Saturday, April 1, 2017

Margarita Engle deserves a Bravo!

My oldest daughter is 10 now, and she has no interest in reading together. Granted, I have been busy reading at night with my four-year-old, but I miss the conversations I used to have with Miss M. She is the reason I started the blog. While I don't expect her to change her desire to read solely on her own, I think I have come up with a way to engage in a dialogue about books with her.

It all started a couple of weeks ago...

Miss M brought a book over to me, slammed it down on the dining room table, and said, "Mom! You HAVE to read this book."

She is a voracious reader. And sometimes she shares little bits and pieces about books she she is reading, but she never makes book recommendations for me. The book she brought me was The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle.

That night I devoured the book, which is written in verse, and was left with a richness in my heart. This is exactly the type of book I want my daughter to be reading. This book was not about catty girls in the lunchroom. She gets enough of that at school. This book brought to life a world I never realized existed. In my perfect little bubble here in the USA, I never thought about slavery in Cuba. I never thought much about the plight of young girls who lived long before I was born. And, neither had my daughter. Because of this book, we had long conversations about arranged marriages, slavery, and what it means to be mixed race. All of these complex themes that I might never broach under normal circumstances became the springboard from which I was able to engage in thought provoking conversations with my daughter.

I immediately went onto Amazon and ordered two more of Ms. Engle's books: The Firefly Letters and Bravo! 

When The Firefly Letters arrived in the mailbox, I sat down with a pencil in hand and read the book. As I read, I did what might horrify many readers- I wrote notes and underlined each phrase or word that moved me.

Some passages were too profound for a comment. I just underlined the words and hoped my daughter would read and reflect on the words.

 Some descriptions were so fanciful, like the idea of tame flamingos, I wrote a quick note.
And other times, when a central theme to the story would have an important moment, I wrote questions to hopefully prompt discussion after she had time to read the book.

When I was done, I handed my daughter a heavily marked up novel and waited for her to read it. Hoping it would help spur discussions between us.

Well it worked! After finishing the book, she remarked that my underlines and notes helped her make connections to other books we had read, to current political events, and to emotions that we all feel. It felt like our own mother daughter book club. We debated how we would have acted in similar circumstances, but more often than not, we remarked how we simply couldn't imagine being in a circumstance anywhere remotely like the ones the characters in the books experienced.

Several days later, our third book by Margarita Engle arrived: Bravo!

  • Author: Margarita Engle 
  • Illustrator:  Rafael Lopez 
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (March 14, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805098763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805098761

About the book: 

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot―the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!
Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera

My Review: 

Bravo! is a children's book that simply must be in every library and school. This is a book of poems featuring the accomplishments of a select group of amazing Hispanics. Each poem is written from the perspective of the person being featured, allowing the reader to walk a mile in their shoes. In an age when there is a desperate need for children's books representing our diverse culture, I love that this book was written by a Cuban-American author and illustrated by a person of Mexican heritage. The words, the imagery, the colors feel authentic. I especially like the diverse spectrum of accomplishments chosen for this book. The people featured include activists, businessmen, parishioners, artists, athletes, scientists, and librarians. A child reading this book will truly be able to envision any life they would like to lead through the words of those that came before them. My favorite illustration in this book can be found on the leaves at the beginning of the book. It is the image of a child lying on her back reading a book. Out of the book, pouring down on her, are little rainbow droplets. That is what reading this entire book felt like- like having a beautiful rainbow of culture rain down upon the reader.

FTC Required Disclosures:
 **This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you purchase the books through these links, I receive a small portion of the payment, which I use to support this blog. Thanks for your support!


  1. She is truly a good and brilliant writer of her generation. Her work is extremely good and inspirational. Glad that you ordered more books of her to read.


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