From the Random House Edition:
From School Library Journal Grade 5-8–Bella Lorente, 13, dreams of becoming el lector like her grandfather, reading literature and poetry to the Spanish-speaking cigar-factory workers of Ybor City, FL. However, the Depression, the conflict between workers and owners, and racial tensions alter her plans when her Aunt Lola is arrested for participating in a union meeting. Bellas extended family struggle to free the woman and to seek community in a divided city. Durbin succeeds admirably in creating an accessible world rich in detail. While most children will not know much about lectores, cigar rolling, and Depression-era Spanish Floridian culture, Durbin explains each one clearly, providing tidy translations for all of the Spanish used. In one particularly evocative passage, the wind brings smells from fresh-baked bread, guava, or damp tobacco, depending on its orientation. However, this richly envisioned world sometimes eclipses the rising action of the labor struggles and slows the books pacing, weighing it down with numerous subsidiary plot threads. At certain points, there is an overload of information as the author jumps from labor troubles to Depression-era unemployment to Babe Ruth to 1930s fashions and films. That said, El Lector is better-than-average historical fiction with a strong female protagonist. Give it to fans of Pam Muñoz Ryans Becoming Naomi León (Scholastic, 2004) as a read-alike.–Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. ” From Booklist Gr. 4-6. In Depression-era Ybor City, Florida, households receive daily deliveries of milk and fresh Cuban bread, and lectores such as Bella’s grandfather entertain cigar workers with readings from literature and politics. But as modern changes reach the factory town, wary officials begin to replace lector podiums with radios (“Owners . . . want workers entertained, not enlightened”), and union unrest is stirred by the arrival of machines. Having set aside dreams of proving that “women can do anything they want” to earn money as a tobacco laborer, 13-year-old Bella witnesses a violently quashed workers’ protest, leading to her aunt Lola’s imprisonment and a crippling factory shutdown. The vibrant Ybor City atmosphere and Bella’s bond with her dignified grandfather are major components of this purposeful narrative, but it is Bella’s integrity that will appeal the most to readers, notwithstanding the forced quality of her concluding acts of heroism. Although this may ultimately garner mostly regional audiences, try it as a counterpoint to stories about other young eyewitnesses to labor conflicts, such as Katherine Paterson’s Lyddie (1991). Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“William Durbin’s attention to detail–both historical and fictional–make him one of today’s masters of historical YA fiction.”—David Gill, ALAN/National Council of Teachers of English
Thirteen-year-old Bella wants to be a lector just like her grandfather, who sits on a special platform in the cigar factory, reading great novels, the newspaper, and union news to workers as they roll the cigars. Being a lector is an important role in their immigrant community. But the hard times of the Depression mean that Bella must go to work in the factory; her hope of getting the education a lector needs seems impossible. Meanwhile, the factory workers and owners clash. People lose jobs, innocent workers are arrested, and the Ku Klux Klan prowls the area. And then there are those amazing new radios showing up all over town. Could the radio take the place of the lector? Bella must decide her own future and help her people preserve their history. Bella’s lively, warmhearted story captures the color and flavor of Ybor City as it explores an intriguing part of our American history.
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