Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle Mod. 3


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Engle, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings:  A Memoir. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1481435239

Plot Summary: 

In this poetic memoir, we see a young Margarita torn between two worlds: her mother’s lush and tropical island of Cuba, and her home in Las Angeles. She travels between the two, her heart in both places. But when the war erupts and tensions grow between her two beloved countries, she is torn. Eventually her two worlds collide.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was phenomenal. Really, as per usual, Margarita Engle delivers a beautifully written, thought provoking, and emotional read. Told in free verse, this memoir addresses her childhood as a half Cuban, half American during the Cold War.

The writing and the imagery are poetic.  I could clearly envision the beautiful island of Cuba, that her heart yearned for. I could feel her struggle, learning that she couldn’t go back and that she was cut off from her family and her identity. I could feel her sense of loss.

The book flows well, and is split into different time periods that were crucial in her life. Before, during, and after. We start in 1947, before Engle is born; the day her parents met. We then move to 1951-1959, then to 1960, 1961-1964, and finally, 1965. Each time period starts with a picture of a flower, and a section heading. Each poem has a “title” a phrase to sum up the experience. It is laid out beautifully.

Through her childhood eyes, we can see how children who are from or whose parents are from countries we are fighting against feel. The fear of losing her mom. The fear of being put in internment camps. The fear of never seeing her Cuban extended family again.

Cuba is described so beautifully. It really makes me want to go there. The culture is heavy in this book, so it would be classifies as culturally specific. But more than the culture and the country itself, this is a book about how it feels to be in a family of immigrants.

Unfortunately, this is a book for all time periods. This is how the Japanese Americans felt. This is how the Irish immigrants felt. I’m sure our Muslim brothers and sisters feel the same way now. I’m sure our Syrian brothers and sisters feel the same. And I’m sure all of our immigrants feel the same. In our current political climate, this book is relevant and necessary, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so.

The ending had me in tears. I won’t spoil it, but it was moving and remarkable.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle’s trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author’s memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother’s homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn’t be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle’s experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita’s tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone’s focus shifted, the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school’s seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn’t relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT: A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba’s past.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others…. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early ’60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large…. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants…. As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one.”

From Booklist:

“Reflecting on her childhood in Los Angeles and her Cuban heritage, Engle’s memoir in verse is, indeed, nothing short of enchanting. Descriptions of Cuba as a tropical paradise and the home of her beloved abuelita come alive in the spare free-verse poems. She evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as her mother’s homesickness, being bicultural, the challenge of moving homes and schools, the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes at complete odds with her feelings and experiences. With characteristic precision, Engle captures a range of emotions and observations salient to a young girl…. In addition to the arresting content that provides many opportunities for learning, the craft of this memoir lends itself to creative exploration in the classroom…. The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection and a fitting companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011).”


Books by Margarita Engle:

Forest World ISBN 978-1481490573

Drum Dream Girl ISBN 978-0544102293

The Surrender Tree ISBN 978-0312608712

Similar Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ISBN 978-0147515827

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai ISBN 978-0061962790

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosin ISBN 978-1416994022

Journal Entry:

Write about your ancestors and where they’re from. It can be as far back as those who came on the Mayflower, or it can be as recent as your parents or even yourself. Who are you?


Poems to Learn By Heart by Caroline Kennedy (Mod 5)


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Kennedy, Caroline. Poems to Learn By Heart. Disney: New York, 2013. ISBN 9781423108054.

Plot Summary:

This is a diverse collection of poetry chosen that can speak to us all. They cover a range of human experience and imagination. They are every day occurrences and deep emotion. This book is divided into sections: poems about the self, poems about family, poems about friendship and love, poems about fairies, ogres, and witches, nonsensical poems, poems about school, poems about sports and games, poems about war, poems about nature, and extra credit. These sections all contain wonderfully written poems that will open your eyes to new things and deepen your appreciation for poetry.

Critical Analysis:

I don’t know that I could memorize any one of these poems. While they are wonderful, they are long. Very long. Okay, not all of them are long. And learning a poem by heart doesn’t necessarily mean memorize. Learning something by heart goes deeper than being able to spout it off. It means to analyze it. To understand its meaning. To know the poem and be able to apply it into your life. To learn by heart is to truly and deeply understand: an understanding that reaches your heart.

These are definitely poems to learn by heart. This mix of poetry is lasting and impressing. Each poem is different. They don’t all follow the same patterns, but they all leave you with an impression.

Example Poem: 

 Will There Really be a Morning by Emily Dickinson (Excerpt)

“Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?”

I chose this poem because Dickinson is easily one of my most favorite poets. I’m so drawn to her tone and her wording. This poem is especially touching. When you’re told about something, and you don’t really believe it yourself, you question it. My favorite line is “Could I see it from the mountains/If I were as tall as they?” This line bring to question whether we, in our limited abilities and limited existence have the same opportunities for the future as those who are taller, more opportune. An optimist would reply yes. But I, like Dickinson, am left with no answer. This is also a wonderful example of rhyming poetry. In this poem, the second and fourth lines in each stanza rhyme (abxb rhyme scheme).

Audacity by Melanie Crowder (Mod 3)


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Crowder, Melanie. Audacity. Speak: New York, 2015. ISBN 9780147512499

Plot Summary:

Clara Lemlich is a Russian Jewish immigrant living in New York City. She is forced to work in the garment factory to help support her family. When Clara realizes how horrendous the working conditions are, she works tirelessly to fight for women’s rights in the workplace. Inspired by a true story, this novel is about girl power and spirit.

Critical Analysis:

This is a beautiful and powerful novel of strength, determination, will, and fighting for justice. Insanely vivid and at times, heart breaking, this novel is a must read, especially for young women and men. Starting off in Russia, this novel makes you understand what it is like to be an immigrant. They travel across the world, facing the most heartbreaking changes on their way, only to realize that dreams are impossible, no matter where you live. Clara refuses to accept that as her reality. When she begins to understand the conditions they are placed in, she fights with courage to change things for the better.

The book flows beautifully. It is well paced and really touches its readers.

At the end of the book, there is a historical note for readers, explaining the real story of Clara Lemlich. I think that’s very important to include in historical novels. Knowing that it was real gives us faith and hope that we too can change the world.

Example Poem: 

(the man on the soapbox explains)
means no one is better than anyone else
everyone shares

the same rights
the same protection
the same opportunity

no matter their station
no matter their religion
no matter their gender.

At last!
I have a name for the ideas in my head.

He gives me pamphlets
invites me to lectures
asks questions
I do not yet
have answers for.

At last!
There is work for my mind in England.”

This excerpt is on page 87. I chose this passage, not because it’s particularly beautiful or rhythmic. I chose it because it is applicable to society, then, now, and forever. While we no longer have little girls working in unsuitable conditions in factories that are incredibly dangerous and get paid next to nothing with no benefits and no breaks, we have a lot of injustice in this world still. When I was trying to figure out who I was politically, socialist seemed to be the right term. A term that means justice. A term that means diversity. A term that means equality. You may or may not be a socialist, and that’s okay. The reason why this passage struck out at me, especially with the events of the past few months, we need the reminder that this is how it used to be, so it shouldn’t still be this way. And while the text may not be particularly poetic, the meaning is beautifully poetic.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle Poetry Review

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Engle, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. Henry Holt and Company LLC: New York, NY. 2008. ISBN: 0805086744

Plot Summary:

The Surrender Tree is a novel about Cuba’s struggle against Spain for freedom. Told from the view of several people, mainly from Rosa, a nurse, this novel will captivate you and force you to see the plight of the slaves of Cuba.

Critical Analysis:

Writing a novel in verse is an incredibly arduous task. One that many people are unsuccessful at. To write around near 100 poems all telling a story and connecting together is a talent only few possess. Margarita Engle is one of those few. Her poems that string together to form the story of Cuba’s struggle for freedom and the abolition of slavery from Spain will leave you breathless. Her strength is her character Rosa, a healer (nurse) who turned caves into hospitals. It is from her point of view we read the most of.l  While the point of view changes, it is mostly all about Rosa. Even when other people are speaking it is about her. From Silvia’s point of view “I stare, he stares, then we both smile. Rosa, I hear myself chant the name over and over, begging for a flower-woman who will teach me how to save lives.” (Engle, 2008.) Or from Lieutenant Death: “As this Little War ends, I ask myself how many years will pass before I finally have my chance to kill Rosa the Witch…” (Engle, 2008.)

The poetry is free verse, meaning, it doesn’t rhyme. And although it lacks a metered rhyme, you can still feel the beat of the story. When reading this, especially out loud, it is important to remember to include the punctuation. That is how you know the rhythm. Beautiful prose poetry strung together to tell a compelling and captivating story, Engle forces you to look at the world outside your own. She makes you realize that slavery is not unique to your country, but was and still is a world wide catastrophe.

Her second strongest point is telling the story through other people. We don’t just see what it’s like for Rosa and Silvia and any of the others fighting this war, but we also see views from Spain or from people like Lieutenant Death, whose job as a slave catcher depends on having slaves. I thought that was very well done. Not everything is black and white. Not everyone is good or evil. Even evil people have reasons for doing the things they do. Are those who fought for Spain not as justified in their war as those who fought for Cuba? It gives you something to think about. She generates a lot of empathy, but not just for the Cubans.

This books was absolutely marvelous. I would recommend this book highly to any Jr. High or High School class.

Review Excerpts:

Newbery Honor Book 2009

Purpa Belpre Medal 2009

Bank Street-Claudia Lewis Award 2009

Bank Street- Best Children’s Book of the Year 2009

From School Library Journal: “The Surrender Tree is hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba’s troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments such as the glimpse of a woman shuttling children through a cave roof for Rosa’s care or the snapshot of runaway Chinese slaves catching a crocodile to eat. Though the narrative feels somewhat repetitive in its first third, one comes to realize it is merely symbolic of the unending cycle of war and the necessity for Rosa and other freed slaves to flee domesticity each time a new conflict begins.”

From Booklist: ” The switching perspectives personalize the dramatic political history, including the establishment of the world’s first “reconcentration camps” to hold prisoners, as well as the role of slave owners who freed their slaves and joined the resistance against Spain. Many readers will be caught by the compelling narrative voices and want to pursue the historical accounts in Engle’s bibliography.”


Other books by Margarita Engle:

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music ISBN: 0544102290

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist ISBN: 0547807430

Enchanted Air:Two Cultures, Two Wings, A Memoir  ISBN:  1481435221

Other Verse Novels:

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins ISBN: 1416903569

Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong ISBN: 0810992582

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman ISBN: 0399257101

Free Verse Books

This upcoming week is a very exciting one here at the University of Central Arkansas! Ellen Hopkins is coming!! So this week we read and discussed Crank in class. One of the reasons why I love Ellen Hopkins (and one reason why people don’t like her at all) is that her writing style is unique. She writes her novels in free verse. Now considering that my background is in poetry, I absolutely love the idea of mixing poetry and novels.

She’s much like Dr. Seuss, considering they both write in a form of poetry. Granted Dr. Seuss wrote picture books and used rhyme, but still, both are poetic. I think it’s brilliant. It introduces poetry to a wider audience. Most people don’t like poetry, for one reason or another, but a lot of people started getting interested in poetry after reading Ellen Hopkins. Well, I say that. I haven’t actually done a study on it, but that’s accurate for a lot of people I know. I love this!

I also think it makes reading the novel easier. It’s all broken up into small sections that just flow so well together, making it a quick read if that’s what you desire. I feel that writing in this form in these days is fantastic. We have to compete with these aesthetically pleasing, graphic forms  of entertainment like movies, TV and video games. Having a novel that is broken up into small stanzas and have some lines on different spots on the pages I feel helps break down that barrier.

I think that’s all I have to say on the subject. At least, for now!

As always, keep reading!