A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781534444898)
A little girl tells of visiting her Abuelo in Cuba. When she is there, she helps him sell fruit from his small cart on the street. Together they sing the names of the fruits they have for sale, walking in beat to the song and shaking their hands like maracas. Their voices reach up the tall buildings around them and some people purchase fruit using a basket they lower down on a rope. There are other vendors on the street shouting or singing about their wares too, and that’s when Abuelo has to sing even louder to be heard. It’s most special to visit Abuelo at the new year when everyone wants to purchase 12 grapes per person to have good luck when they eat them at midnight. If only visiting Cuba was simpler and they could go more often!
Engle is an award-winning author of books for all ages of children. This picture book uses a mix of English and Spanish called Spanglish that is used both in the United States and Cuba. The songs that the girl and her grandfather sing together are done in rhyme while the rest of the picture book displays Engle’s skills with verse in a different way. Her paragraphs of free verse still play with rhythm and form, inviting readers to experience Cuba and their lively street vendors.
Palacios’ illustrations are bright and merry. They show the dynamic urban Cuban street scene that is full of colorful buildings and equally colorful people. The illustrations share that same inherent happiness as the words.
Bright and energetic, this picture book offers a glimpse of Cuba. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The award-winning author returns with a companion book to her memoir Enchanted Air. In this book, Engle writes in verse about her time in high school. Margarita thinks often of her time in her childhood spent in Cuba, but now that world is entire inaccessible to her and her family. As she attends high school in Los Angeles, Margarita dreams of traveling the world. She is also involved in the unrest of the 1960s as the issues of war, peace, civil rights, and freedom cause protests. Engle finishes high school and goes on to find her own winding path through college on her own terms. It is a memoir filled with hope, longing for peace, and a discovery of personal identity.
Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor given her body of work for children and teens. This second memoir takes a long look at the 1960s in America and the tensions between war and peace. She doesn’t shrink away from topics such as drug use. Her own path to a college degree will also help young people who may be wondering whether they have to go to Ivy League schools to succeed. The joy of finding teachers who are passionate and supportive eclipses the need for the school to be acclaimed.
As always Engle’s writing is exceptional. Here with the personal lens, it is all the more powerful and moving. There are poems that are intensely personal and others that take a less immediate and more philosophical view. The play of the two together allows the book to give a real look at her time growing up and the times of her youth.
Another amazing read by Engle, a poet to be celebrated. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Edver isn’t pleased to be headed to Cuba to meet his father for the first time since he was a baby. Now that the laws have changed, families can once again be reunited with people who escaped to the United States from Cuba. Edver has to leave behind the Internet and his favorite video game and cope with power outages and a lack of transportation and other technology. When he gets to Cuba, Edver discovers that he has an older sister that he’d never known about. Luza had stayed with her father in Cuba, wondering why her mother left her behind. Both of their parents work to protect endangered species. Their father protects one special forest in Cuba while their mother travels the world to find newly rediscovered species. As Luza and Edver start to become siblings, they find that a poacher has come to Cuba, drawn by an email they sent to try to get their mother to come. Now it is up to them to protect the forest they both love.
Engle is a master of the verse novel, writing of difficult subjects and using the poetic format to dig deeper than prose would allow. She tells the story in alternating poems in the voices of Edver and Luza as they discover the poverty of Cuba, the wealth of America, and the fact that there are different types of wealth in life like parental attention, grandparents and a sense of home.
Engle explores the world of Lazarus animals and protecting endangered species in this novel. The subject works in a lovely parallel to Cuban Americans being reunited with their families. There is a sense of delicacy and care, a feeling of finding the right habitat suddenly, and a sense of exploration and discovery heightened with surprises.
Another adept verse novel from a true master, this is a book that explores home, habitat and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.
Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.
Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.