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Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
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Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck

3.0 2
by Margarita Engle

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Quebrado has been traded from pirate ship to ship in the Caribbean Sea for as long as he can remember. The sailors he toils under call him el quebrado—half islander, half outsider, a broken one. Now the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera uses Quebrado as a translator to help navigate the worlds and words between his mother's Taíno Indian


Quebrado has been traded from pirate ship to ship in the Caribbean Sea for as long as he can remember. The sailors he toils under call him el quebrado—half islander, half outsider, a broken one. Now the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera uses Quebrado as a translator to help navigate the worlds and words between his mother's Taíno Indian language and his father's Spanish.

But when a hurricane sinks the ship and most of its crew, it is Quebrado who escapes to safety. He learns how to live on land again, among people who treat him well. And it is he who must decide the fate of his former captors. Latino interest.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Newbery Honor–winner Engle (The Surrender Tree) continues to find narrative treasure in Cuban history. Like her other novels in verse, this one is told in multiple voices (too many, in fact), some based on historical figures. The action takes place in the early 16th century aboard a pirate ship captained by Bernardino de Talavera, a failed landowner who literally worked his Taíno farmhands to death then, rather than face prison, stole a ship and became the first pirate of the Caribbean. He kidnaps an orphaned boy to translate for him and takes a hostage—the powerful governor of Venezuela, whose actions in the New World have been as despicable as Talavera's. After a storm wrecks the ship, all three wash up on Cuba's coast among a native population, and two new voices and a new plot thread are introduced. The story, based on historical events, feels too rich for Engle's spare, broken-line poetry. Still, the subject matter is an excellent introduction to the age of exploration and its consequences, showing slavery sinking its insidious roots in the Americas and the price paid by those who were there first. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

“The unique juxtaposition of poetry and cruelty creates a peculiar literary tension.” —VOYA

“Once again, Engle fictionalizes historical fact in a powerful, original story.” —Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Unique and inventive, this is highly readable historical fiction that provides plenty of fodder for discussion.” —School Library Journal

“Like intersecting rip tides, several first-person narratives converge in this verse novel of the sixteenth century.” —Horn Book Magazine

“…the subject matter is an excellent introduction to the age of exploration and its consequences, showing slavery sinking its insidious roots in the Americas and the price paid by those who were there first.” —Publishers Weekly

“Taken individually the stories are slight, but they work together elegantly; the notes and back matter make this a great choice for classroom use.” —Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
This fictional account of a Caribbean pirate shipwreck by Newbery Honor author Margarita Engle (see The Surrender Tree) is told in spare verse with shifting first person viewpoints. We hear from Qebrado, dubbed "the broken one," as well as from the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera, from the ship's captive Alonso de Ojeda who is in chains below deck, and in time from the young lovers Narido and Caucubu. When Qebrado becomes translator to the captain, the borders between the Taino and Spanish-speaking worlds begin to be bridged in ways that are both tragic and inevitable, given the historical intersections that precede this story. But when a hurricane wrecks the ship, the roles of captor and captive become reversed, and Qebrado rediscovers the land from which he was wrenched away so long ago. The ambitions of the conquistador Alonso and the pirate captain are thwarted and laid bare in this reversal. For Qebrado, the sole fictional character in a cast of fictionalized figures from an all too real history, hope lies eventually in a poignant reinvention. Images of trees and ships echo throughout—the heart of one speaking in the creak and roll of the other. Always, close at hand, is the sea. In this brief novel in verse, Engle charts the troubled waters of history with her customary combination of skill and heart. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—It's been said that history is written by the conquerors and, indeed, there are countless one-sided accounts of brave European explorers boldly "discovering" the New World. Here's a welcome antidote to all that biased mythology. Written in unrhymed verse and from alternating characters' perspectives, Hurricane Dancers provides a much more nuanced, personal, and thought-provoking imagining of what really happened when diverse cultures began colliding in the Caribbean in the late 15th and early 16th century. The story centers around a young slave dubbed el quebrado, "The Broken One," whose half-Spanish, half-Taíno Indian ancestry makes him critically valuable as a translator for the sailors, who exploit his skills to intimidate and enslave the Natives they encounter. He is a captive on a stolen pirate ship commanded by Bernadino de Talavera as the tale begins, but the tables turn when a hurricane dashes the vessel off a Caribbean Island. Quebrado, Bernadino de Talavera, and his brutal conquistador hostage Alonso de Ojeda all survive, but when the former commander once again tries to employ Quebrado's skills to dominate the Natives, the young man realizes that he not only has the power to refuse and reinvent himself, but also finds that he controls the fate of his former captor and his injured, unstable hostage. Unique and inventive, this is highly readable historical fiction that provides plenty of fodder for discussion.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
Mary Quattlebaum
Three main characters tell intertwined stories in this skillfully structured novel-in-poems about real-life pirates of the Caribbean.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
1170L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Hurricane Dancers

The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck

By Margarita Engle

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2011 Margarita Engle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-782-5


Part One

Wild Sea


    I listen
    to the song
    of creaking planks,
    the roll and sway
    of clouds in sky,
    wild music
    and thunder,
    the groans
    of wood,
    a mourning moan
    as this old ship
    her true self,
    her tree self,
    and growing,
    on shore.


    One glance is enough to show me
    the pirate's mood.

    There are days when he treats me
    like an invisible wisp of night,
    and days when he crushes me
    like a cockroach on his table.

    I try to slip away
    each time I see
    his coiled fist,
    even though
    on a ship
    there is no place
    to hide.


    The sailors call me el quebrado,
    "the broken one," a child of two
    shattered worlds, half islander
    and half outsider.

    My mother was a natural, a "native"
    of the island called cu ba, "Big Friend,"
    home of my first few wild
    hurricane seasons.

    My father was a man of the sea,
    a Spanish army deserter.
    When my mother's people
    found him on horseback,
    starving in the forest,
    they fed him, and taught him
    how to live like a natural.

    To become a peaceful Taíno,
    he traded his soldier-name
    for Gua Iro, "Land Man."
    He and my mother
    were happy together,
    until a plague took the village,
    and none were left
    but my wandering father,
    who roamed far away,
    leaving me alone
    with his copper-hued horse
    in an unnatural village
    of bat-winged spirits
    and guava-eating ghosts.

    Sailors call me a boy
    of broken dreams,
    but I think of myself
    as a place — a strange place
    dreamed by the sea,
    belonging nowhere,
    half floating island
    and half
    wandering wind.


    I survived alone in the ghostly village,
    with only my father's abandoned horse
    to console me, until a moonlit night
    when I was seized by rough seafarers,
    wild men who beat me
    and taught me how to sail,
    and how to lose hope.

    I was traded from ship to ship as a slave,
    until I ended up in the service
    of Bernardino de Talavera,
    the pirate captain of this stolen vessel.

    The pirate finds me useful
    because I know two tongues,
    my mother's flutelike Taíno,
    and my father's drumlike Spanish.

    Together, my two languages
    sound like music.


    How can a father abandon a son
    in such a dangerous world?
    Why did he leave me alone
    in that village of ghosts
    with only his red horse
    for company?

    What kind of horseman
    abandons his steed?

    A sorrowful man,
    that is the answer.

    I have spent all my years
    accepting sad truths.

    Bernardino de Talavera

    I once owned a vast land grant
    with hundreds of naturales,
    Indian slaves who perished
    from toil, hunger, and plagues.
    Crops withered, mines failed.
    All my dreams of wealth vanished.

    Soldiers soon gave chase,
    trying to send me to debtors' prison,
    so I captured this ship and seized
    a valuable hostage, Alonso de Ojeda,
    Governor of Venezuela,
    an immense, jungled province
    on the South American mainland,
    where he is known
    as the most ruthless
    conqueror of tribes.

    When I heard that Ojeda
    had been wounded by a warrior's
    frog-poisoned arrow,
    I offered help, assuring the Governor
    that my ship would gladly carry him
    to any port with Spanish doctors.

    I offered the illusion of mercy,
    and Ojeda was desperate enough
    to believe me.

    to Quebrado

    The pirate demands a ransom,
    but the hostage insists
    he has nothing to give,
    so while they argue,
    I lean over the creaking ship's
    splintered rail,
    watching with wonder
    as blue dolphins
    leap and soar
    like winged spirits.

    My mother believed dolphins
    can change their shape, turning
    into men who come ashore
    to sing and dance during storms.

    If legless creatures
    can be transformed,
    maybe someday
    I will change too.

    to Bernardino de Talavera

    I catch the broken boy,
    and it takes only a few quick blows
    to convince Ojeda
    of my strength.

    When the prisoner sees my power
    over a slave boy, he understands
    that I would show even less mercy
    to a grown man.

    Knights who have lost
    their guns and swords
    are remarkably easy
    to frighten.

    Alonso de Ojeda

    All my life, I have been triumphant.
    On the isle of Hispaniola, I tricked
    a chieftain by offering him a ride on my horse,
    then trapping him in handcuffs.
    I sent him away in the hold of a ship,
    to be sold as a curiosity in Spain,
    but a hurricane sank the vessel
    while the chief was still shackled.
    Expecting rebellion, I slaughtered
    his queen and all her people,
    to keep them from seeking revenge.

    There were days when my sword
    killed ten thousand.

    Now, all those dead spirits haunt me,
    and I am the one on a ship
    in chains.


    The life of a ship's slave
    is hard labor and fists,
    or deep water and sharks.

    When I sleep, I belong to the land.
    In dreams, I work in a field,
    planting roots in rich soil.

    In dreams, I feel like a spirit of the air,
    riding my father's leaping horse.

    In dreams, I feel free,
    until the sun rises and my eyes open,
    and once again I must struggle
    beneath the weight
    of flapping sails
    and heavy ropes.


    My mother loved the green parrots
    and red macaws that made the sky
    above our village look so cheerful.
    She always had at least one raucous bird
    perched on her shoulder.

    As if by magic, the clever birds
    learned to speak two languages.

    My first words of Taíno and Spanish
    were mastered by listening to songs
    recited by feathered creatures
    of the air.

    Now, each time I think of home,
    I remember that the world
    is big enough to offer more
    than sorrow.


    The sea is wild today.
    The sails look like wings.

    Sailors chant tales while they work —
    sweet songs about the Island of Mermaids,
    and scary ones about the Isle of Giants,
    with green jungles where huge women
    turn into monsters, clasping sailors
    in their talons.

    The sea is wild tonight.
    The roaring wind
    sounds hungry.

    Alonso de Ojeda

    Shackled to a rotting wall
    in the ship's stinking hold,
    I feel as helpless as a turtle
    flipped on its back,
    awaiting the cook's
    probing knife.

    I clench my fists
    and struggle
    to fight my way
    out of the handcuffs,
    while ghosts
    gather around me,
    and waiting. ...

    Bernardino de Talavera

    The hostage begs for mercy,
    but I have enough trouble
    just trying to figure out
    how to steer
    the stubborn ship
    in this devil wind,
    and how to reach land,
    and where to await
    fair weather.

    In a storm, the only decision
    that really matters
    is direction.


    The sky is alive with cloud dragons
    and wind spirits.

    When a sailor is almost swept overboard,
    I wish that I had a gold ring in my ear,
    like the one the pirate wears for luck.
    His red shirt is meant to ward away
    evil winds, and he ties a green cloth
    around his head for protection.

    The rest of us are dressed in rags,
    except for the shackled hostage,
    who wears armor and an amulet
    with the painted face of a wistful saint.

    I wonder if the saint looks so sad
    because she knows how many people
    Ojeda has killed.


    I carry a brass bell
    that clangs
    with each step,
    hoping to soothe
    the angry wind
    by ringing out
    a festive melody.

    If only my own
    rising fear
    of this howling storm
    and the pirate's fury
    and Ojeda's screams
    could be calmed
    by a remedy
    as simple
    as music.

    Alonso de Ojeda

    I am a short man, but strong and agile.
    I was daring enough to lead
    the bold expedition that named
    this entire New World.

    Amerigo Vespucci was just a merchant
    on one of my ships, and even though
    the foolish mapmaker chose his name
    instead of mine, the true honor
    of claiming this vast wilderness
    still rightfully belongs to me.

    Someday, all maps and charts
    will proclaim the Alonsos,
    not the Americas!


    The ship groans,
    wind shrieks,
    and I feel the storm
    all around me
    like an enormous
    in a nightmare
    where beasts
    and chase. ...

    On a ship
    there is no place
    to run away.

    Bernardino de Talavera

    I am not a man of prayer,
    but every hurricane earns its name
    by falling on the feast day
    of a saint who has the power
    to calm wild winds
    and spare fragile ships,
    so even though I have no calendar,
    and I am just guessing at today's date,
    I roar the name of Santiago,
    patron of my homeland,
    Spain's armored warrior-saint,
    galloping on his ghostly
    white stallion
    of clouds. ...


Excerpted from Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle. Copyright © 2011 Margarita Engle. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

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Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
jeanettemarquez More than 1 year ago
I think this book really tells a fascinating story about a part of the world that many children are unfamiliar with, despite it's close proximity to the U.S. This story is told through the viewpoints of several of the characters, which provides a deeper look at the events described. Even though the main character is fictional the other characters are not. The story is a gripping one about slavery and what being free really means. I would recommend this book for middle school students. I think it would be easier for them to comprehend all the interesting information.
MeghanM1 More than 1 year ago
I think this book would be for an older audience because the younger children might not be able to comprehend everything that happens. When the sink ships in the story and Quebrado is left to fend for himself he learns to live on land again and now he is deciding the fate of his captors. The story is told in several different view points which I like because you get an opinion from every different character.