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The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella

4.1 39
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

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The Red Umbrella is a 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


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

“Captures the fervor, uncertainty and fear of the times. . . . Compelling.”The Washington Post
“Gonzalez deals effectively with separation, culture shock, homesickness, uncertainty and identity as she captures what is also a grand adventure.” –San Francisco Chronicle

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 Lucía's first-person perspective and the newspaper headlines that begin each chapter…a compelling first novel.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book
A Top Ten Indie Next List Pick
An ABA New Voices Selection
The  Florida Book Award Gold Medal Winner for Young Adult Literature
A Latina Magazine Book of the Year
A Christian Science Monitor Book of the Year
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year
A CCBC Choices Book
A remarkable debut novel.” –San Francisco Book Review
“The memorable heroine and supporting cast offer a moving portrait of resilience and reinvention.” –Publishers Weekly
“Through Lucia’s captivating voice, readers travel in time. . . . Gonzalez enters the literary scene with this exceptional historical novel that portrays the beginning of the Cuban exodus.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Based on the author’s parent’s story, Gonzalez’s first novel captures the heart-wrenching, personal drama of family separation.” –Booklist
“Through the eyes of (the) likeable young narrator, readers will understand a compelling part of history. Kudos to Christina Diaz Gonzalez for sharing her family’s story, and for telling it so well.” –The Christian Science Monitor
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

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

Meet the Author

Christina Diaz Gonzalez based this powerful novel on the experiences of her parents, and of the more than 14,000 other unaccompanied minors who came to the United States through Operation Pedro Pan. This mass exodus of children is a little-known and fascinating piece of history, and Gonzalez has created a story that brings that history vibrantly to life.

Gonzalez practiced law for several years before returning to her childhood passion for stories and writing. The Red Umbrella is her first novel.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband and two sons. You can visit her on the Web at www.christinagonzalez.com.

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The Red Umbrella 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Piri23 More than 1 year ago
From the moment I started reading The Red Umbrella, I could not put it down! Somehow, Christina Diaz Gonzalez manages to weave intense dramatic scenes with bits of humor (at times, you can't help but laugh and cry simultaneously!). You will be captivated by the author's wonderful descriptions of the characters and beautiful way of making you feel like you instantly know and care about them. "Living through" the revolution through the eyes of the young Lucia truly takes you on a journey from the carefree innocence of childhood to the increasingly complicated life of a young woman who has been forced to deal with more adult situations than any teenager should have to go through. So thankful to the author for bringing this very real part of American and Cuban history to life!
mimi24ED More than 1 year ago
The Red Umbrella is a beautiful and touching story. The author, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, did a fantastic job conveying a range of emotions, fear and loneliness all the Pedro Pan children must have felt. She also honors the american families that opened their homes to these children. The Red Umbrella is a wonderful well written book. Great reading for all generations. I highly recommend it to everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book (The Red Umbrella, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez), it shows the struggle of 14,000 children and their families to reach freedom, something that must of us take for granted. I highly recommend it to all of those that care about family and freedom. Congratulations to the author.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Like any fourteen-year-old, Lucía is thrilled to have school cancelled - even if it means that there are soldiers arriving in her small town in Cuba. She makes plans to spend time with her best friend, Ivette, to shop and plan for her quinces, but her mamá insists she must stay inside with her little brother, Frankie. Lucía tries to listen to the hushed whispers of her parents behind closed doors. There's talk of a revolution. People are disappearing from their jobs and families are losing their life savings to support Fidel Castro's new regime. Ivette tries to convince Lucía to join Jovenes Rebeldes, Rebel Youth, the communist youth movement in Cuba. She says Lucía's family is being watched, and it's not until men come to their home and arrest Lucía's papá for being an anti-revolutionary that Lucía realizes just how bad it is. She and Frankie must go to America. Without their mamá and papá. If they are lucky, they will find a nice family to take both of them in. Once in America, Lucía worries about her parents' safety. Phone calls to Cuba are expensive and infrequent. She longs to return to her homeland, but as the months pass, she finds herself turning fifteen in a strange land, fearful that she may never be able to return to her home and her mamá and papá. Ms. Gonzalez has written a gripping story of survival and courage in this book based on the Cuban revolution of 1961. The reader will feel for both Lucía and Frankie, as well as the many other children who were forced to leave the security of home and family for a life of freedom. You will want to read THE RED UMBRELLA more than once. It's a book you won't be able to put down, well deserving of the many awards it has already garnered.
ti-ta More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book, the author makes you think you are Lucia, you feel you are living in the island, then it is incredible how you feel you are living in Nebraska, even if you have never seen or lived in Nebraska. I'm sure everyone who reads the book will identify themselves with it in one way or another, even if you came to the USA in another way and not in the Pedro Pan Operation, it is a must read for all ages. Great book with historical facts in 272 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Red Umbrella is a wonderful novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. It’s about a fourteen year old girl named Lucia; she is like any typical teenager who dreams about boys, make-up, and going to Paris with her best friend, Ivett.  All those dreams are put on hold whens soldiers invade her town Havana and the Cuban Revolution begins.  When the revolution becomes more intense Lucia’s parents made the decision to send her and her seven year old brother, Frankie, to the United States. This of course is a very hard transition. Lucia did not know any English except for the little she learned at school. She would have to take care of her brother and she would also miss her parents terribly.  As Lucia and her little brother Frankie board the plane they see their mother’s red umbrella (hence the name); the one that she says symbolizes hope. They get left in Nebraska with the Baxter’s, who are complete strangers.  Lucia and Frankie have to learn to be optimistic and keep their hopes up…because no one knows if they will see their parents soon or in other words ever again.  This novel is an amazing story filled with hope, challenges, culture, history, and gives a true understanding of home. It is a quick, easy and a must read! The book also teaches about a very important time period…the Cuban Revolution, and how the people suffered during this time. Also the sentences are written very smoothly and the novel flows very nicely, it is an easy book to understand but it has a lot of Spanish parts.  Overall it is an amazing book and it is highly recommended.  
ging101 More than 1 year ago
This book is appropriate for children ... and adults. Informative from a child's prospective about a historical event. I would recommend this book to children and parents.
Tahleen More than 1 year ago
Lucia Alvarez is your typical teenage girl. She loves fashion, is excited to start wearing makeup, dreams over her crush. But she is not a modern teen in America-she lives in Cuba in 1961, the beginning of Castro's revolution. She notices things in her safe community of Puerto Mijares start to change: people are disappearing, losing jobs, and joining brigades supporting the revolution. Even her best friend starts to support it and forget about the things that once meant something to her. At first Lucia thinks this is all for the best, a good thing. The revolution will make life better and more equal for everyone, or so she is told. But when she begins to see trusted members of her community being taken away and her own home life is drastically changed, she's not so sure. Finally her parents make an incredibly difficult decision: to send her and her little brother, Frankie, to the United States. Alone. Christina Diaz Gonzalez tells the story of a young teen who goes through complete upheaval, taken away from everything she knows, including her language and family, and is plopped down in a completely foreign environment. What makes this story so incredible is that it's not an isolated incident. In an author's note, Gonzalez tells us about what later became known as Operation Pedro Pan, the largest exodus of unaccompanied children into the United States ever. The story is one of heartache and change, of coming of age in a land not your own and being forced to grow up a little sooner than expected. Lucia witnesses horrific things in the place she's lived her whole life, and not too long after finds out she is leaving her homeland the day before her plane is due to leave-everything happens so quickly that she has trouble processing it all. I loved all of the adults in the book, too. Her parents are parents-they worry about their children and wants what's best for them. Lucia's mother nags her to do what's right, even on a long-distance phone call from Cuba (don't act like those American teenagers in the movies!). Her father always tries to make the best of things and bring humor into their lives when others might see none. And their foster parents are fantastic, too. Mrs. Baxter is a motormouth and a very motherly woman, who isn't quite sure about Cuban culture, mixing it up with Mexican on one occasion, but who will do her very best to help the Alvarez children and love them like her own. Mr. Baxter is much more quiet and sparing with his affection; Lucia doesn't believe he even likes the two of them, despite Mrs. Baxter's affirmation of the contrary. Eventually we see his hard exterior break down bit by bit. I cared about all of them, and for me that is one of the most crucial things in reading a book. The only thing I would say is that it might help to know a bit about the history of all this before beginning the story. The author's note is essential for those who know nothing, and I might even suggest reading it before the rest of the book. I was lucky enough to know about it beforehand and I think it aided in my reading of the book. That said, each chapter begins with a real headline from a newspaper in the United States about the Cuban revolution and Castro's rise to power, providing valuable background and insight for the reader. The headlines progress along with the story chronologically. A fantastic introduction for a little-addressed yet important part of American and Cuban history.
ma-drin More than 1 year ago
The Red Umbrella is a great book, anyone can identify themselves with Lucia, the author has a fantastic way of making you visualize where the story takes place and makes you think you are physically there. Old and young will like this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This bok is sooooooo good and I like it becauseit is so like interresting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a retired S.S. teacher and avid history buff I would highly recommend The Red Umbrella to   anyone whether they are interested in history or not. Personally knowing several individuals who   lived in Castro's Cuba during the 60s and 70s The Red Umbrella was accurate according to their   recollections. Easy read as well. I would definitely rate it a 5.
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The one thing i dont like about it is that you keep having to go to the of the book
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I red this book in 4th gradeand loved it and.it was not hard to understand at allso i totaly recomned it to anyone
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is sooooooooooo good. Got it from the book fair and can not put it down! The summary does not sound so good but the book is excellent!!!
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