Review: Tía Fortuna's New Home


Tía Fortuna's New Home

by Ruth Behar, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth

Alfred A. Knopf, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick
In Miami, Estrella loves to visit her elderly aunt, Tía Fortuna, and explore their shared heritage as Sephardic Jews. Fortuna had fled her home in Havana during the Cuban Revolution, bringing only a mezuzah, her memories, and the key to her Cuban home. Now Fortuna has to move again – into an assisted living facility – because her beloved Miami apartment building is slated for demolition. On moving day, Estrella is surprised that her aunt seems happy instead of sad or frightened. Over the course of the day, though, Fortuna shares her optimism, the stories from her colorful life, and the history of their ancestors. Estrella learns that goodbyes lead to new beginnings, and that changes can be weathered if you hold onto family memories, traditions, and a spirit of hopefulness. 
The narrative integrates Ladino words, as well as Sephardic symbols, customs and foods. The richly detailed illustrations bring warmth and depth to the story, evoking the southern setting and a gentle sense of nostalgia. An author’s note about Sephardism, plus a glossary of Ladino words, round out the book’s offerings. 

Filled with positive imagery about Jewish culture, this story is a strong candidate for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The book deftly uses words and illustrations to create a lyrical ode to Jewish families, traditions, and history. The focus on diversity within the Jewish community (Sephardism) adds strength and interest to the tale.

This story celebrates tradition, togetherness, and the meaning of home in a way that is sure to delight picture book audiences. Behar imbues the charming plot with self-empowered characters, a sense of belonging, and touches of whimsy. I highly recommend this powerful story for home, school or library collections.

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Reviewer Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle-grade and young-adult novelist. Shirley’s debut novel, The Blood Lie, is a Sydney Taylor honor book and the winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award. Her Jewish-themed middle grade novel, RIPPED AWAY, was released by Regal House Publishing on February 8, 2022.