Where the Flame Trees Bloom, by Alma Flor Ada, is a lovely memoir of growing up in Cuba. A second volume is called Under the Royal Palms. She wrote these books for young people as a series of vignettes that tell about her family, her town, and her experiences growing up on the outskirts of a Cuban town called Camagüey. “My grandmother and one of my uncles were great storytellers. And every night, at bedtime, my father told me stories he invented to explain to me all that he knew about the history of the world. With all these storytellers around me, it is not a surprise that I like to tell stories.” And the stories she shares are beautifully told.
The very first story in Where the Flame Trees Bloom is my favorite, although I enjoyed each one. It is called “The Teacher,” and recounts a poignant experience in the life of her grandmother. In the telling of this story, she captures a spontaneous teaching moment that reveals the heart of the teacher (her grandmother) and the ultimate purpose of teaching. I was very moved by this story and the way she told it. Here’s an excerpt from it that was printed on the back cover of the book:
“Look,” continued my grandmother, as she pointed to the road that bordered the farm. There the students saw a solitary man walking. “Look at that old man. He is walking by us. In a few minutes he will be gone forever, and we will never have known who he is, where he is going, what may be important in his life.”
The students watched the man, who by then was quite close. He was very thin and a coarse guayabera hung loosely over his bent frame. His face, in the shade of a straw hat, was weathered and wrinkled.
“Well,” said my grandmother, “do we let him go away, forever unknown, or do you want to ask him if there is anything we can do for him?”
These beautifully written little books would be a lovely way to introduce young people to the genre of memoirs. Both books are well worth reading for adults as well as for children.
Here is some information on Alma Flor Ada written by Jack Zipes:
“Alma Flor Ada, (1938– ), Cuban‐American writer and professor, who has been a pioneer in the development of multicultural and bilingual books for children and has written the important study A Magical Encounter: Spanish‐Language Children’s Literature in the Classroom (1994). Ada writes her own texts in Spanish and English as well as translating and adapting folk tales that emphasize the themes of cooperation, trust, and liberty. Among her important books in Spanish and English are El enanito de la bared (The Wall’s Dwarf, 1974), La gallinata costurera (The Little Hen Who Enjoyed Sewing, 1974), La gallinata roja (The Little Red Hen, 1989), La tataranieta de Cucarachita Martina (The Great‐Great Granddaughter of the Little Cockroach Martina, 1993), and Mediopollito (Half‐Chicken, 1995). Dear Peter Rabbit, (1994), a unique montage of fairy tales and fables in the form of letters, won the Parents’ Choice Honor. The Malachite Palace (1998), one of Ada’s original fairy tales, recounts the adventures of a sequestered princess who is not allowed to play with the common people until she is liberated by a tiny bird.”
I read and enjoyed these two books together for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons reading challenge, and I highly recommend them.