girl in Tampa, Florida, in the 1930s. Her grandfather is a lector at a cigar factory, which means he reads fiction, newspapers, and union news to the workers as they roll cigars. Being a lector is an important role in their Cuban American immigrant community. But the hard times of the Depression mean that Bella must go to work in the factory. Her hope of getting the education a lector needs seems impossible.

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El Lector

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Overview

This heart-warming story is about Bella, a 13-year-old girl in Tampa, Florida, in the 1930s. Her grandfather is a lector at a cigar factory, which means he reads fiction, newspapers, and union news to the workers as they roll cigars. Being a lector is an important role in their Cuban American immigrant community. But the hard times of the Depression mean that Bella must go to work in the factory. Her hope of getting the education a lector needs seems impossible.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Thirteen-year-old Bella has one great ambition: She wants to become a lector, just like her grandfather. It's easy to see why: In the cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, Grandfather sits on a special platform, reading books and newspapers all day to the workers as they roll their cigars. In the Cuban-American community, lectors are respected and revered. But in these harsh Depression years, things are changing; lectors and other workers are being dismissed, leaving Bella to wonder whether her dream has become an anachronism. This story about 1930s "modernization" seems hauntingly relevant to our own times.
From the Publisher
From the Random House Edition:
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–Bella Lorente, 13, dreams of becoming el lector like her grandfather, reading literature and poetry to the Spanish-speaking cigar-factory workers of Ybor City, FL. However, the Depression, the conflict between workers and owners, and racial tensions alter her plans when her Aunt Lola is arrested for participating in a union meeting. Bellas extended family struggle to free the woman and to seek community in a divided city. Durbin succeeds admirably in creating an accessible world rich in detail. While most children will not know much about lectores, cigar rolling, and Depression-era Spanish Floridian culture, Durbin explains each one clearly, providing tidy translations for all of the Spanish used. In one particularly evocative passage, the wind brings smells from fresh-baked bread, guava, or damp tobacco, depending on its orientation. However, this richly envisioned world sometimes eclipses the rising action of the labor struggles and slows the books pacing, weighing it down with numerous subsidiary plot threads. At certain points, there is an overload of information as the author jumps from labor troubles to Depression-era unemployment to Babe Ruth to 1930s fashions and films. That said, El Lector is better-than-average historical fiction with a strong female protagonist. Give it to fans of Pam Muñoz Ryans Becoming Naomi León (Scholastic, 2004) as a read-alike.–Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
  From Booklist
Gr. 4-6. In Depression-era Ybor City, Florida, households receive daily deliveries of milk and fresh Cuban bread, and lectores such as Bella's grandfather entertain cigar workers with readings from literature and politics. But as modern changes reach the factory town, wary officials begin to replace lector podiums with radios ("Owners . . . want workers entertained, not enlightened"), and union unrest is stirred by the arrival of machines. Having set aside dreams of proving that "women can do anything they want" to earn money as a tobacco laborer, 13-year-old Bella witnesses a violently quashed workers' protest, leading to her aunt Lola's imprisonment and a crippling factory shutdown. The vibrant Ybor City atmosphere and Bella's bond with her dignified grandfather are major components of this purposeful narrative, but it is Bella's integrity that will appeal the most to readers, notwithstanding the forced quality of her concluding acts of heroism. Although this may ultimately garner mostly regional audiences, try it as a counterpoint to stories about other young eyewitnesses to labor conflicts, such as Katherine Paterson's Lyddie (1991). Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

“William Durbin’s attention to detail–both historical and fictional–make him one of today’s masters of historical YA fiction.”—David Gill, ALAN/National Council of Teachers of English

Children's Literature
Durbin's tale is a family story set in the world of Florida cigar-makers living in the early part of the 20th century. In this era before radio took over, many factories had "readers" who performed poetry, novels, newspaper readings, as well as reading aloud the union newsletters to keep boredom at bay. These readers were supported by the workers themselves, and later became the target of union-busters who preferred to keep the workers uninformed. El Lector is told from the point of view of a teenager who wants to be a lector like her grandfather. She struggles between making enough money to feed the family and fulfilling her ambition. Durbin has also written Blackwater Ben (a really great story!) and Broken Blade. Try him. You'll like what you find. 2006, Wendy Lamb/Random House, and Ages 10 up.
—Gwynne Spencer
VOYA
In 1931, when Cuban American Bella Lorente, the oldest daughter of a widowed mother of five, finishes her last year of elementary school, she hopes to attend high school in the fall. She wants to become a lector like her grandfather, who reads novels, poetry, and news to the cigar rollers at a factory in Ybor City, Florida. Instead Bella finds herself working in harsh conditions in a tobacco factory for pennies a day to help her mother buy food for the family. During that summer, Bella's aunt, Lola, is unjustly jailed for being a member of the tobacco workers union, and grandfather, the most respected reader in the area, is replaced by a radio. Daring to defy convention, Bella manages to find a job for her grandfather and herself at a local radio station. With the support of the community and their family, the two become widely known for the excellence of their Spanish-language broadcasts. They are then able to help the family financially, and Bella will be able to attend high school. This historical novel's setting in depression-era Florida and its Cuban American characters make it unique in young adult literature. Based on actual events, the workers' struggles, the ruthless disregard of workers' rights, and the tyranny of the Ku Klux Klan are woven through a believable story with realistic details, but the characters are two-dimensional, and the depictions of Cuban culture are superficial and not authentic. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 193p., and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
—Sherry York
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Bella Lorente, 13, dreams of becoming el lector like her grandfather, reading literature and poetry to the Spanish-speaking cigar-factory workers of Ybor City, FL. However, the Depression, the conflict between workers and owners, and racial tensions alter her plans when her Aunt Lola is arrested for participating in a union meeting. Bella's extended family struggle to free the woman and to seek community in a divided city. Durbin succeeds admirably in creating an accessible world rich in detail. While most children will not know much about lectores, cigar rolling, and Depression-era Spanish Floridian culture, Durbin explains each one clearly, providing tidy translations for all of the Spanish used. In one particularly evocative passage, the wind brings smells from fresh-baked bread, guava, or damp tobacco, depending on its orientation. However, this richly envisioned world sometimes eclipses the rising action of the labor struggles and slows the book's pacing, weighing it down with numerous subsidiary plot threads. At certain points, there is an overload of information as the author jumps from labor troubles to Depression-era unemployment to Babe Ruth to 1930s fashions and films. That said, El Lector is better-than-average historical fiction with a strong female protagonist. Give it to fans of Pam Mu-oz Ryan's Becoming Naomi Le-n (Scholastic, 2004) as a read-alike.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561646784
  • Publisher: Pineapple Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/2014
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,380,344
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

William Durbin was born in Minneapolis and lives on Lake Vermilion at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. He and his wife, Barbara, have two grown children. A former teacher, Durbin has published biographies of Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, as well as several books for young readers, among them The Broken Blade, Wintering, Song of Sampo Lake, and Blackwater Ben. The Broken Blade won the Great Lakes Book Award for Children’s Books and the Minnesota Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.

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Read an Excerpt

El Lector


By William Durbin

Random House

William Durbin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385908881


Chapter One

Ybor City, Florida
March 1931


Chapter 1


The Paradise Tree


The paradise tree above Bella Lorente's head was as wide as it was tall, spreading its green canopy over the roof of the El Para'so cigar factory. Bella sat on the lawn below the open windows of the second-floor workroom and listened as her grandfather read to the workers who were rolling cigars. It was Saturday, and the March sun was warm. Grandfather's resonant voice carried out over the wind-rippled grass.
Behind the factory a dozen brightly colored kites flew over an open field. Bella heard her younger brother Pedro and his friends laughing as they unreeled their strings and steered their homemade kites higher. The larger kites, made out of red, green, and blue tissue paper, hung in perfect balance in the magical blue sky, their white tails swishing from side to side. The smaller kites, like Pedro's, made from plain brown paper, dipped and veered as they rode the gusty wind.
Bella turned her attention to Grandfather's reading. As El Para'so's lector, Roberto Garc'a sat on an elevated platform in the main workroom for four hours each day and entertained two hundred cigar rollers by reading news, literature, and politics. One of Ybor City's most respected lectores, Grandfather always wore a white suit coat, a white shirt with gold cuff links, a silktie, and dark pants.
Grandfather's performances were so popular that women from the neighborhood, many with babies in their arms, walked to the factory at midday and spread their blankets on the lawn to listen. Today, Bella and two dozen women sat quietly, their faces marked by leaf shadows and their eyes intent on the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha.
"What a gift Se-or Garc'a has," a young mother whispered to Bella. "It's not so much what he says as how he says it. So many lectores use microphones these days, but feel the fuerzo de grito-the strength of his voice! Every reading is like music."
Bella smiled. She'd heard Grandfather read the story of Quixote's quest before, but she never tired of the funny, sad tale. Grandfather was reading the famous passage where Quixote charges a windmill. Mistaking the blades for the arms of a giant, the nearsighted knight lowers his lance and spurs his horse forward. Grandfather's voice mirrored the pounding of the hooves, the creaking of the windmill arms; and Bella heard the cigar workers chuckle as the knight toppled from his saddle.
When Grandfather closed his book there was a moment of silence. Then one worker slapped his chaveta, his rounded cigar knife, on the wooden workbench. Soon two hundred blades were clapping down in appreciation and filling the factory hall with a dull thunder.
Bella left the picnic basket she'd prepared for Grandfather under the tree and hurried upstairs to the workroom. Grandfather stood and bowed to the cigar makers. A shock of silver hair fell onto his forehead, and the ends of his salt-and-pepper mustache turned up in the hint of a smile. When the noise of the chavetas faded and the workers pushed back their chairs for the lunch break, Grandfather put on his Panama hat and stepped down from his oak lectern.
"Good afternoon, Bella." Grandfather beamed. "Welcome to paradise."
"Calling this factory El Para'so doesn't make it paradise." Bella wrinkled her nose at the clouds of blue cigar smoke that filled the hall.
"So the smell of damp tobacco and cigars is not your idea of heaven?" Grandfather said.
A cigar maker tipped his hat to Grandfather as he walked past. "A fine reading, Se-or Garc'a," he said. The rollers were skilled craftsmen who regarded Grandfather as a fellow artist.
"Gracias." Grandfather nodded to the man.
Bella waved the smoke from her face. "I'm glad you don't smoke." Most workers smoked at their benches and took three cigars home each evening, but Grandfather never used tobacco.
"I need to protect my voice. But don't forget that cigar money fills your soup pot at home."
"Mama's job is doing laundry."
"And where do you suppose her customers dirty their clothes?" Grandfather motioned toward the rows of benches, their tops stained dark from tobacco leaves. Then he offered his arm to Bella. "Shall we dine on the lawn today, se-orita?"
As they stepped outside, Grandfather looked up at the clusters of tiny yellow blossoms on the paradise tree. "Now will you admit that we have entered paradise?"
"The flowers are beautiful," Bella said, admiring the delicate petals that swayed in the breeze and gave off a sweet perfume. Bella had played under the paradise tree from the time she was a little girl. Its broad crown of waxy, pink-veined leaves shaded the lawn and the factory windows in deep green.
Bella spread out a blanket while Grandfather held the picnic basket. "What treats do we have today?" He lifted a corner of the white cloth.
"Cold soup," Bella said, "and fresh bread from Ferlita's."
"You made gazpacho Andaluz!" Grandfather smiled as he sat down. "A feast fit for the gods."
Bella didn't care for the Spanish tomato soup, but it was Grandfather's favorite lunch. Though Bella was only thirteen, she'd been helping Mama with the housework and doing her part in caring for the four younger children since she was eleven. That was the year her papa, Domingo, had been killed on a tobacco-buying trip in Cuba. He and Grandfather had planned to start a cigar factory called Garc'a & Lorente. Papa had their life savings with him on the day he was robbed and murdered.
Grandfather broke off a piece of bread and sniffed the crust. Then he tasted the soup. "ADelicioso!" He touched his napkin to his lips. "This soup would make Pijuan jealous."
Bella smiled. Pijuan was the head chef at the Columbia, the finest restaurant in Ybor. Since Grandfather didn't cook, he often ate there.
"What's in the newspapers today?" she asked. Grandfather subscribed to La Gaceta and La Traduccion, as well as two English papers, which he translated into Spanish and read to the workers.
"The usual trouble. Riots in Madrid. Martial law declared in Lima. But local matters worry me most."
"You mean the Tobacco Workers International Union vote?"
"Yes," Grandfather said. "If the TWIU wins, the Anglo business owners are threatening to form a citizens' committee. That would give a free hand to the vigilantes who want to crush the cigar makers' union. And you know, the Ku Klux Klan will keep attacking the union and the Negroes."
"Could it get as bad as last year?"
"Let's hope not."


From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from El Lector by William Durbin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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