Where the Flame Trees Bloom

Where the Flame Trees Bloom, by Alma Flor Ada, is a lovely memoir of growing up in Cuba. A second volume is called Under the Royal Palms. She wrote these books for young people as a series of vignettes that tell about her family, her town, and her experiences growing up on the outskirts of a Cuban town called Camagüey. “My grandmother and one of my uncles were great storytellers. And every night, at bedtime, my father told me stories he invented to explain to me all that he knew about the history of the world. With all these storytellers around me, it is not a surprise that I like to tell stories.” And the stories she shares are beautifully told.

The very first story in Where the Flame Trees Bloom is my favorite, although I enjoyed each one. It is called “The Teacher,” and recounts a poignant experience in the life of her grandmother. In the telling of this story, she captures a spontaneous teaching moment that reveals the heart of the teacher (her grandmother) and the ultimate purpose of teaching. I was very moved by this story and the way she told it. Here’s an excerpt from it that was printed on the back cover of the book:

“Look,” continued my grandmother, as she pointed to the road that bordered the farm. There the students saw a solitary man walking. “Look at that old man. He is walking by us. In a few minutes he will be gone forever, and we will never have known who he is, where he is going, what may be important in his life.” 

The students watched the man, who by then was quite close. He was very thin and a coarse guayabera hung loosely over his bent frame. His face, in the shade of a straw hat, was weathered and wrinkled.

“Well,” said my grandmother, “do we let him go away, forever unknown, or do you want to ask him if there is anything we can do for him?”

These beautifully written little books would be a lovely way to introduce young people to the genre of memoirs. Both books are well worth reading for adults as well as for children.

Here is some information on Alma Flor Ada written by Jack Zipes:

Alma Flor Ada, (1938– ), Cuban‐American writer and professor, who has been a pioneer in the development of multicultural and bilingual books for children and has written the important study A Magical Encounter: Spanish‐Language Children’s Literature in the Classroom (1994). Ada writes her own texts in Spanish and English as well as translating and adapting folk tales that emphasize the themes of cooperation, trust, and liberty. Among her important books in Spanish and English are El enanito de la bared (The Wall’s Dwarf, 1974), La gallinata costurera (The Little Hen Who Enjoyed Sewing, 1974), La gallinata roja (The Little Red Hen, 1989), La tataranieta de Cucarachita Martina (The Great‐Great Granddaughter of the Little Cockroach Martina, 1993), and Mediopollito (Half‐Chicken, 1995). Dear Peter Rabbit, (1994), a unique montage of fairy tales and fables in the form of letters, won the Parents’ Choice Honor. The Malachite Palace (1998), one of Ada’s original fairy tales, recounts the adventures of a sequestered princess who is not allowed to play with the common people until she is liberated by a tiny bird.

I read and enjoyed these two books together for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons reading challenge, and I highly recommend them.

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7 thoughts on “Where the Flame Trees Bloom

  1. Gentle Reader

    Both books sound lovely. I do like a memoir that also shows me a picture of another culture. I’ll have to look for these!

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  2. heather (errantdreams)

    I had little interest in memoirs until I took an awesome ‘style & voice’ writing class at Harvard from a Wellesley teacher named Alex Johnson; she was so good that I just had to take her memoir class next. And I just loved it. She introduced us to so many positively amazing memoir writers that I definitely gained an appreciation for the genre that I hadn’t had before.

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  3. Alma Flor Ada

    Thanks so much for your kind words towards my two books Where the Flame Trees Bloom and Under the Royal Palms. These books mean a great deal to me because they were an opportunity to honor the people that enriched my childhood, the members of my family and the humble people in my surroundings, even those like the kind ice cream man whose name I never knew. It gives me great pleasure that “The Teacher” would be your favorite story. To me it shows the power of the written word to preserve our experience in life. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman and a great teacher, but who in the US would know of this woman, dead more than sixty five years ago, in Cuba? Thanks to that vignette, now this book is given many times as gifts to teachers and people studying education. I recently received emails from 50 young women in Guatemala whose teacher gave them this story to read. I share this as an invitation to all who read these comments to begin writing their own family history and memoirs, they are worth preserving and sharing. Again, thanks so much! Alma Flor Ada

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  4. Robin

    Thanks, Nymeth. I’m sure you’d like them!

    Melissa, I hope you can find them. I found them both in our library, so I’ll hope your library has them, too.

    Gentle Reader, they are lovely books.

    Heather, I’m very fond of reading memoirs. That class sounds wonderful…I would have loved it!

    Alma, Thank you so much for finding this post and leaving a comment for me. I love your stories about your grandmother and the stories she shared with you. She was truly an extraordinary person, and her gifts for storytelling and teaching, and her kindness for other people, live on in you.
    I agree with you that our family histories and stories are worth preserving and sharing. My grandmother wrote poetry, and was/is a powerful influence in my life, too. I wrote about her last year in this blog, and share some of her poems every now and again. Here’s a link to that post, if you are interested in reading about her: (http://fondnessforreading.blogspot.com/2007/01/from-garden-of-years-reminiscences-of.html)

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