cover image Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba

Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba

Alma Flor Ada. Atheneum Books, $17.99 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80631-5

In this handsomely designed companion volume to Where the Flame Trees Bloom, Ada once again draws upon her experiences growing up in post-war Cuba. In a short introduction, the author describes her hometown, Camaguey, as a ""city of contrasts""--diverse religions and education and economic levels (""some had so much and others had very little""). The 10 stories that follow do not focus on these oppositions so much as the unique experiences of young Alma and her extended family. Several memories poignantly expose the disparity between those who have and those who have not, such as ""Explorers,"" in which young Alma and her cousin get lost in a marabu field and are aided and fed by a poverty-stricken family. Others illustrate life lessons (for example, the impossible but gleeful task of counting bats in flight for their nightly feeding taught Alma to appreciate the process of an endeavor, rather than its completion). But the best of these stories simply recreate a poignant or humorous moment from the author's girlhood: Alma sipping from a porron (a small clay pot) at school, lovingly filled with water by her mother; Alma's pride in her uncle's daring turning to grief when he dies in an airplane crash. Many of the stories stand well alone, but some take a meandering expository path to recount a history or explain a term. These more formal (though often graceful) tangents distance readers from the slices of life. Still, at the core of the collection, there is a heartfelt portrayal of a quickly disappearing culture and a vastly beautiful land. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)