by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
My family loves to travel. My daughter, Rebecca, works as a travel designer, and one great perk of being a member of her family is that we get to go along on trial runs of trips for her clients.
Obviously, we haven’t been traveling at all since mid-March. The last trip we took was in December when we took a family vacation to Cuba. The political history of Cuba and America is very complicated, so when you travel there, you need a special type of visa. Our visa was called “Support for the Cuban People.”
We went to experience Cuban people and culture, not politics. And for the two weeks we were there, every one of our senses was fully activated with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feel of some parts of Cuba and its people.
Books often transport us as readers to incredible places, where we meet wonderful people, learn about native cultures, and have new experiences—even when we can’t get on a plane, train, or bus, or even drive a car, to physically travel to new destinations.
But when I started reading The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, Scholastic Book Clubs’ Book of the Week, I had the pleasure of not only reading fabulous writing, meeting amazing characters, and being caught up in the story of Arturo, the entire Zamora family, and the community of Canal Grove—but also being able to actually recall many of the sights, sounds, and tastes throughout the book because I had seen and heard and tasted some of them myself when I visited Cuba.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora stars the large, joyful, boisterous Zamora family who live in present-day Miami. But the family’s history and experiences—told through letters Arturo’s abuelo left for him and through daily life at the Zamora family restaurant (La Cocina de la Isla)—hearken back to the family’s Cuban roots. I was so excited that I had so many reference points from our own time in Cuba.
We got to ride in taxis.
We snacked on some churros.
Right on the farm where everything was grown, we enjoyed a delicious meal of amazing Cuban dishes.
We drove around the Malecón in Havana—the boulevard where Abuelo first saw Abuela in the story.
We visited the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
We saw José Martí’s image in many places. He fought for Cuba’s independence from Spain and is the poet who inspired Arturo’s grandfather, and ultimately inspires Arturo to find his voice and speak on behalf of his abuela during the city council hearing that determines the fate of his family’s restaurant.
And we listened to “Guantanamera,” a song based on a poem by José Martí—and a song that Arturo’s grandmother used to sing to him when he was little.
Just like Jessica Aguedelo, who wrote a rave review of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (see quote below), I could go on and on about this wonderful novel. But I’ll leave you with these photo references for now and let you read and share Arturo’s journey with all the young people in your life.
“I could go on and on about The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. How touched I was by the depictions of Abuela’s tenderness, his mom’s quiet struggle becoming matriarch of the family, Arturo’s admiration for Carmen’s colorful braces, and of course, the food (recipes included as back matter). This novel was a true joy to read from beginning to end.”
—Jessica Aguedelo in Latinxs in Kid Lit
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is filled with references to how lifelong memories are made. After reading the Book of the Week, David Vozar shares his interpretation here:
This week, we remotely created activities, resources, and videos to help get your students excited about The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora.
• See what resources are in store for you this week with the Book Boys—plus join the guys in their cocinas as they prepare recipes from the back of the book!
• Discover how a fifth grade teacher uses The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora as a virtual read-aloud and introduction to empathy, characterization, and context clues in Book Talks.
• Hear from author Pablo Cartaya in an exclusive interview about the inspiration behind The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora in Behind the Scenes.
• Download a free printable expository essay prompt to help students practice text-to-self connections in Cooked Up from a Book.
We hope The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is an epic win with your growing readers. Happy reading!
Order the Book of the Week from Scholastic Book Clubs