Tag Archives: Cuba

A Successful Booktalk

15 Sep

Since school started, I’ve given a daily book talk. I’m trying to showcase different genre and topics. Yesterday, I thought I was taking a bit of a wild chance: a historical fiction novel in verse.

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Publisher’s Summary:In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and nearly-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.

So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that violence will not be the only way to gain liberty.

I chose this book for several reasons: an interesting topic, a novel in verse (which my readers know I love), and a non-white main character.

My classes are majority minority, so I thought I might get some takers. But I didn’t know how they’d take to a novel in verse.

I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as I mentioned that Margarita Engle was the author, eyes lit up. Many of them had read another of her novels in verse, Mountain Dog.  And so, I was pleasantly surprised to see more students than I expected, add Lion Island to the “Next” list.

Straddling two worlds

20 Sep

The only library book I have ever lost and had to pay for was Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters. 

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I think I accidentally packed it into a box of books I was giving to Goodwill. I paid for the book, hoping someone at Goodwill would encounter it and return it to the library, but no one ever did. I hope whoever found it enjoyed it as much as I did and discovered a new writer.

I have read just about every book Engle has written because I know I am sure to get something a little different from what everyone else is writing, novels in verse focusing on the history of Cuba, picture books or novels with a Cuban or Latino connection.

Her latest book, Enchanted Air, follows that pattern, but adds a new twist. It is a poetic memoir of Margarita’s childhood growing up as a child of two cultures, United States and Cuba, during the Cold War.

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Goodreads Summary:Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

I love novels in verse and Engle seems to be a master of this genre. Her poems capture the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America. Things that a lot of kids feel , though maybe in a different way. My class this year is made up f children who are predominantly children of immigrants from India, China and Korea. Their experience straddling two worlds is not that different from Engle’s. I will recommend this to my students and I hope you do too.

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