Educator’s Guide: Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro

Educator’s Guide: Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for March 4, 2013.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Leaving Glorytown (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2009) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF.  The complete guide is available for download at no cost:  Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


Eduardo F. Calcines was a child of Fidel Castro’s Cuba; he was just three years old when Castro came to power in January 1959. After that, everything changed for his family and his country. When he was ten, his family applied for an exit visa to emigrate to America and he was ridiculed by his schoolmates and even his teachers for being a traitor to his country. But even worse, his father was sent to an agricultural reform camp to do hard labor as punishment for daring to want to leave Cuba. During the years to come, as he grew up in Glorytown, a neighborhood in the city of Cienfuegos, Eduardo hoped with all his might that their exit visa would be granted before he turned fifteen, the age at which he would be drafted into the army.

In this absorbing memoir, by turns humorous and heartbreaking, Eduardo Calcines recounts his boyhood and chronicles the conditions that led him to wish above all else to leave behind his beloved extended family and his home for a chance at a better future


A little bit about Eduardo F. Calcines in his own words. . .

Until I was introduced to Oskar Schindler, in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, I had never been exposed to the personal side of the extraordinary human dilemma that was the Holocaust. This film inspired me to detail my childho0od in Communist Cuba, an era filled with its own share of human dilemma. Although an admirer of Ernest Hemingway, to consider myself a literary man would be a gross overstatement and writing a book was beyond my wildest dreams. Yet I was blessed with a loving wife who gifted me with two sons, who have proven to be the greatest joy of my life. Naturally, I took a special interest in the childhoods of my boys and niece, Rebeca. I felt that life had granted me the opportunity to be a child again by making their early lives as special as could be. Along with the playful days spent under the sun, there was endless time spent storytelling. Without realizing it, their childhoods had prepared me to ultimately write my memoir.

It is my humble hope that you will find my writing enjoyable and revealing of a place and time that stood still in my heart and memories. I am eternally grateful for God’s grace in my life and for those of you who have shown interest in my story (Glorytown).

Students with questions can also write the author at

Click here to watch an interview with Calcines.


While it is not absolutely necessary in order to use the book in a classroom, background information on Cuba, the revolution, and certain political movements, theories or concepts will be quite helpful in providing your students context and knowledge with which to understand the ideas and the events presented in the novel.  Below you will find a list of links to various resources for teaching about Cuba in the classroom.   These resources could be used before, during and/or after reading the book.

The following lesson plans are divided into a number of categories: History and Social Studies; Guided Reading Questions; and Reflective Writing Questions.

  •  The History and Social Studies sections are project-based activities or suggestions that can be used to extend the content of the book.
  • The detailed Guided Reading Questions accompany each chapter.
  • The Reflective Writing Questions can be used in multiple ways, including as extended response questions, formal essays or individual closing assessments.


Find Cuba on a map of North and South America.  How close is Cuba to the United States? Do you think that the U.S. and Cuba are close enough that events in the two countries could potentially affect each other? Can U.S. citizens travel to Cuba? Can Cubans travel to the U.S.? How do you think these travel restrictions affect relations between the United States and Cuba?

Sugar and Cuba:
Using appropriate print and online resources, research the role of sugar in Cuba.  Has sugar been an important product for Cuba? Is it still important?  What group of people was the first to work the sugar plantations? What is that work like? Why do you think that group was used on the plantations? Is sugar still important in Cuba?  What is the process for producing the sugar available in grocery stores?

Fidel Castro and Communism:
How can you tell that Eduardo is very critical of Fidel Castro and his government? Think about the words he uses to describe Castro, the government, communists and Communism, and even his teachers.  Summarize how Eduardo feels about Castro’s communist government?  Do you think that Eduardo’s understanding of communism and Castro is too simple?

What is Communism:
Using a history textbook or appropriate print and online resources, research Communism.  What is communism? Communism is often held in contrast to capitalism.  Using similar resources find a definition or explanation for capitalism.  How would you compare and contrast the two?

The Cuban Revolution:
The Cuban Revolution took place in 1959.  Research what Cuba was like prior to the revolution.  Who was Fulgencio Batista? What was life like when he was in power? Why were so many willing to support Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution?

Cuban Immigration:
There have been various waves of Cuban immigration during different periods of U.S. history.  One of the first groups to come over in large numbers was children through the Pedro Pan Operation.  In more recent years, smaller numbers of immigrants have continued to come to the U.S.  Research these different periods of immigration.  What was the Pedro Pan Operation? Watch the film Balseros to get an idea of what immigration has been like for Cubans in the past 15 years.  How has the experience changed over the years?

Literacy Campaigns and the Brigadistas:
Watch the film Maestra (more information available at  This brief and engaging documentary tells the story of 100,000 Cuban teenagers, most of them girls, who participated in Cuba’s 1961 literacy campaign. Historical footage and current-day interviews bring the campaign to life. Most compelling to U.S. students will be the stories of the girls themselves, many of them middle school age, who left their families to take on major responsibilities far away. Fifty years later, the brigadistas reminisce about the independence and self-confidence they gained from the great adventure and the trust the country placed in them—in one year, they taught more than 700,000 people to read and write! (In English with voiceovers.)


Guided Reading Questions

Coming to Glorytown:

  1.  What was it like to work in the sugarcane fields? Who originally did this work? (p. 4).
  2. What is Glorytown? (p. 5)
  3. Who was Eduardo’s favorite person? Why? (p. 10-11)

The Revolution:

  1.  What changes does Eduardo notice after the revolution? (pgs. 12-15)
  2. What happens to Carmensita? Who or what does the family blame for the loss? (p. 17-18)

The Bay of Pigs:

  1.  Why do the soldiers arrest Eduardo’s father? (p. 21-23)
  2. What does Eduardo think the Bay of Pigs is? What is the Bay of Pigs? (pgs. 22-23)
  3. What is the C.D.R? What do the letters stand for? (p. 23)
  4. What is the significance of placing a picture face down with a glass of water over it? (p. 24)

Our Last Noche Buena:

  1.  What is Noche Buena and how is it celebrated? (p. 26-29)
  2. What happens to make it their last Noche Buena? (p. 29-32)
  3. Papa tries to explain to Eduardo why the group of men wanted to interrupt the celebration.  What explanation does he give? (p. 33)

More Changes:

  1. What is a libreta? (p. 34)
  2. Why would Cuba have food from Russia? (p. 35-36)
  3. What is apagón? What does Papa say is the real reason for this? (p. 37)

Stories to Ease the Pain:

  1.  What was Papa’s childhood like? How was it different from most children in the U.S.? (p. 43-45)
  2. Papa says “The Communists don’t believe in anything, except power and control” (p. 45).  From what you’ve learned about Communism, do you think that’s true? Why would Papa believe that?

Tío William’s Arrest:

Why does the family believe that Tío William was targeted and arrested by the government? Why is Tío William’s arrest so serious for the extended family and the community (p. 49-50)

What does nationalize mean according to Papa? (p. 51)

Re-read the cousins’ discussion on page 53.  What things do they miss the most? Are any of these things originally from Cuba? Where are they from? (p. 53-54)


  1.  How does Eduardo help Quco? (p. 57-58)
  2. At what age are boys drafted into the army in Cuba? (p. 59)
  3. What two choices does the family have in terms of trying to leave Cuba? (p. 60)
  4. What happens to the children whose families have decided to apply for exit visas? (p. 61)
  5. What is the significance of 149901? (p. 62)


  1. What do Eduardo’s friends think life in the United States will be like? Do you agree with them? (p. 67-68)
  2. How does Eduardo describe the schools in Cuba? (p. 69)
  3. What does gusano mean? (p. 70)
  4. Who stands up first for Eduardo on the playground? Why do you think he does that? (p. 72)
  5. What does Eduardo daydream about when he thinks of life in the U.S.? (p. 74-75)
  6. What happens to Papa as a result of applying for the exit visa? (p. 77-79)

Remember the Lord:

  1.  Where has the government taken Eduardo’s father? What will he be doing? (p. 82-83)

More Goodbyes:

  1.  What happens to Tío William’s company? (p. 88)
  2. What is life like for Papa at the work camp? (p. 92)
  3. What is the Peter Pan Program? (p. 96)
  4. What does Eduardo do to try and deal with how hard everything feels? Does it work? (p. 99)

Panetelas de Vainilla:

  1. What is a panatela de vainilla? (p. 100)
  2. Why is Mama going to make these? Why do they have to be careful in talking about Mama’s plan? (p. 100)
  3. Why is Tía Luisa able to help Eduardo’s family? (p. 103-105)
  4. What happens to Eduardo on his way home from the Tía Luisa’s? (p. 106-108)
  5. What does Papa get for Eduardo at the end of the chapter? (p. 109)

The Ashes of Spring:

  1. Why is there ash covering everything at the beginning of the chapter? (p. 110)
  2. Why does abuelo continue to go and work at the sugar mill? What does he say about sugar and its importance to Cuba? (p. 112)
  3. Given how Eduardo has described the state of Cuba, are you surprised that Tío William was able to buy a truck? What does he do with the truck? Who does he do work for? Do any of these groups surprise you? (p. 115)

La Natividad:

  1. Why is Eduardo’s age significant? (p. 120)
  2. Who is La Natividad? What have the boys heard about her? (p. 120-122)
  3. What do the boys dare Eduardo to do? (p. 122)
  4. What do you think—do you believe the rumors about La Natividad are true?

Nguyen Van Troy:

  1. Who is Nguyen Van Troy? Why is Eduardo’s school named after him? (p. 130)
  2. What does the telegram say about Papa? (p. 132) How does Papa look when they meet him at the bus stop? (p. 133)

Papa’s Homecoming:

  1. Why is Eduardo afraid of his father going to the hospital? What does he think may happen? (p.  137)
  2. Who is Eduardo’s first date with? Where does he go? Where does he get the money to pay for the tickets? (p. 141)
  3. Who shows up at the end of the movie? (p. 142)

Señora Santana:

  1. How does Eduardo describe Señora Santana? (p. 148) What do you think of his description?
  2. Abuelo gives Eduardo the following advice when he’s upset over Olga: “I want you to remember one thing, Eduardo Calcines. . .Killing solves nothing.   Killing Fidel would solve nothing.  There will only be another Fidel to take his place.  Fidel is not the problem.  Fidel is a symptom. . .Fidel is a symptom of the problem. . .The real problem is here.  He tapped his chest” (p. 154-155).  What do think Abuelo is trying to explain to Eduardo? Do you think this is good advice? Could you apply it to any area in your life?
  3. What is the Schools-to-Countryside Program? What will the students be doing as part of this program? (p. 157)
  4. What is it like at the onion farm? (p. 158-162)

A Taste of Freedom:

  1. What does the mailman deliver to the Calcines’ house? Who is it from? What is inside? (p. 164-165)
  2. What does Esther get to do for the first time in her life? (p. 166)
  3. What do you think of Eduardo’s thoughts on America? (p. 166)Do you think he’s correct? How would you describe America?
  4. Where do the boys decide to go? Is Eduardo allowed to go? (p. 167-170)
  5. What does Rolando see in the future for his friends? (p. 172)

Planning to Escape:

  1. Why is this birthday like a bad dream for Eduardo? What is he worried about? (p. 180)
  2. What does his father give him for his birthday? (p. 181)
  3. What is Eduardo’s plan in case the telegram doesn’t come by the time he is fourteen and a half? (p. 184-185)
  4. What does Eduardo’s family finally receive? (p. 188)  How do you think you would feel at that moment if you were Eduardo? Do you think it is going to be easy for Eduardo to leave Cuba behind?
  5. What almost keeps the family from getting to leave Cuba? What does the officer decide to do? (p. 190-191)
  6. Where do the boys go to hang out one last time? (p. 193-194)
  7. Which was the hardest goodbye for Eduardo? Why is it so hard—what does Eduardo realize? What advice does Eduardo’s abuelo give him? (p. 196-197)

Flight to Freedom:

  1. What do Mama and Papa have to do before the family can leave the country? (p. 204-205)
  2. What do the children decide to spend Abuela’s money on? (p. 208)
  3. What do you think of Eduardo’s statement—“Soon we would be in the land of the blond people”?  Is that how you would describe the United States? (p. 215)
  4. What do Eduardo and Esther think of English? (p. 217)

Reflective Writing Questions

  1. Leaving Glorytown is a memoir.  What is the definition of a memoir? What is its purpose?  Think of a significant event or period of time in your own life.  Write your own memoir of that event or period of time.
  2. Think about the ways that Eduardo and his friends describe America.  What American things do they long for? What do they think America is like? Are their thoughts accurate? How are they wrong in what they believe about America? How would you describe America to someone who had never been here?


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 2/2013 by Adam Flores, LAII Graduate Assistant and Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.


One thought on “Educator’s Guide: Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Leaving Glorytown | Vamos a Leer

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