February 22, 2018

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:37 pm by suebe2

Forest World
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Hurt and confused, Edver doesn’t know what to expect when his mother ships him off to Cuba.  He knows that the two of them fled the island when he was just a baby and he knows that this is where his father lives, but what is the surprise about which his mother hints?

Before Edver gets on the airplane, his mother loads him down with gifts and warnings.  Don’t boast. Don’t flash around your money. Don’t ask for food. The people in Cuba have very little and she wants to help him fit in and connect with those around him.

But Edver doesn’t understand how he can hope to connect.  Not without the phone that his mother took away.  Sure, he was skateboarding while playing a game but if that biker had been paying more attention the guy wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

In Cuba, Edver discovers that his phone wouldn’t have worked anyway and that no one knows anything about the games he loves.  His grandfather, abuelo, teases Edver about the games but the most clueless of all is the one who was meant to be a pleasant surprise.  His sister.  Edver is only a year younger than Luza, a girl who loves art, magic realism and the forest on the family mountain.  She is proud of the work that their father does to keep the animals safe from poachers.

Not surprisingly, she resents Edver and the relationship he has with their mother.  Edver doesn’t understand her anger but he too wants to lure Mama to Cuba.  But she’s off looking for rare animals in a Southeast Asian jungle.  So the siblings invent a butterfly, never before seen, to lure Mama back to Cuba.  What they don’t expect is that before she arrives they will come face-to-face with someone much more dangerous.

If your young reader has never sampled Engle’s work, this book would make an excellent introduction to the Young People’s Poet Laureate as named by the Poetry Foundation. This book is a novel in verse, fast-paced and accessible.  Poems alternate between the point-of-view of Edver and Luza.  Readers learn about the sibling’s unusual names, how Cuban families were split, and the damage done by poachers who lure people into helping them.

For anyone interested in poetry, Cuba, human rights, or the environment.


June 30, 2017

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 4:37 pm by suebe2

Summer Birds:
The Butterflies of Maria Merian
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry Holt and Company

Way back when, and no this isn’t fiction, people in Europe thought that insects were evil.  They believed that they spontaneously generated from mud as did frogs.

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Germany in 1647.  By the time she was thirteen years old, she was well on her way to disproving this belief.  She loved to collect insects, especially summer birds, what we call butterflies. But she had to do it quietly so that her neighbors didn’t accuse her of being a witch.

Still, her parents encouraged her studies and her painting.  Maria studied how insects transformed from one form to another. She documented it carefully to show that this was a natural, not a magical, occurence.

Marian Merian is definitely a scientist that young readers need to know about.  She made her first discoveries before she was an adult.  And at a time when many women were sheltered by their families she and her daughter journeyed to South America to study and paint nature.  Why did I not know about this amazing woman?

Fortunately Engle has written a book that explains not only the beliefs common at the time that Merian lived but also what this woman did to push our knowledge and science to new levels.  The spare text is complimented by the art of Julie Paschkis. Her paintings reflect not only the history but also the natural world.  It can’t have been an easy balance to achieve yet she manages to pull it off using bright vibrant colors.

Add this book to your shelf for young readers who are interested in art and science.  Read it to anyone who is challenging the status quo.  Use it as a jumping off point for discussions regarding false beliefs, following ones dreams and making new discoveries.  This book is brief enough to read aloud but do have art supplies handy.  Once you are done, challenge your listeners to depict the world of nature as they see it.


June 28, 2017

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:32 am by suebe2

Drum Dream Girl
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin

Last week was bear week.  This week is biography week.

The first book for the week is about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga.  For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she is a female drummer from Cuba.  What makes her noteworthy is that she is the first female drummer from Cuba.

Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, the message was clear.  It was okay to love music.  It was even okay to play music as long as she didn’t play the drums.  When her sisters first invited her to join their all-girl dance band, it was her father who put a stop to it.

So she continued to practice and play but always alone.  Finally her father recognized how important music was to his daughter.  Not only would he let her play, he would find a teacher who would be willing to take her on.

Her teacher was surprised by how much she knew but he taught her even more. Soon she was enchanting audiences who danced to the beat of her bongos.

Don’t know much about music in general or Cuban music in particular? That’s okay.  This book is about so much more than music.  It is about inspiration and living the dream.  It is about not giving up and inspiring those around you.  It is about what can be even when people are saying “it has never been done.”

Engle’s text isn’t flowery or complex.  That said is has a beat that pulls you forward from page to page.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant, acrylic paint on wood board.  They bring a lively, colorful tone and a sense of dreamlike magic to the story.

If you have a child who is a dreamer, this is the perfect book to inspire them and send them spiraling upward!


October 1, 2012

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:08 am by suebe2

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
by Margarita Engle
AR 6.6
Henry Holt and Company

I loved Engle’s Newbery Honor book, The Surrender Tree.  It tells the story of Rosa who works as a healer among those fighting for Cuba’s freedom.  So when I saw Hurricane Dancers, I checked it out from our library.  Of course, that was the same week that a huge stack of requested novels also came home with me and this one sat and sat.  How I wish I had gotten to it sooner!

Hurricane Dancers is a novel told in verse.  Quebrado is a mixed race boy, part Spanish and part Native Cuban.  When illness wipes out all in his village except him and his Spanish father, his father wanders off into the forest leaving Quebrado alone.  Pirates quickly realize what an asset the boy is — with a foot in both worlds he is fluent in both his mother’s flutelike language and the rolling sounds of his father’s Spanish.  Traded from ship to ship, Quebrado finds himself serving Bernardino de Talavera, a failed rancher turned pirate.   De Talavera is more cruel than talented when it comes to his ship and they are wrecked in a Carribean hurricane.

I don’t want to tell any more of the plot because that would leave you without the joy of discovering the life and name that Quebrado builds for himself.  Quebrado simply means a young ships slave of mixed Spanish and Taino, native Cuban, ancestry.

Told in verse, this is a very quick read.  In that way, it would be a good choice for reluctant readers because there is plenty of white space and limited time is spent on each individual page.

But this is a complicated story — it is after all the history of Cuba.  There are multiple point of view characters including:


Bernardino de Talavera

Alonso de Ojeda, a cruel conquistador

Narido, a Ciboney native fisherman who rescues Quebrado after the hurricane

Caucubu, a chieftan’s daughter

Why tells the story from the points of view of so many characters?  Cuba’s history is complex.  It isn’t Native Indian because the Spanish came.  It isn’t Spanish because they didn’t replace the various tribes although, in many ways, it would seem that they tried to do so.  The ways of Spain did not completely work here but with the incoming Spanish neither did the ways of the various tribes.  Those who truly thrived and who live on in Cuba today are those who combined both worlds, who adapted and changed no matter what their heritage.

This is definitely a book that I would encourage you to pick up for both reluctant and advanced readers.  There is so much in it in spite of its brief text.  It is a history of the Americas we should know much better than we do.




February 23, 2009

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:54 pm by suebe2

surrenderThe Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (AR 6 . 4 )

by Margarita Engle

Henry Holt

With this book winning the Pura Belpre Author Award and a Newbery Honor, I expected great things.  It exceeded my expectations.

Poet and author Margarita Engle gives young readers a glimpse of the fight for Cuban independence from Spain.  She starts with Cuba solidly under Spanish rule and then moves to the actual rebellion, from the freeing of slaves by Cuban planters to Spanish soldiers who are little more than boys and U.S. involvement.  While there are four point-of-view characters, the main character is Rosa who enters the story as a young slave learning to heal.  Rosa’s life mirrors the story of Cuba as she hides from those who would harm her, helps those who need her whether they are ex-slaves or Spanish soldiers, and struggles to keep all alive with little but hope.

Holt markets the book for ages 12 and up and my library shelves it in the teen section.   The talk of war, battles and concentration camps is straight forward without being graphic.

Although I studied Latin American history in college, I learned a great deal from this book.  For example, I had never heard of concentration camps in Cuba.  Engle includes a list of references and I intend to add several, perhaps even one or two in Spanish, to my shelves.


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