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Readers will hear the stories--and never forget them.
A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.
Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect ...
A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.
Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.
Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.
The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
—School Library Journal, starred review
* "Readers will hear the stories—and never forget them."
—Booklist, starred review
* "A work of literary imagination. Engle's skillful portrait will spark readers' interest in Manzano's own poetry."
—Horn Book, starred review
* "The moving poetry and finely crafted story will draw readers in and leave them in tears and in awe."
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
“Readers will hear the stories––and never forget them.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“A work of literary imagination. Engle’s skillful portrait will spark readers’ interest in Manzano’s own poetry.”—The Horn Book, Starred Review
“The moving poetry and finely crafted story will draw readers in and leave them in tears and in awe.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Starred Review
“A rare and stunning account . . . a tour-de-force.”—Juan Felipe Herrera, winner of the Pura Belpré Honor for Laughing out Loud, I Fly: Poems in English and Spanish
“I not only learned about an exceptional life—I felt it. Soul-stirring and direct.”—Nancy Osa, winner of the Pura Belpré Honor for Cuba 15
“Only a poet with Engle’s delicate sensitivity could have presented the complexity of Manzano’s life and the depth of his soul in such a brief, accessible, and enthralling book.”—Alma Flor Ada, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Under the Royal Palms
“Every once in a while a book comes along that is so heart-achingly beautiful, so pure, you want to tear down the doors and make the world take notice. This is one of those rare works.”—Cindy Wathen, co-author of Remembering Cesar: The Legacy of César Chávez
“This beautiful, unique biography reads and sounds like a symphony. Lyrical, informative, and inspiring.”—Teresa Dovalpage, author of A Girl Like Che Guevara
“Through this impassioned story we plunge into the inhuman depths of slavery and surge up with the Poet Slave to triumphant freedom.”—Anilú Bernardo, author of Jumping Off to Freedom
Winner of the Pura Belpré Medal
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Notable Children’s Books
Winner of the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
An IRA Children’s Book Award Winner and an IRA Teachers’ Choice
An NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts
A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
A New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age Selection
A CCBC Choice
Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List
A BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
A Booklist Editors’ Choice
A Booklist Top Ten Black History Book
My mind is a brush made of feathers painting pictures of words
I remember all that I see every syllable each word a twin of itself telling two stories at the same time one of sorrow the other hope
I love the words written with my feathery mind in the air and with my sharp fingernails on leaves in the garden
When my owner catches a whiff of the fragrance of words engraved in the flesh of succulent geranium leaves or the perfumed petals of alelí flowers then she frowns because she knows that I dream with my feathers my wings
Poetry cools me, syllables calm me
I read the verses of others the free men and know that I'm never alone
Poetry sets me aflame
I grow furious dangerous, a blaze of soul and heart, a fiery tongue a lantern at midnight
My first owner was sweet to me
I was her pet, a new kind of poodle my pretty mother chosen to be her personal handmaid
María del Pilar Manzano a slave
Together we belonged along with countless others human beasts of burden to Doña Beatríz de Justíz, La Marquesa the proud Marchioness Justíz de Santa Ana noble wife of Don Juan Manzano who shares my name even though he is not my father
Don Juan rules El Molino his plantation on this island of sugar and many other sweet illusions
These were my mother's duties:
dress La Marquesa undress her cool her skin with a palm-leaf fan answer questions never ask collect milk from new mothers in the huts near the fields slave milk, the lotion used for softening the skin of noble ladies
This my mother accomplished:
deliver the milk grind eggshells and rice into powder for making la cascarada
a pale shell for hiding the darkness of Spaniards who pretend to be pale in our presence
When the noble ladies go out in public milk-soothed, eggshell-crusted masked and disguised we no longer look the same dark owner and dark slaves
Now my owner is ghostly inside her skeleton of powder but I, being only a poodle,
I am allowed to know these truths about shadow and bright
So I listen when the ghost-owner calls me her own baby she plays with me and even decides to set my true mother free
Free to marry Toribio de Castro a man also promised his freedom
My father is winged, like my mother oh, I envy them what will happen to me little bird left behind in this haunted nest?
She takes me with her wherever she goes
I become the companion of my owner, noble ghost no, not a companion, remember?
a poodle, her pet with my curly dark hair and small child's brown skin suitable for the theater and parties
So I bark on command
I learn to whine and howl in verse
I'm known as the smart one who never forgets
I can listen then recite every word
Listen, she says to her friends and the priest see how little Juanito can sing see how I've trained him watch him perform
Back and forth over and over country home, city home, palaces, the plantation only six years old, she says but listen to his big funny voice
Back and forth over and over
I recite strange words in several languages
Spanish, Latin, French while my sweet ghost-Mamá-owner and all her friends listen they are forgetful
I am rememberful
I remember there is also one more mother in my song a bird-mother caged but winged
Copyright © 2006 Margarita Engle
This text is from an uncorrected proof
1. How did the slave experience of Juan Francisco Manzano in Cuba differ from that of slaves in the United States?
2. How did sugarcane contribute to the growth of slavery in Cuba?
3. What was the cultural hierarchy of Cuba during the 19th century? How was this revealed in The Poet Slave of Cuba?
4. What was the relationship between the individuals in The Poet Slave of Cuba? Create a diagram to assist in determining how each was connected to the other person.
5. What were the various skills and trades learned by Manzano? How were they acquired and how did he use these skills throughout his life?
6. Why was La Marquesa de Prado Ameno so sadistic in her relationship with Manzano? What do her actions tell us about her?
7. What type of interactions occurred between Manzano and Don Nicolás? Could Nicolás have assisted Juan in some way?
8. How do Sean Qualls' white, black, and gray illustrations enhance and extend the biography?
9. What do you feel is the most compelling moment or event of this story? Explain.
10. Would you film this biography in black and white or in color and why?
Posted November 23, 2008
Juan Francisco Manzano¿s story, told by Margarita Engle in The Poet Slave of Cuba, is one that will break your heart through his suffering and then mend it time and again through his hope and survival. <BR/><BR/>Through lyrical verse, Engle tells of Manzano¿s life not only through his eyes, but also through the people that were connected to him whether through familial ties or servitude. Manzano¿s first owner, Doña Beatriz, thought of Juan as simply a ¿poodle,¿ a toy to be played with and thrown away when no longer needed for entertainment. However, she did say that upon her death Juan would be free from slavery. This promise was not upheld by his new, cruel owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, who felt that Juan should have been grateful for everything she ¿gave¿ him. Engle¿s words and Sean Qualls¿ images powerfully tell the reader the brutality and injustice Manzano faced as a slave. <BR/><BR/>Enlge has written an award winning book that will draw in readers of all ages. Readers catch a glimpse of the suffering Manzano and other salves faced daily in Cuba. Engle¿s poetry gives a depth to the story that an informational biography may not have. Her poetic prose allows the reader to not only know Manzano¿s story, but to also feel it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.