Wells, Rosemary and Secundino Fernandez. My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood. Illus. by Peter Ferguson. Candlewick, 2010. Ages 8-12.
Memories can move us forward or backward, depending on how we use them. My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood evokes the intensity of one child’s connection to his home in 1950s Havana. Prolific children’s book author Rosemary Wells once heard a radio interview with the Cuban-American architect Secundino Fernandez and years later located Fernandez and worked with him to produce this resonant little historical novel burnished with hope and light.
Secundino, or Dino, relishes his city avenues “lined with coral-stone archways, ancient doors, and window frames painted bright as birds-of-paradise.” As twilight arrives, neighbors begin their checker games, and the cafes fill with people. Dino loves to sketch the buildings, with their porticoes and marble columns. The first time Dino leaves the city of his heart, he crosses the Atlantic to spend time with his grandparents in Spain. When he finally returns home, he expects to stay. Dictators — first Batista, then Castro — take over, though, and the family abandons their restaurant to join relatives in New York City.
So homesick in this dark and dreary new environment, Dino relies on his memory to recreate his beloved Havana in the confines of his bedroom. With great care, he cuts out cardboard to represent its archways, balconies and cafes. Aluminum foil glued to plywood and glazed with blue nail varnish becomes a sparkling turquoise harbor. The double-spread illustration depicting the imaginative boy, scissors in hand, beautifully captures his resourceful nature. The novel closes with Dino adapting to his new world: “New York sunlight, shimmering with the promise of summer, settles round my shoulders like the arms of my mother. It is almost like my Havana.” This brief novel would brighten units on immigration, Cuba, or architecture.
Macaulay, David. Built to Last. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. Ages 9 and up.
In my decade as a school librarian, I often watched children poring over Macaulay’s remarkable architecture books. Rather than merely compiling his acclaimed books, Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque, Macaulay has created new colored illustrations, revised the text, and clarified some explanations.
While some might still long for the previously published cross-hatched illustrations, Macaulay’s changes enhance the reader’s experience of the architecture of the past. He ushers us into his Castle, for instance, with a double-spread illustration of a purple-robed king surveying a map, with pawns awaiting strategic placement. The castle Macaulay highlights is imagined but based on castles built for the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305, His interesting perspectives of the workers and how they go about building still capture the hearts of readers, young and old. In Cathedral, Macaulay was inspired by the 13th-century Gothic cathedrals of France. It’s hard to resist sharing Macaulay’s passion for the plans, methods and tools used by those builders “whose towering dreams still stand today.” Finally, the least changed and most recent of the three, Mosque, is another dazzler. The section opens with a map showing the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Europe, with major cities such as Mecca, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Damascus noted. This time, Macaulay’s model is based on structures built around Istanbul, between 1540 and 1580, when the Ottoman Empire was the largest Muslim empire in the world. Again, Macaulay uses color to great effect, as when the intricate designs of ceramic tiles from Anatolia shine with heavenly shades of blue. Built to Last includes a glossary that will further enhance readers’ understanding of significant architectural feats.