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Cuba in My Pocket

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Member Reviews

Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas will be added to all of my teacher's classrooms. The story's relevance to today (even with the historical side) makes for great discussion, as do themes of courage, oppression, and strength. I know that my middle school students will devour Cuba in My Pocket.
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Cuba in my Pocket is loosely based on the author’s dad and his life. Cumba Fernandez leaves Cuba shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion to avoid having to go into Fidel Castro’s program for young soldiers. His parents send him to Miami to live with a cousin all by himself. He doesn’t understand the language or the way of life in the United States. Slowly, Cumba makes some friends who help him with his English and help him become more acclimated to life in the US. Through all of his experiences, Cumba realizes even though it is hard to leave your family behind, it is possible to find people that become like family in other places. A wonderful, heartfelt book about immigration, the harsh reality of life in Cuba in the 60s, and what family really means. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced copy.
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Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas, 2021

Recommended for grades 4-8; Historical Fiction

Brief Review:

It’s 1961 in Santa Clara, Cuba, and life has been turned upside down by Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Twelve-year-old Cumba Fernandez and his family and friends live in fear of Fidel’s soldiers, especially since Cumba is old enough to be forced into joining the garrison. His parents decide to protect him by sending him to Florida. In order to successfully escape Cuba, Cumba needs falsified documents claiming that he will be studying in America. Once in Florida, Cumba must navigate all the challenges of life in a new country with a different language. With the help of various new friends, he gradually acclimates, but all the while, he misses his homeland and fears for his family’s safety. Much of the book centers around Cumba’s conflicting desires to hold onto his memories and relationships, but also to “forget where [he came] from in order so [he] can bear being in a new place.” For middle grade readers who don’t necessarily know much about Cuba or its role in the Cold War, this book is an eye-opening picture of what life is like amidst such extreme political turmoil. Although Cuba in My Pocket doesn’t say much about communism itself or the greater context of the Cold War, it has a lot of educational value for the context it will offer to students when they encounter those topics elsewhere.

Long Review:

It’s 1961 in Santa Clara, Cuba, and life has been turned upside down by Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Twelve-year-old Cumba Fernandez and his friend Serapio play a game called AFDF (Antes de Fidel, Despues de Fidel) in which they try to one-up each other’s examples of how life “before Fidel” was better than life “after Fidel”. AFDF may be a joke, but Cumba and his family and friends are truly afraid of Fidel’s soldiers, especially since twelve is old enough to be forced into joining the garrison. Cumba’s family decides to protect him by sending him away to Prima Benita, a relative who lives in Miami. Eventually, he is to be joined by his younger brother Pepito and the rest of the family. 

The Cuban government is making it difficult for people to leave. People who flee Cuba are called “gusanos” and are considered “a worm and a cobarde”. The only way to get Cumba out of the country is to produce falsified documents claiming that he is traveling for school. By the time Cumba actually escapes Cuba, he is being actively pursued by a sinister soldier named Ignacio who has given him a deadline for joining the garrison. But Cumba’s departure is successful and he arrives safely in Miami. He brings with him a “caja de muertos”, the unlucky double nine domino, which he carries around in his pocket for most of the rest of the book as a pessimistic reminder of the losses and dangers he is enduring. As long as he’s an exile from his home country and his family is still living under an oppressive government, Cumba isn’t safe or happy.

Once in Florida, Cumba must navigate all the challenges of life in a new country with a different language. His new school doesn’t accommodate his limited English vocabulary, and Cumba is overwhelmed. But he quickly befriends Alejandro and Valeria, two other Cuban refugees who are staying with Prima Benita. Just when things are starting to get easier and Cumba has even befriended a classmate, Prima Benita puts him into foster care in order to take in more refugee children. 

Although Cumba isn’t happy leaving Prima Benita, Alejandro, and Valeria, his new home in Key Largo turns out to be comfortable and happy. His foster parents are generous and supportive, and Cumba is reunited with his friend Serapio, who also fled Cuba. But the situation back in Cuba isn’t improving and Cumba’s parents are even in jail for a while. Cumba doesn’t want to give up hope, but there’s a part of him that still believes what he told his cousin earlier in the book, that you have to “forget where you come from so you can bear being in a new place.”

For middle grade readers who don’t necessarily know much about Cuba or its role in the Cold War, this book is an eye-opening picture of what life is like amidst such extreme political turmoil. Although Cuba in My Pocket doesn’t say much about communism itself or the greater context of the Cold War, it has a lot of educational value for the context it will offer to students when they encounter those topics elsewhere. It also has some interesting themes, most notably seen in Cumba’s internal conflict as he tries to reconcile his Cuban identity with his desire to be free of Cuba. At one point, Cumba struggles to keep up with writing letters to his brother because it’s difficult to appreciate the opportunities in his new life when he’s preoccupied with everything he’s left behind.

While I personally didn't find this to be a particularly interesting book, I feel that it's worth recommending for its educational value, its representation of Cuba and (by extension) Cuban Americans, and its themes of hope, identity, memory, and moving forward into a brighter future.
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Cuba in My Pocket is a tale of a Cuban boy, Cumba, facing the threat of military service. Cumba's parents send him to the U.S. where he struggles to adapt to unfamiliar places, food, English, and school. A book that touches the reader's heart. @NetGalley @acuevaswrites
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With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early copy in return for an honest review.

I love historical fiction, and when I found out this book was inspired by the real life events of the author's father, I was even more interested in reading the story. And it did not disappoint. I was engaged in the story from the first page and particularly liked the use of letters between Pepito and Cumba. A beautiful story about family, friendship, and home.

Teaching Note: Would be very interesting to pair this with Inside Out & Back Again and have students compare the experiences of Cumba and Hà.
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This book is perfect for my middle school classroom.  It combines a historical even that is unfamiliar with an immigrant childhood story that is very familiar. for some students.  Cumba has to flew Cuba after Fidel's revolution to come to the United States on his own. When he leaves Cuba he doesn't know if he will see his family, friends, or country again.  The author sprinkled in Spanish words and also provided a glossary to help those of us who don't speak Spanish.  Cumba experience once he reaches the U.S. are both scary and funny as are most middle school adventures.  Will Cumba ever learn to hope again or will bad luck always follow him?  The author's note is a can't miss feature of this book and could be very helpful if looking at it for a lesson.
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From my blog post: So you all know that I love a good historical fiction and this one was no exception. CIMP gives insight as to what it could be like for those who have immigrated, not just to the US but anywhere really, and what could’ve led them to their new home. Growing up, I heard quite a few stories from my own family members about their experiences but there is always something special about reading other experiences and learning those histories. There was also a lovely balance of the emotional, funny and life lessons in this book. I also believe it would help kids to develop a sense of empathy for those learning their way around a new environment.
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Cuba in My Pocket” is an engaging middle grade novel set in 1961 in Santa Clara Cuba and Miami, Florida. Author Adrianna Cuevas drew on stories from her father to craft a work of historical fiction that explores themes of home, grief, and healing.  The main character of Cumba lives with his parents, grandparents, and younger brother Pepito in a Cuba that has emerged from a revolution a changed country, where fears and suspicion threaten to bring continued violence. Cumba’s family is in danger, because of his father’s ties to the previous government. Cumba himself, will soon be forced to report for military training. His family decides to send Cumba to the United States for safety. The first half of the book contains the drama of their secret plan as its put in motion.  In the latter part of the book Cumba struggles to adjust to life in America. Always he carries with him the pain and grief of leaving his family and homeland, represented literally by a domino, the "caja de muertos" that he keeps in his pocket. With the help of some new friends Cumba learns to be hopeful again. Cuevas’ story is one that will act as a mirror for many young immigrants. It is also one that will spark readers to want to read more about Cuban history and culture.
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Cuba in My Pocket is based on a true family story.  With Cuba currently in turmoil again, this historical fiction novel is even more timely. In the book, Cuban soldiers shout, "Patria o muerte!" which means "Homeland or death" and today in Cuba, the people say "Patria y vida!" which means "Homeland and life!"

When the Bay of Pigs Invasion fails, twelve year old Cumba Fernandez's family sends him to the United States to prevent him from being sent to the Soviet Union for military training.  Cueva devotes a fair amount of time to the rising tensions in Cuba and the what the family must go through to send their son away.  Once in the U.S., Cumba has much to learn and worries for the safety of the family he left behind in Cuba. It is easy to put yourself in Cumba's shoes and worry with him as to what the future holds. You may be familiar with stories of Cuban refugees fleeing in small boats or rafts, but this story seems to take place before the major exodus and, for me at least, filled in some of the lesser known history of the era.
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A really heartfelt human story set against a precisely portrayed historic period. Cumba is a relatable narrator and a fully fleshed out character, and there's a full cast of side characters who feature. There is a bit of an episodic feel to the arc of the story, with the sections set in Cuba, Miami, and Key West sometimes seeming a little disconnected. However, this is a well-written choice for either lovers of historical fiction or those looking for a story based in family and friendship.
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Cumba is a twelve year old boy living in Cuba at the time Fidel Castro rises to power.  Castro is rounding up boys ages twelve and up to send them to Russia to be trained in the military.  In order to escape the horrors that have befallen Cuba, Cumba's parents make the difficult decision to send him to America in order to keep him safe.  Cumba knows very little English and the move to Florida is very difficult for him.  He misses his family and wonders if he will ever see them again.

This novel touches upon a time in history in which many refugees, mainly children, were coming to the United States in search of a safer life.  The story is told from Cumba's perspective and how he felt about all of the changes occurring in his life.  The pain and sadness he experienced is evident in the writing and the reader can feel his emotions along with him.  This is an important novel to help others understand why refugees come to the United States and what Americans can do to help welcome them and ease the transition.  

The story is told with Spanish phrases throughout, which made it difficult to follow at times as the author doesn't always explain what the phrases mean.  At the end of the novel, I did discover that there was a glossary of terms, which would have been helpful to know before reading the book.  If using this novel in a classroom setting, pre-teaching some of the Spanish vocabulary would be helpful to students.  

Thank you to #NetGalley and #MacmillanKids for an ARC of #CubainMyPocket by #AdriannaCuevas in exchange for an honest review.  4 1/2 stars (rounded to 5)
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Cuba in My Pocket is a powerful book -- a must-read for middle grade and YA students! I'll admit that I didn't learn much about the history of Cuba or the takeover by Fidel as a child, and it was heart-wrenching to read about from Cumba's point of view. 

I didn't realize how much of the book would take place IN Cuba, but the action started to pick up about 1/3 of the way in. So many amazing characters were woven into Cumba's experiences, and I really felt the truth of Mr. Rogers' quote about looking for the helpers.

As current events unfold in the Middle East, I think Cuba in My Pocket can help 21st-century kids develop empathy for refugees fleeing Afghanistan under a terrorist regime.

Content warning: please be aware that there are frightening scenes involving Cuban soldiers, including a firing squad (and references to it later).
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Thank you to #NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for allowing me to read a digital ARC of Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas. This middle grade historical fiction novel will be published on September 21, 2021. All opinions are my own.

After Castro's power is solidified following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, twelve-year-old Cumba's life is turned upside down. He is no longer safe in Cuba. Staying would mean having to report to the local garrison to train as a soldier. His family makes the difficult decision to send him, alone, to the United States. Once in the U.S., Cumba struggles to navigate a new city and new freedom that is all his own. He's lost in a sea of English speakers and misses his family His only connections to Cuba are an unlucky domino he keeps in his pocket and the letters he receives from his little brother, Pepito. He wonders if he will ever see his family again or if they will remain just out reach, ninety miles across the ocean.

This is a beautifully written story of identity, family, home, and hope. Cuevas does an amazing job of conveying Cumba's feelings of loss and confusion. There is a huge focus on the importance of family and how family is not only the people you're related to by blood, but the people you choose to love and support. I found the book to be super engaging and loved the narrative voice. It gives insight into the refugee and immigrant experience as well as the period of Castro's reign in Cuba which many middle grade readers may not be familiar with. The story is based on the experiences of the author's father which makes this story even more inspiring and heart-wrenching. Cumba is an inspiration and a character readers will be able to relate to and root for. I can't wait to add this book to my classroom library.
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When Fidel comes to power and starts requiring boys as young as twelve to enlist in the military, Cumba's parents make the gut-wrenching decision to send him alone to Miami to live with a distant relative. After falsifying government documents and barely escaping a neighborhood soldier who has singled out Cumba and his family, the young Cuban makes it to Florida where he begins a new life, attending junior high, learning English over hamburgers and french fries at a local diner, and trying desperately to move past the fear and anxiety he has been living with since Fidel started making a name for himself. This is a beautifully written, compelling story about identity, family, home, and hope.
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Has a thematic approach, where the reader feels like they are actually in that timeframe of Castro's reign over Cuba, and the Bay of Pigs invasion. You really feel for the family, and what they are going through.
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Set in the 1960's after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, twelve-year-old, Cumba flees Cuba in search of safety in the U.S. When he arrives in Miami, he must navigate a life in a different home and without his family. This was an engaging read, giving insight into the life of a refugee and providing information about Cuba's history. Cumba is a character readers will root for. This is an inspiring story of courage and hope.
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I enjoyed this story about a Bay of Pigs era boy immigrating to Miami and the struggles he, and those around him, endured. While this has haver happened to me, I feel this is a realistic depiction of the hardships all immigrants face.
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Cuba in My Pocket is the story of Cumba Fernandez and his unwanted  journey to escape Cuba and the harsh life under Fidel Castro.  Alone in American and being the only Cuban in his school. You struggle along with Cumba as he tries to navigate his new life.  I enjoyed the feeling of found family in this book as well as the heartbreak of missing family and the only home you know.  And give me a book with Cuban food references in it all day long!  I felt like the speckling of Spanish throughout the book was a little heavy handed and possibly confusing for a young reader but once I discovered the glossary in the back, I felt a little better about.  I enjoyed this  historical fiction novel and would recommend it to middle grade readers.
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Cuevas chronicles the journey of Cumba Fernandez from Cuban tween to US refugee immediately following the Cuban Revolution. There is little political analysis, save what 12-year old Cumba notices in his immediate vicinity.

He knows, however, that bad things are happening as Fidel's army draws the restrictions on his village tighter and tighter. The family begins to discuss the need for Cumba to go to the United States to escape having to enlist in the army when he turns 13. Cumba's traditional upbringing means he accepts this decision without argument. When he finally gets to Miami and is placed in the home of a distant relative, he begins the experience of being taken from everything he has known and loved, and placed where he knows no one, doesn't read or speak the language and doesn't know the food. His loneliness, his concern for his family and trying to learn to fit in are almost overwhelming.

While the emotional issues may be more intense than those confronting most elementary students, they may recognize Cumba in their classmates or relatives, and may may feel similar intensity about different issues.  This is an intense but engaging book.
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Diving into CUBA IN MY POCKET was a rewarding experience as a reader and elementary teacher. It's important to open up the world to children so that they see "others" as part of the collective "we." In 1961, Cumba comes from a warm and loving family who must make the difficult decision to send him off to America lest he be caught up in Castro's frightening grasp. Readers can relate to Cumba and his family in ways that bridge cultural differences and celebrate our diversity.
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