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Friday, August 6, 2010

My Havana, written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Peter Ferguson. Candlewick, Random House, 2010. $23.00 ages 6 and up

"There is no cold in Havana, only sunshine and warm rain. The city's avenues are lined with arcades of coral-stone archways, ancient doors, and window frames painted bright as birds-of-paradise. The vivid colors are accented everywhere by the deep mahogany of Havana's window shutters and ceiling fans."

Subtitled "Memories of a Cuban Boyhood', this is a story that took some time to write. It began with a radio broadcast, heard by Rosemary Wells, which presented a most interesting Cuban emigre, Secundino Fernandez. He was an architect and he shared the story of leaving his beloved birthplace, the beautiful city of Havana. He was just ten years old when the family was forced to leave and his homesickness was deep and heartbreaking. Rosemary Wells says that his story stayed with her for a long time and she was finally able to find Secundino, living close to her neighborhood in New York. The two collaborated to tell this story from his birth in Cuba, through years spent in Spain before returning to his beloved country, and finally emigration to the United States when Castro came to power in Cuba.

Dino is a remarkable boy, whose love of drawing and architecture is evident on almost every page. His delight with the beauty of the buildings in Havana, his disappointment in the solemnity of Madrid with its drab colors and lack of trees and finally, his initial view of New York:

"New York is a terribly black and gray city. The weak, white sunshine has no more warmth than a candle. Like in Madrid, not a tree grows on New York's streets. No one here in the land of ice could bring a table outside to play dominos."

Even his language is determined by what he sees: "When you fall and scrape your skin on pavement," I want to tell him, "that is how New York feels against the eye."

As his young heart mourns his home and the life he has left behind, he uses his love and longing to begin the journey toward acceptance and a future in his adopted land:

"With great care I cut my favorite buildings out of cardboard. I paint archways and balconies, drawn to scale with a ruler, compass, and pen. Streets large and small spider out across the floor of my bedroom. One night I make the capitol, another night the Roosevelt Hotel in honor of my parents' first meeting. The Cafe Loro Azul, its neon parrot in blue and silver ink, takes its place on the Calle San Lazaro."

Life goes on and begins to change. As we leave this eleven year old boy, still yearning for his home but beginning to accept what is inevitable for him, we know that the future holds many wonderful adventures. On a weekend outing to Coney Island, after a dull winter spent in New York, he begins to feel an affinity for this new life:

"The salty air is as mild as on the Malecon, and the spray coats our arms. New York sunlight, shimmering with the promise of summer, settles around my shoulders like the arms of my mother. It is almost like my Havana."

Peter Ferguson's glorious artwork adds a depth of emotion and intensity that cannot be ignored. Dino comes to life in these illustrations, as does Havana. The warmth and depth of his color palette, the varying perspectives and the pencil sketches create a perfect tone for the feelings shared.

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