Under the Royal Palms

Under the Royal Palms
Bajo las palmas reales


Pura Bel­pré Medal
Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, Best Books of the Year 2000
Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, Pura Bel­pré Award
Cen­ter for Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies, America’s Com­mended List
National Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish, Notable Book in the Area of Lan­guage Arts

Video: Col­orin Col­orado Inter­view, Span­ish
Video: Col­orin Col­orado Inter­view, English

See also: The Alma Project


In this com­pan­ion vol­ume to Alma Flor Ada’s Where the Flame Trees Bloom, the author offers young read­ers another inspir­ing col­lec­tion of sto­ries and rem­i­nis­cences drawn from her child­hood on the island of Cuba. Through those sto­ries we see how the many events and rela­tion­ships she enjoyed helped shape who she is today.

We learn of a deep friend­ship with a beloved dance teacher that helped sus­tain young Alma Flor through a mis­er­able year in school. We meet rel­a­tives, like her mys­te­ri­ous Uncle Manolo, whose secret, she later learns, is that he ded­i­cated his life to heal­ing lep­ers. We share the tragedy of another uncle whose spir­ited per­son­al­ity leads to his love of flying…and the crash that takes his life.

Heart­warm­ing, poignant, and often humor­ous, this col­lec­tion encour­ages chil­dren to dis­cover the sto­ries in their our own lives–stories that can help form their own val­ues and cel­e­brate the joys and strug­gles we all share no mat­ter where or when we grew up.

purabelpreawardmedal1The Pura Bel­pré Award hon­ors Latino writ­ers and illus­tra­tors whose work best por­trays, affirms and cel­e­brates the Latino cul­tural expe­ri­ence in a children’s book. Alma Flor Ada was named the win­ner of the Bel­pré Author Award for Under the Royal Palms: A Child­hood in Cuba, pub­lished by Atheneum Books.

In a heart­warm­ing and lov­ing por­trayal of her child­hood days in Cuba, Ada describes her deep friend­ship with a beloved dance teacher in Under the Royal Palms. Read­ers meet rel­a­tives and share the tragedy of the loss of Ada’s beloved uncle. Pho­tographs enhance the diary-like por­trayal of Ada’s early years.

Where the Flame Trees Bloom encour­ages chil­dren to dis­cover the sto­ries in their own lives and to cel­e­brate the joys and strug­gles we all share no mat­ter where or when we grew up,” said Yolanda Bonitch, chair of the Pura Bel­pré Award Selec­tion Committee.

Born in Cam­agüey, Cuba, Ada is pro­fes­sor of mul­ti­cul­tural edu­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco. She is a renowned author, trans­la­tor, scholar, edu­ca­tor, sto­ry­teller and advo­cate for bilin­gual and mul­ti­cul­tural edu­ca­tion. Ada received a bachelor’s degree from Uni­ver­si­dad Cen­tral de Madrid in Spain and a master’s degree and doc­tor­ate from Pon­ti­f­i­cia Uni­ver­si­dad Catolica del Peru.

The award was announced Jan­u­ary 17, 2000 dur­ing the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion (ALA) Mid­win­ter Meet­ing in San Anto­nio. The award is admin­is­tered by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Library Ser­vice to Chil­dren (ALSC), a divi­sion of ALA, and REFORMA, the National Asso­ci­a­tion to Pro­mote Library Ser­vices to the Span­ish Speaking.


I am fre­quently asked, by chil­dren and adults alike, which, among the many books I have writ­ten is my favorite. I try to explain that I cher­ish each of my books, because I have writ­ten each one with love and they all have taught me some­thing about myself. But I must con­fess that my books of mem­oirs, Where the Flame Trees Bloom or Allá donde flo­re­cen los fram­boy­anes and Under the Royal Palms, as well as those pub­lished only in Span­ish, Bar­quitos de papel, Bar­riletes, Días de circo, Pin pin sarabín, and Pre­gones have a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance because with them I have not only tried to cap­ture the days of my child­hood but I have hon­ored the mul­ti­ple peo­ple who made my child­hood mem­o­rable. These books, like the mem­oirs I have writ­ten for adult read­ers, Vivir en dos idiomas. have been my way of thank­ing those who enriched my spirit and taught me so much about try­ing to honor each day the gift of life.


Pub­lish­ers Weekly

In this hand­somely designed com­pan­ion vol­ume to Where the Flame Trees Bloom, Ada once again draws upon her expe­ri­ences grow­ing up in post-war Cuba. In a short intro­duc­tion, the author describes her home­town, Cam­agüey, as a “city of con­trasts”? with diverse reli­gions and edu­ca­tion and eco­nomic lev­els (“some had so much and oth­ers had very lit­tle”). The 10 sto­ries that fol­low do not focus on these oppo­si­tions so much as the unique expe­ri­ences of young Alma and her extended fam­ily. Sev­eral mem­o­ries poignantly expose the dis­par­ity between those who have and those who have not, such as “Explor­ers,” in which young Alma and her cousin get lost in a marabú field and are aided and fed by a poverty-stricken fam­ily. Oth­ers illus­trate life lessons (for exam­ple, the impos­si­ble but glee­ful task of count­ing bats in flight for their nightly feed­ing taught Alma to appre­ci­ate the process of an endeavor, rather than its com­ple­tion). But the best of these sto­ries sim­ply recre­ate a poignant or humor­ous moment from the author’s girl­hood: Alma sip­ping from a por­rón (a small clay pot) at school, lov­ingly filled with water by her mother; Alma’s pride in her uncle’s dar­ing turn­ing to grief when he dies in an air­plane crash. Many of the sto­ries stand well alone, but some take a mean­der­ing expos­i­tory path to recount a his­tory or explain a term. These more for­mal (though often grace­ful) tan­gents dis­tance read­ers from the slices of life. Still, at the core of the col­lec­tion, there is a heart­felt por­trayal of a quickly dis­ap­pear­ing cul­ture and a vastly beau­ti­ful land. Ages 8–12.

School Library Journal

Grade 4–7: This sim­ple and grace­ful rem­i­nis­cence of a child­hood in Cuba in the 1940s is a com­pan­ion to Where the Flame Trees Bloom (Atheneum, 1994). Although not wealthy, the author’s fam­ily lived com­fort­ably with aunts, uncles, and cousins in a large, shared fam­ily home in the small town of Cam­agüey. Here any event beyond the ordi­nary became the focus of everyone’s atten­tion and the fuel for many days of con­ver­sa­tion. Each chap­ter includes an early mem­ory or expe­ri­ence of Ada’s: nurs­ing the baby bats that fell onto her porch, the pro­duc­tion of sim­ple and inex­pen­sive plas­ter fig­ures for nativ­ity scenes, etc. The author writes about the con­trast of wealth and poverty in her coun­try at that time and of the peo­ple who made an impres­sion on her, includ­ing a bal­let teacher who befriended her dur­ing a lonely year in a new school, and an uncle and aunt who worked with lep­ers. Her obser­va­tions of peo­ple lead to a series of rev­e­la­tions that shaped her life. Black-and-white pho­tographs of the author and her fam­ily appear through­out. –Sylvia V. Meis­ner, Allen Mid­dle School, Greens­boro, NC.

The New York Times Book Review

The suc­cess of ”Under the Royal Palms: A Child­hood in Cuba,” the com­pan­ion vol­ume to Alma Flor Ada’s ”Where the Flame Trees Bloom,” derives in no small part from its appeal to adults as well as chil­dren. The author, a pro­fes­sor of mul­ti­cul­tural edu­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco who has writ­ten a num­ber of children’s books, under­stands that to get to a child’s bed­room shelves, often a book must first enchant choosy adults to buy it. And enchant this one does. The slim, hand­some book is divided into 10 chap­ters, each a self-contained story about Ada’s child­hood half a cen­tury ago in Cam­aguey, a city in the province of the same name in the cen­ter of Cuba, known as the cra­dle of great poets and coura­geous free­dom fight­ers. The sto­ries and the endear­ing black-and-white pho­tographs of her fam­ily are woven into a greater theme: every­thing Ada learned about life, she explains, she learned in her small town, sur­rounded by fam­ily and nature. Although this feels preachy at times, most par­ents would surely not mind the lessons. For instance, after telling how she spent child­hood evenings try­ing to count bats with her lov­ing grand­mother, she draws an emi­nently sen­si­ble con­clu­sion that could eas­ily be applied to many an appar­ently vain effort: ”On the many occa­sions when I have later felt that I am once more try­ing to count bats, engaged in an impos­si­ble task, I have allowed myself to laugh, happy to remem­ber that some of the best things in life are like count­ing bats: it was never the final count that mat­tered, but rather the joy of see­ing them fly.” –Mirta Ojito.

Kirkus Reviews

Of books com­pris­ing nuggets of mem­ory there seems to be no end, and in a com­pan­ion vol­ume to her Where the Flame Trees Bloom (1994, not reviewed), Ada recounts small sto­ries of grow­ing up in the town of in Cam­agüey, Cuba. She cap­tures with some feel­ing the pow­er­ful effect of scent on mem­ory: night jas­mine, cof­fee, ylang-ylang, and her grandmother’s per­fume of laven­der and sage. She immor­tal­izes sib­ling hurts and uncles’ gifts, and writes of the child­hood mys­tery of adult con­ver­sa­tions par­tially over­heard and par­tially under­stood. She is rich in fam­ily, attempt­ing with her grand­mother the impos­si­ble task of count­ing bats as they fly, and smash­ing her favorite doll when her dash­ing uncle dies in a plane crash. She is rich in mem­o­ries of other adults, too: Madame Marie, a French-Jewish refugee; Gilda, a dance teacher, whose affec­tion car­ried Ada through an impos­si­ble year at school. Some rep­e­ti­tion does not detract, and chil­dren might be moved by Ada’s exhor­ta­tion to con­sider their own fam­ily sto­ries. (b&w pho­tographs) (Mem­oir. 9–14).


Alma Flor Ada offers sto­ries about Cuba that would not oth­er­wise be avail­able to those of us liv­ing in the United States. This col­lec­tion pro­vides the reader with a close look at an active and lov­ing extended fam­ily. It chron­i­cles events that would prob­a­bly stand out for lots of chil­dren grow­ing up through­out his­tory and across geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries: liv­ing in dif­fer­ent houses, in the city and in the coun­try… and the tragic death of a beloved young uncle. This vol­ume pro­vides infor­ma­tion on a pro­lific author that is acces­si­ble and help­ful to read­ers study­ing Latino writers.”


Who knows where Cuba is? Alma Flor Ada takes us to Cuba and describes her mem­o­ries as a lit­tle girl there. You will feel like you are right there feel­ing every­thing she is. As you read you will be able to see the pho­tos of her fam­ily and friends which make it come to life even more. We all have fun times in our lives and we also have tragedies hap­pen. Alma Flor Ada describes her Uncle’s plane crash and I thought I was right there. To see what Cuba is like and Alma’s mem­o­ries of her child­hood you must read Under the Royal Palms by Alma Flor Ada. — Karen Wom­ack, grad­u­ate student


If you have enjoyed read­ing or shar­ing this book, I would very much like to hear from you. Please click here to send your comments.