Letters from Cuba was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2021.
It’s now available in paperback and you can find it in Spanish under the title, Cartas de Cuba.
Pura Belpré Award Winner Ruth Behar’s inspiring story of a young Jewish girl who flees Poland on the eve of WWII and makes a new life for herself in Cuba, while she works to rescue the rest of her family, is based on Ruth’s family history.
Things have gotten dire for Esther’s family in Poland as discrimination against Jews has intensified. With the family store shuttered, her father has fled to Cuba to work to bring his family over, and now Esther’s made sure she’s the first child to join him.
Being separated from her beloved sister is heart-wrenching, but Esther promises to write everything down that happens until they’re reunited. And many good things do happen. First of all, the Cuban people are welcoming and treat her with dignity. Then she chances upon a way to make more money than her peddler father could dream of when she discovers her talent for making lightweight dresses. All of a sudden there is a demand for her designs, and it looks like they will soon be able to afford to bring the family over. But it turns out not everyone is pleased with her success and there are pockets of anti-Semitism in Cuba too. Now it’s a race to get her family out of Poland and into Cuba before it’s too late, and to see if there is a way to stop the hate from spreading through Cuba too.
Awards and Honors for Letters from Cuba
- Sydney Taylor Notable Book, Association of Jewish Libraries, 2021
- International Latino Book Award Winner, 2020
- PJ Library Selection, 2021
- Kirkus List of Best Middle Grade Fiction of 2020
- Kirkus List of Best Historical Fiction of 2020
- Chicago Public Library List of Best Fiction for Older Readers of 2020
- Penguin Classroom List of Antiracist Reading for All Ages, 2020
Colby Sharp’s Book Talk about Letters From Cuba
A Virtual Evening with Ruth Behar & Richard Blanco
The Official Book Trailer for Letters from Cuba
Praise for Letters From Cuba
Readers will not want to part with this story of resilience. A World War II refugee tale that spotlights dedicated hard work. A must-have for-libraries.
★ School Library Journal, starred review
Warmhearted cross-cultural friendship for a refugee on distant shores.
★ Kirkus, starred review
Ruth Behar resurrects a portrait of an island that served as a safe haven for those wounded by their homelands… Although her novel takes place nearly one hundred years ago, its themes and messages are universal and timeless. How many Esthers do we have trying to make it in our country and is our country as warm to Esther as Cuba was?
Read more Letters from Cuba reviews
Letters from Cuba… is especially notable due to its lush and evocatively portrayed setting that demonstrates the broad diversity of the Jewish experience. Readers young and old might find themselves mesmerized by the sights and smells of a country, time period, culture and experience not often portrayed in children’s literature, nor in Jewish and American literature in general.
Heartbreaking and Heartwarming. Narrating Ruth Behar’s beautiful book, LETTERS FROM CUBA was an absolute honor for this Cubana!
– Rebecca Soler
For me, Esther’s sewing was the real drawing point; I was making my own clothes at the same age, and seeing Esther’s abilities be the driving force in bringing her family to Cuba was a great story of empowerment. Strength in the face of adversity always makes for a compelling story. I loved this one.
–Ms. Yingling Reads
A wonderful window into a life we don’t often read about.
–The Children’s War
Letters from Cuba’s themes of friendship, family, faith and openhearted acceptance give this historical novel timeless resonance.
Behar creates a welcome portrait of a warm, diverse community.
– The Horn Book (September-October, 2020)
This is an openly loving tribute to the author’s grandmother, who made the real journey that inspired Esther’s fictional one.
– New York Times (August 30, 2020)
Inspired by her own grandmother’s life, Behar (Lucky Broken Girl) crafts a series of loving letters from Esther to her sister, describing the perilous journey and Esther’s first year in Cuba. . . . Global issues such as Hitler’s rise, anti-Semitism, slavery, and worker protests are neatly woven into Esther’s narrative. . . . Behar’s appreciative descriptions of Cuba and Esther’s close, protective bonds with her father and sister make for an engaging read.
Behar’s lyrical descriptions of Cuba and her perspective as a professional cultural anthropologist, form a rich background to Esther’s story.
–Jewish Book Council
Need to take a trip without getting on a plane or even in a car? This book is perfect then. Find Letters from Cuba today, cozy up in your favorite reading spot and bon voyage.
This book has the potential to help readers develop empathy for both the immigrant struggle and dangerous implications of hate.
– Latinxs in Kid Lit
Esther’s tale is one of adaptation and perseverance as she pursues dressmaking while also fighting for her rights and for peace in her new home.
The perfect blend of personal empathy, family history, and poetic language. I love this book!
– Margarita Engle, NSK Neustadt Prize and Young People’s Poet Emeritus
May every person that reads it, grow to understand the hardships of those that seek refuge and share kindness with all people.
– Mrs. VanNostrand, Michigan Educator and Diverse Books Advocate
Will reaffirm your faith in humanity.
– Alan Gratz, author of Refugee
Letters from Young Readers about Letters from Cuba
My name is Ruby. We both have names that start with R. Before we read Letters from Cuba in school, I read Lucky Broken Girl on my own. I think that one of the things that make your books so wonderful is the feeling and emotion you portray through your characters. It makes it so much more easy to understand when you know what someone is thinking and feeling.
So I like your book a lot. Letters from Cuba is very interesting! I actually don’t like reading but this book I read fast and I actually think it improved my reading skills. My mom even likes this book.
Hi! I really enjoyed reading your book and I loved all the characters. I think it’s really cool that this book was based oof of a true story, because I never would have known without reading the Author’s note. I also like the way the book is written in letter format. You’re a very inspiring author, and you wrote some great books!
Dear Ruth Behar,
I thought your book was AMAZING! It was very interesting read about Esther’s life and African culture. I thought the part about the crying tree with chains was super cool! Will you write a sequel?
We just finished reading Letters from Cuba. And it is now my new all time favorite book! I love this book because there is so much detail and it kind of pulls me in.Well, reading the book I felt like Esther, when I learned that she moving my heart sank. You are a amazing author! And I just hope I can read your other books!
I really like the way Esther slowly explored the town, because then you can really tell what’s happening. I give a A++ because you made it a mix of realistic fiction and real life. I hope you keep writing!
Your book is really good. I’m someone who has trouble reading but this book was more easier to understand. I was able to picture Ester’s change and can I just say “wow.” Please make a secual.
I enjoyed your book. It was great. My family was in Hungary during the Holocaust, so it’s cool to hear about what happened to your family in Poland. I’m not a big reader beside soccer biographies but I loved yours. I play and practice soccer a lot, again loved your book.
I really liked reading your book. I normally only like fantasy or realistic fiction books set a long time ago but I found your book very interesting. My favorite part of the book was the Passover seder. Will you write a sequel?
Dear Ruth Behar,
I really enjoyed the book because it’s non-fictionish. I think that’s the best type of book because part fiction makes the book more enjoyable.
I just read your book, Letters from Cuba. It was AMAZING! You have to make a secuel. My favorite part of your book is when… I can’t decide. So I will give you three of my favorite parts. 1. Esther getting the watch from the couple. 2. When Esther gives her first dress to Manuela. 3. Francisco. Just Francisco./span>
NERDY BOOK CLUB: INSPIRATION FOR LETTERS FROM CUBA BY RUTH BEHAR
Though my new middle-grade novel takes place in the Cuban countryside in the late 1930s, Letters from Cuba is my heart’s response to the current news of deportations, immigrant travel bans, and international refugee crises. How, I wondered, could I talk back to the cruel anti-immigrant climate of our era? It occurred to me that by setting my novel in another time and place, I could offer a fresh perspective on how we think about immigrants, especially immigrant children. Because seeing immigrant children in cages hurts us all.
I can’t help but be passionate about this subject. I was once an immigrant child from Cuba, and I won’t ever forget that. We came to the United States at a time when Cuban immigrants were welcomed because we were fleeing the autocratic rule of Fidel Castro. Unlike my parents, I learned English when I was young, so I don’t have any trace of a Cuban accent. But I vividly recall how strange and frightening everything seemed when we first arrived. It took constant effort to get the cues right that allowed you to fit in and not be seen as totally “other.”
Being an immigrant once is hard enough. Imagine, then, being an immigrant twice over. That’s what all four of my grandparents experienced. They left Europe for Cuba in the 1920s and 1930s, as poverty, discrimination, and rising anti-Semitism created an unbearable situation for Jews on the eve of World War II. My grandparents created a new life for themselves on a tropical island, expecting to stay forever, but then, in the 1960s, they had to leave their beloved Cuba after the sudden turn to communism erased everything they’d worked for. They resettled in New York, where they worked again to build a new life. They crossed from América to America.