The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella

4.1 39
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

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The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl's journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro's revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a

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The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl's journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro's revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

The Red Umbrella is a moving story of country, culture, family, and the true meaning of home.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this compelling, atmospheric first novel that begins in postrevolutionary Cuba, Gonzalez sketches the immigration experience of thousands of children sent to the United States through likable 14-year-old narrator Lucía. Initially, politics feel removed from Lucía’s life (“I was growing tired of constantly hearing about the revolution, but I privately thanked Castro for postponing my algebra test”). However, Gonzales believably escalates harrowing political events and their personal cost to Lucía’s family, as she finds the family doctor hung from an oak tree, and her father is detained after someone betrays the family’s hidden stash of money and jewelry. The situation forces Lucía’s parents to send Lucía and her seven-year-old brother, Frankie, to America while they await visas. Debut author Gonzalez excels at highlighting the cultural difficulties of their transition, as Lucía and Frankie eventually end up living with a foster family in rural—and quite foreign—Nebraska. Contemporary newspaper headlines such as the 1961 Nevada State Journal’s “Castro Adopts Brainwashing” lead each chapter and offer wider commentary. The memorable heroine and supporting cast offer a moving portrait of resilience and reinvention. Ages 10-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Lucia Alvarez is a normal fourteen-year-old girl until the revolution begins to take hold. It is 1961, and her homeland of Cuba is falling under Fidel Castro's control. Her friends are joining the brigades and losing interest in the fashions and makeup that used to be so important to them. She could never have imagined the danger that faces her family when they try to remain uninvolved. When it becomes clear that Castro's people will arrest and possibly execute anyone who appears to be anti-revolutionary, Lucia's parents find a way to send her and her seven-year-old brother Frankie to America. The siblings end up in Grand Island, Nebraska, and must become accustomed to a very different way of life while also worrying about their parents, left behind in danger. Based on experiences of the author's parents and in-laws, Lucia's story conveys a fullness of setting. Both Cuba and Nebraska are richly described and add to the characters and the history. Lucia is a girl that many will identify with, making her story compelling. While the historical context is specific, it is easy to believe that this could happen to anyone, and it is easy to follow Lucia's understanding of the revolution from a naive belief that it would not affect her to a mature appreciation for true freedom. Her American foster parents, the Baxters, are given unexpected depth of character as they grow to love the Alvarez family. Operation Pedro Pan, the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors ever in the Western Hemisphere, is given a face, a personality, and a voice. Gonzalez has not only memorialized her own family history, she has put it in a form that will connect with many and let this important story be told. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
VOYA - Dawn Talbott
In this fictional account based on true events, Lucia Alvarez's world undergoes a dramatic shift when Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba. Lucia, previously only concerned with the latest fashions, boys, and planting her quinces, must reevaluate what is important when she and her brother, Frankie, begin to see their lives changing. Eventually, Lucia and Frankie are sent to the United States by their parents, who hope to keep the children safe in the midst of the growing oppression from the revolution. Lucia, who longed for freedom from her mother's watchful eye, now finds herself completely independent in a foreign country, with her very young brother depending on her. The Red Umbrella is a solidly written book. The language is not complicated, other than the frequent uses of Spanish words and phrases, which add realism to the world in which Lucia lives. Text in Spanish is on nearly every page and is often paraphrased within the conversations. Context clues also help to explain the language. This adds richness to the story and helps readers learn about the culture, although less mature readers may find it a bit of a nuisance. Although the main character of the story is almost 15, the book is apt to appeal to a set of readers a few years younger, and boys will likely not have much desire to read it. Though Lucia's father is a positive role model, he is hardly one with which adolescent readers will identify, making this a hard sell for males. Reviewer: Dawn Talbott
Kirkus Reviews
This is the story of Lucia, a Cuban girl who, at the age of 14, leaves her hometown of Puerto Mijares and flies to the United States from Havana with her little brother, Frankie, but without their parents. After arriving at a temporary shelter, they are soon transferred to the Baxters' home in Nebraska. Through Lucia's captivating voice, readers travel in time to the year 1961, when members of the Cuban bourgeoisie witnessed the drastic transformation of their society into a communist system. While Lucia's best friend, Ivette, and her secret sweetheart, Manuel, embrace the revolution and become, with their parents' support, "brigadistas," Lucia's parents, a banker and a housewife, refuse to accept the changes imposed by the new government and make the heartbreaking and, for the times, shocking decision to send their daughter and son to a foreign country, without knowing if they would be able to see them again. Gonzalez enters the literary scene with this exceptional historical novel that portrays the beginning of the Cuban exodus. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)
Mary Quattlebaum
Christina Diaz Gonzalez captures the fervor, uncertainty and fear of the times through Luc�a's first-person perspective and the newspaper headlines that begin each chapter…a compelling first novel.
—The Washington Post
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Fourteen-year-old Lucía lives an easy middle-class life in 1961 Cuba, thinking only about clothes, boys, and dances. When Communist revolutionaries occupy her town, an escalating witch hunt against capitalists compels her parents to send her and her brother to the U.S. under the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau (as part of "Operation Pedro Pan," which—the endnotes explain—was the largest-ever exodus of unaccompanied children in the West). Lucía eventually settles with a foster family in Nebraska, where she comes to terms with her duel identity as a Cuban exile and an American teen. She must also piece together a picture of what's happening to her parents and friends at home from interrupted phone calls, censored letters, and newspaper articles. This well-written novel has a thoroughly believable protagonist and well-chosen period details. It should be noted, however, that Gonzalez portrays the single sympathetic Communist character as increasingly brainwashed. Few readers will recognize the polemics driving this convincing story, but as an introduction to the history and politics of the Cuban-exile community, it could generate some excellent classroom discussions.—Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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