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Letters from Cuba

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  299 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Pura Belpr� Award Winner Ruth Behar's inspiring story of a young Jewish girl who escapes Poland to make a new life in Cuba, while she works to rescue the rest of her family

The situation is getting dire for Jews in Poland on the eve of World War II. Esther's father has fled to Cuba, and she is the first one to join him. It's heartbreaking to be separated from her belove
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 25th 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
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Average rating 4.26  · 
Rating details
 ·  299 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Vanessa Ferreyra
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book about 4-5 hours ago and I had to finish it. I love historical fiction and when I first knew about this book I wanted to read it, although I didn’t know it was a middle grade novel.

I love how people used to send letters, and reading this book in “format of letters” was the best. I loved discovering Cuba from Esther’s eyes.
Alex  Baugh
It's 1938 and Papa has been in Cuba for three years, working to save money to bring the rest of his family there from Poland and away from the increasing Nazi threat to Jews. Normally, it would be the eldest son, Moshe, who would be the first child to join his father, but 11-going-on-12-year-old Esther Abraham, the eldest daughter, makes such a convincing case to Papa, that she is chosen to join him, much to her mother's consternation.
But, on her own, Esther travels through Poland, Nazi Germany
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A heartwarming and hopeful tale told in letters from 11-year-old Esther in 1930's Cuba to her little sister who is still in Poland. The first letter is from Esther to her father in Cuba, asking him to choose her out of the five children in Poland. She promises to work hard and help him to earn money so the rest of the family can emigrate. And does she ever work. Esther is determined to help raise the funds needed and finds that her skills with the needle can multiply their wealth as she sews dre ...more
Sep 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: middle-grade
Too many Jewish families were not lucky enough to arrive in this country before the US closed its doors to Eastern European refugees. This is the (unfortunately timeless) story of one of them, about a girl and her father who go to Cuba and try to earn enough money to bring the rest of their family over. Beautifully written.
Ms. Yingling
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Esther's father has emigrated from Poland to Cuba to try to earn enough to bring his family out of a country where there are increasing problems for Jewish residents. In 1938, Esther manages to convince her father that she should join him rather than her older brother, Moshe. She travels alone by ship, manages to survive the voyage and meets her father in Havana. The two travel to Agramonte, where it is cheaper to live, and her father ekes out a living by peddling
Shaye Miller
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Whoa. I am on a roll with deep and meaningful historical fiction books this week. Don't be fooled by that adorable, cozy cover, though. I wasn't fully prepared for the depth of emotion and fear in this story. Twelve year old Esther is a Jews living in Poland on the eve of World War II. In an effort to get the family to safety, her father heads for Cuba to prepare a safe home for his whole family. It takes him three years to raise enough funds to transport just one of his children to be with him ...more
Sara Thompson
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Letters From Cuba is the story of 12 year old Esther and her life with her father after leaving a tumultous Poland during the rise of Nazi Germany. Esther and her father Abram work in a small town outside of Havana in the hopes of making enough money to reunite with their mother, grandmother and four younger siblings. Told in an epistolary style, Esther writes her younger sister Malka during the months of their separation. It's Esther's greatest wish that Malka will one day get to read the lette ...more
4.5. Oh, this was good for the heart. Behar's real family history inspires this story: a young Polish girl named Esther joins her father in Cuba as the Nazis rise to power in Europe. Esther has an eye for dressmaking and uses this to raise money so the rest of their family can join them in Cuba. The main character's excitement for this experience in a new land leads her to make all kinds of friends. The most special part of this book in my opinion! It is indicative of Latinx countries in general ...more
Julie Kirchner
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade, 2020
There is much to love about this middle grade novel about a young girl, Esther, who convinces her father to allow her to leave their home in Poland and join him in Cuba, in order to work and earn enough money to bring their entire family to their new home. It is a unique storyline of the perils faced by Jewish families facing the potential of being turned away while trying to flee the violence during WWII, one which was unfamiliar to me until I read Refugee by Alan Gratz. The author’s note conne ...more
Pam  Page
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved Ruth Behar's Lucky Broken Girl so I knew to expect a great story and wonderful, descriptive writing. But Letters from Cuba exceeded these expectations with a story that teaches a lot about Jewish people escaping to Cuba during the Holocaust. It provokes curiosity, shows sensitivity to the Cuban community, and the Jewish people who traveled far looking for refuge. I fell in love with Esther and her father, the friends who embraced them, and the good fortune they eventually made. Reading t ...more
Lisa Welch
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this middle grade novel about a young Jewish girl who escapes Poland in 1938 to begin a new life in Cuba with her dad, and the trials they go through in attempting to save the rest of their family from the Nazi invasion in Poland. Although dry at times, I think it provides middle grade readers with insight into how kids struggled and how they felt going through an inconceivable experience. I appreciated the diversity of the Cuban town Esther and her dad lived in, and I always love hear ...more
Stefanie Burns
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moving story written as letters from the main character to her sister. Esther has convinced her father to bring her to Cuba to help him work to afford to get the rest of her family out of Poland amid the rise of the Nazis. Esther comes to Cuba and lives and works in a small town making all sorts of friends and blending people of all different religions and backgrounds. Esther is a lovable character whom the reader roots for the entire way. Excellent insight for readers into a different way of li ...more
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
In 1938, Esther, 11, travels alone from her small Jewish village in Poland to join her father in a small Cuban town, vowing to help earn enough money to pay for the rest of their family—her grandmother, mother, and four younger siblings—to join them. 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.
Dominic Robin
Project Latin America #31 - Cuba (My last book from this project. On to project communication!)
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A compelling, inspirational story of Esther, a young Jewish girl who leaves Poland to join her father and begin a brand new life in Cuba. Esther’s journey as an immigrant is depicted in the many letters she writes to her sister, Malka. Each letter details the trials, friendships, hard work she experiences and puts forth in the 15 months she’s away.
Rebecca Patton
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Hatred comes from ignorance. That’s why it’s good to learn about each other’s customs and traditions.”

This is a must read. Letters From Cuba is a juvenile fiction book told in letters that Esther is writing to younger sister, Malka. Esther starts her letters prior to leaving her home, mother and younger siblings in Poland to join her father in Cuba. Esther’s father has been trying to save enough money to get the family out ahead of WWII.

Things are tense in Poland in 1938 and Esther is surprised
Alyse Liebovich
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya-lit, audio-book
I thought the epistolary format worked really well, and I really liked learning at the end in the author's note that this book is based off her own family's experiences. What an awesome tribute to her ancestors.

Although I was familiar with the SS St. Louis that was sent back to Nazi Germany, I never really knew anything about ships of people that were allowed to stay. I loved learning more about the Cuban experience, having been there a few years ago and uncharacteristically having not sought o
Aug 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Seeing that Letters from Rivka was an inspiration for this really wasn't surprising: they're quite similar in both plot and tone (though there are significantly fewer mentions of Pushkin here, which is fine; I remember being quite confused and mostly uninterested in that element of Rivka as a kid). I did sometimes find the writing a little stilted or awkward in its decisions (e.g. the scene where Esther tells people about the animals which were on the ship with her and they disbelieve her, at wh ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens-books
We don't have any poisonous snakes on this beautiful island. And we're not going to allow that Nazi venom to take root here.

This epistolary junior novel is about a young Polish girl's journey and placemaking in Cuba in the late 1930s. Her family is Jewish, and the racial tension in Eastern Europe has caused Esther and her father to carve out a new home in the safe Caribbean where the rest of their family will soon join them.

Most WWII stories for both young readers and adults focus on Europe or
NicoleLynn (PopCrunchBoom)
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Initial thoughts:
This story definitely started off slow but picked up by the middle. I think I’ve been reading too many fast-paced, adventure/suspense novels so my pacing may be off. By the time I finished and now that I’m reflecting I don’t think the story was necessarily slow so much as it felt more like an experience than a story. I’m not quite sure if I’m explaining this right lol. Idk it was like watching an experience come to life through someone else’s eyes. The author did a wonderful jo
Sierra Dertinger
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What stands out about this book is that it is written solely in letter form. Letters are written by brave and strong Esther, a Jewish girl from Poland, to her sister Malka. The catch is that she is actually fleeing her homeland of Poland to the country of Cuba as a refugee. Life in Poland is getting rougher and rougher because of the start of WWII, Nazis, and Hitler. Esther flees to Cuba where her father is working tirelessly to earn enough money to pay for steerage tickets for the rest of his f ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Living in Florida, this is an inspiring book which can give insight to children about Cuba and Cuban refugees/immigrants.

Esther boldly asks her father if she can be the one to emigrate to Cuba from their native Poland. The year is 1938, and Esther's father has been gone for some time, after losing the family store due to an increase in taxes. When her father agrees, Esther, 11, takes the train to a nearby city and embarks across the ocean in steerage. From her first step on Cuban soil she is ent
Stephanie Tournas
This is a fascinating portrait of war time Poland and of the Jewish families who immigrated to Cuba to escape the Nazis. It also paints a portrait what is was like in Cuba in the 1930’s. Esther’s beloved father left for Cuba three years ago, and is still saving up money to send for his wife, mother, and five children. Esther begs to be the one chosen to follow her father to Cuba, thus commencing her correspondence with her older sister Malka. Through this epistolary novel, she documents her cros ...more
Katie Reilley
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to the author and Penguin Kids for sharing an ARC with #bookexpedition.

A beautiful middle grade story told through letters written by the main character, Esther, to her younger sister, Malka. Set during the brink of World War Two, Esther’s father has fled Poland and traveled to Cuba. Esther is the first family member to join him and she desperately misses her sister. She writes to her frequently, sharing her daily life from the countryside community of Agramonte.

Embracing the culture
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s 1937, and Esther has just convinced her father that she should come from Poland to join him in Cuba. He has been working as a peddler in Cuba trying to earn enough money to bring his family across the sea and away from the growing anti-Semitism that threatens them. Esther is enthusiastic and dedicated to helping her father and reuniting their family. The entire story is written as letters to her younger sister, Malka, and includes both the good and the bad of life as a Jewish refugee in Cub ...more
Jessica Harrison
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It’s through Esther’s letters that readers learn what it was like for a Polish girl transplanted to a tropical island. In her letters, Esther tells of the heat, of the music, of the kindness she encounters and the prejudice that seems to follow Jews wherever they go.

Hers is a story of great joy and great sorrow. It is the story of friendship, ingenuity and family.

There’s a weight to Letters From Cuba that can only come from truth. The story is inspired by author Ruth Behar’s own family history.
Sep 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Twelve-year-old Esther is a Jewish girl living with her family in Poland in 1938. Three years before her father left for Cuba after the Nazis forced him to close his store and he could no longer support his large family.
He finally earns enough money to send for one of the children, the oldest son Moshe. However, being the oldest child, Esther begs her father to send for her instead. He agrees and Esther is sent to live with him to help earn money to bring the rest of the family to Cuba before t
Lorie Barber
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just finished Letters From Cuba

Ruth Behar. Your words are magic. Your characters are incredible. Your narrative brings together and celebrates cultures and religions from all over the world.

Esther is a wonderfully benevolent, caring character, wise and selfless beyond her years. Her story is one of triumph over tragedy, of hope over fear. Uniquely told in letter format, and based on the life of Behar’s grandmother, Letters From Cuba is an example historical fiction that transcends time and
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Esther is the oldest child and convinces her parents that she needs to be sent to Cuba with her father. Poland is becoming a dangerous place for the Jewish people and it is expensive to get each person out. In Cuba she makes friends with many people and learns about their cultures while trying to preserve her own. Will she be able to find valuable work as a child that will help her to save her family? Will they be able to save enough in time to get them out of Poland? Could the Nazi’s possibly h ...more
The Keepers of the Books
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As the situation grows more dire in Nazi-occupied Poland, Esther and her father head to Cuba to try and earn enough money to bring the rest of the family to safety. Finding a knack for being a dressmaker, Esther works with the doctor’s wife she and her father live with to sell her dresses and designs. Will their scrimping and saving come in time to rescue the rest of her family before it’s too late? A harrowing, touching story based on a true story. The characters are likable, realistic, and eng ...more
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