Book Review: Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey written by Ruth Behar, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth

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Reviewed by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: A poignant multicultural ode to family and what it means to create a home as one girl helps her Tía move away from her beloved Miami apartment.

When Estrella’s Tía Fortuna has to say goodbye to her longtime Miami apartment building, The Seaway, to move to an assisted living community, Estrella spends the day with her. Tía explains the significance of her most important possessions from both her Cuban and Jewish culture, as they learn to say goodbye together and explore a new beginning for Tía.

A lyrical book about tradition, culture, and togetherness, Tía Fortuna’s New Home explores Tía and Estrella’s Sephardic Jewish and Cuban heritage. Through Tía’s journey, Estrella will learn that as long as you have your family, home is truly where the heart is.

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MY TWO CENTS: I am a big fan of Ruth Behar’s and have enjoyed her adult books as much as her middle grade books Lucky Broken Girl (2017) and Letters from Cuba (2019). Tía Fortuna’s New Home is her first picture book aimed at younger audiences.

The book’s landscape is the relationship between an aunt and her niece. The story follows little Estrellita as she tracks the process of her aunt moving out of her beloved home into a facility for the elderly. This move is the second big move in Tia’s life, the first being when she immigrated to the United States from Havana, Cuba. While both of these moves are objectively hard ones, Tia manages to enjoy the present and keep an optimistic attitude which positively influences Estrellita’s experience. 

I liked that the story focused on the opportunities inherent in changing one’s circumstances and presented an uplifting paradigm. Having Sephardic characters and bilingual text enhances the story by providing a personal and unique slice of life. I wish this book had been available to me when I was young.

The illustrations by Devon Holzwarth are amazing, and I found myself being drawn into the story more and more through the vivid and colorful artwork.

TEACHING TIPS: I could see using this book to discuss life transitions generally and the attitude one brings to change. Students can discuss the contrast between focusing on the negative versus the positive aspects of a pending life transition. For students who have a grandparent moving into assisted living, this book would be a great orientation to one way that move can happen.

The book can also be used as part of a module on cultural diversity, as it covers Cuban-Jewish characters.  In a Jewish Day School, the book would be ideal in exposing students to the multiculturalism of the Jewish people.

In teaching about family trees, the book references how family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. In this vein, it would be interesting to have children interview their parents or grandparents to find out what recipes they make that were passed down to them and from whom. 

The Author’s Note at the end of the book is a story unto itself and where I’d recommend teachers begin in order to gain context before sharing the book with students. There is also a fabulous glossary of words that could be a fun addition for students to learn new words.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): As a storyteller, traveler, memoirist, poet, teacher, and public speaker, Ruth Behar is acclaimed for the compassion she brings to her quest to understand the depth of the human experience. Born in Havana, Cuba, she grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Her recent memoirs for adults, An Island Called Home and Traveling Heavy, explore her return journeys to Cuba and her search for home as an immigrant and a traveler. Her books for young readers are Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and her honors also include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the Hebrew Union College. She is an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Devon Holzwarth is a picture book illustrator, author, and painter. Born in Washington D.C., Devon grew up in Panama surrounded by nature and her dad’s art supplies, and has lived in many other places over the years. She currently lives in Germany with her family including her husband, two kids, a galgo dog from Spain and a little dachshund from Romania.

Devon earned her BFA in 2000 from the Rhode Island School of Design focusing on screen printing and painting. She has written & illustrated two picture books: FOUND YOU and SOPHIE’S STORIES, with Alison Green Books/Scholastic UK. She has a number of picture books publishing in 2022, including “Tia Fortuna’s New Home” (Knopf Books, English & Spanish language versions), “Listen” (Dial Books and Penguin UK), and “Everywhere With You” (Walker Books US and Walker Books UK).

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria is the author of The Butterfly Series: Fifty-two Weeks of Inquiries for Transformation. The book was a finalist for the 2019 International Book Awards (Women’s Issues category), won Honorable Mention in the 2019 Reviewers Choice Award (Body/Mind/Spirit category), and won Honorable Mention in the 2020 Writer’s Digest 28th Annual Self-Published Book Awards (Inspirational category).

To sign up for her monthly blog post visit her contact page at www.mariaramoschertok.com

We Read Banned Books: My Papi Has a Motorcycle written by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cris Rhodes talk about MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE written by Isabel Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña.

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ABOUT THE BOOK: A celebration of the love between a father and daughter, and of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood, by an award-winning author and illustrator duo.

When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her.

But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.

With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl’s love letter to her hardworking dad and to memories of home that we hold close in the midst of change.

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Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

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Book Talk: Sing With Me/Canta Conmigo by Diana López and illustrated by Teresa Martinez.

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about SING WITH ME: The Story of Selena Quintanilla / CANTA CONMIGO: La historia de Selena Quintanilla written by Diana López and illustrated by Teresa Martinez.

ABOUT THE BOOK: An exuberant picture book celebrating the life and legacy of Selena Quintanilla, beloved Queen of Tejano music.

From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music. Sing with Me follows Selena’s rise to stardom, from front-lining her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena’s dedication–learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family–sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world.

Un libro de cuentos ilustrado que celebra la vida y el legado de Selena Quintanilla, la querida Reina de la Música Tejana.

Desde su etapa mas temprana, la joven Selena sabía como conectarse con la gente y unirlos con la música. Canta conmigo sigue su ascenso al estrellato, desde su puesto al frente de la banda familiar, cantando en rodeos y fiestas de quinceañera, hasta su presentación frente a miles en el Astrodomo de Houston. Los lectores jóvenes se sentirán empoderados por la dedicación de Selena–aprendiendo el idioma español aún siendo adolescente, diseñando su propio vestuario, y viajando por toda la nación, compartiendo con el mundo el orgullo por sus raíces mexico-americanas y su amor a la música y a la moda.

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Click on the links below to watch the book talks and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Talk: Not a Bean by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, illus. by Laura González

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about NOT A BEAN, written by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, and illustrated by Laura González.

ABOUT THE BOOK: A Mexican jumping bean isn’t a bean at all. It’s a fascinating home and food source for a special kind of caterpillar!

With Spanish vocabulary and a clever counting concept, this poetic story shares the life cycle of a Mexican jumping bean. This curious jumping insect is actually a seedpod from a shrub called yerba de la flecha, into which a caterpillar burrows, living inside the pod until it builds a cocoon and breaks out as a moth. Perfect for preschoolers and prereaders, this creative picture book explores the Mexican jumping bean’s daily life and eventual transformation and escape from the pod.

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Book Talk: Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our new YouTube channel!

ABOUT THE BOOK: The octopus Grandma is cooking has grown to titanic proportions. “¡Tenga cuidado!” Ramsey shouts. “Be careful!” But it’s too late. The octopus traps Grandma!

Ramsey uses both art and intellect to free his beloved abuela.

Then the story takes a surprising twist. And it can be read two ways. Open the fold-out pages to find Ramsey telling a story to his family. Keep the pages folded, and Ramsey’s octopus adventure is real.

This beautifully illustrated picture book, drawn from the author’s childhood memories, celebrates creativity, heroism, family, grandmothers, grandsons, Puerto Rican food, Latinx culture, and more.

With an author’s note and the Velasquez family recipe for Octopus Stew!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Book Talk: Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our new YouTube channel!

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ABOUT THE BOOK: On a rainy day when the house smells like cinnamon and Papa and Luca are still asleep, when the clouds are wearing shadows and the wind paints the window with beads of water, I want to be everywhere Mama is.

With lyrical prose and a tender touch, the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Mama and Me is an ode to the strength of the bond between a mother and a daughter as they spend a rainy day together.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sarodriguez_headshot.jpg

Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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