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The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  514 ratings  ·  123 reviews
“I find it so easy to forget / that I’m just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts.”

Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
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Sonia It's about a girl who learned to read a write from her father, because girls in Cuba can't get an education. (He is now dead.) At age thirteen she is…moreIt's about a girl who learned to read a write from her father, because girls in Cuba can't get an education. (He is now dead.) At age thirteen she is forced to get married to the highest bidder in order to get the money to support her family. Her mother says men will not like girls who read and write and they will think she is ugly and different. Tula only wants to marry for love and will not give up her passion. She also feels sorry for all the slaves her mother would buy with the money. She is inspired to rebel against inequality. (less)

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This is a very short but beautiful YA book written completely in verse and dedicated to "Young poets who are in search of words " Margarita Engle has written a fictional account based on the true story of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda, ( Tula) a 14 year old girl from the nineteenth century living in the Spanish colony of Cuba who had the courage to speak out with words disguised as poetry and metaphor against slavery, the common custom which forced 14 year old girls to marry wealthy older men in ...more
Book Concierge
Subtitle: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. This piece of historical fiction is told entirely in verse, the medium which Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (a/k/a Tula) chose to voice her opinions on slavery and women’s rights.

Engle gives us some insight into the conflicting thoughts and feelings of the young Tula as she approaches the age when young girls are given in marriage – or, as she puts it “sold to a stranger to ensure the family’s fortunes.” Her refusal to bow to this tradition earns her the s
*This review contains quotes from the book, but NO SPOILERS.*

“Books are door-shaped
Carrying me
Across oceans
And centuries,
Helping me feel
Less alone.

But my mother believes
That girls who read too much
Are unladylike
And ugly,
So my father’s books are locked
In a clear glass cabinet. I gaze
At enticing covers
And mysterious titles,
But I am rarely permitted
To touch
The enchantment
Of words.

When Caridad and I peer
Through the bars of a window,
We see weary slave girls trudging
Along the rough cobblestone
A short little novel, beautifully written in poetic verse. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist is a fictionalized biography of Cuban abolitionist, Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda (nicknamed Tula).

The story begins in Cuba in 1827 and focuses on Tula’s life as a teenager where she struggles to understand slavery, the practice of forced marriages, the oppression of women, and the denial of an education for girls (all considered the social norm). In a convent library (where she goes fo
Shelley Daugherty
The Lightning Dreamer is a beautifully written book-in-verse about the life of a young girl growing up in Cuba. Tula is a girl who is more enamored with books than she is with boys which would be fine in the United States, however, she does not live there. When Tula becomes fourteen, her parents expect her to marry to better not only her station in life but theirs as well. But Tula wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage and spends much of her time expressing her opinions on freedom for wo ...more
Reading this for #bookbootcamp today was a pleasure. I am amazed by the woman this story was based on - Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist in a time when expressing those thoughts was certainly dangerous. Margarita Engle created this novel-in-verse to express some of those ideas. Here are some of the lines that grabbed me as I read.

[the 'she' is her mother who doesn't think women should read]
She sends me to my silent room,
where I spend quiet hours rem
Jeff Zell
The whole novel is set in poetic verse. Tula knows how to read and write but is forbidden by her mother to delve into written stories or poetry. It is a waste of time according to mother. Tula is a real historical figure. Engle offers a fictional account of how Tula came to realize her passion as a poet. Tula is Spanish and lives in Cuba. In the 19th century, Cuba was a colony of Spain. Slaves were used to do manual labor in homes and fields. Tula despised slavery at a young age. She also despis ...more
Merrilyn Tucker
I loved this little novel written in verse. Tula, real name Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, is a 14-year-old Cuban girl living a life of wealth and ease. In 19th century Cuba, Tula was powerless: she had no money of her own, could not receive an education, and definitely was not invited to share her political philosophy. Tula's mother was eager to marry off Tula to a wealthy suitor so Tula's family could use the money brought in by the marriage to buy more slaves. This idea--as well as that of be ...more
This is a young adult book written in free prose. It tells the story of a real life person named Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanedo. She belonged to the aristocracy but refused to cooperate with social norms common in Cuba at the time. In the early 19th century, she learned to read and write by sneaking books from her father's library, getting help from her older brother and enlisting nuns at a nearby convent to support a secret education and access to their library. At age 14, she refused an arrange ...more
Nathan Hiykel
“Monster! Bookworm! Unnatural! Professer! Genius! Atheist! The insults my mother screeches have no limits” (P. ?) Life in Cuba is hard for Tula so she goes to books to comfort her. The image of girls reading disgust her mother, so she rips the only thing that keeps her sane away from her. In Cuba the age fourteen is the golden age for marriage. Like a slave her mother forces her to do things that she wouldn’t do what so ever. Marry people she doesn't love, erase the thought of everything she lov ...more
The Lightning Dreamer

I recommend The Lightning Dreamer because it is biography of a person who dreams of being a great poet, being independent, and wanting to end slavery in Cuba. This book is about a girl named Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. She was born in Cuba and this story is set in the nineteenth century. This setting is very important to the story because in the nineteenth century, rich Cuban people had slaves. Those who opposed slavery were abolitionists and wrote their f
Vamos a Leer
I have never been disappointed by one of Margarita Engle’s books and The Lightning Dreamer is no exception. It’s the fascinating true story of a Cuban woman who worked both for the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women. My guess is that many of you have never heard of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellanda, I certainly hadn’t. Engle’s ability to bring to life these lesser known but incredibly important historical characters is part of what makes her work so significant. Her novels in verse make ...more
Molly Bullard
Remembering: Describe Manuel’s impact on Tula and her life.

Understanding: Explain why you think the author chose the title, The Lightning Dreamer.

Applying: Predict what would have happened if Tula accepted her mother’s plan.

Analyzing: Compare Tula’s experience in Cuba with our current culture.

Evaluating: Play devil’s advocate: justify Mama’s actions in the story.

Creating: Rewrite the story as if Tula’s father had not died.

Best quote on multiculturalism EVER:

"Her conviction that all should be equ
Meaghan Grady
The Lightning Dreamer Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist By: Margarita Engle, 2013
Meaghan G., Spring 2015
Pages: 182
**ALA Notable Children's Books 2014**

This book was empowering and I could not put this book down once I started reading it. The message in this story is very powerful and compelling one. The writing and structure of the book makes you feel every emotion that the main character Tula experiences. I thought the author did an outstanding job describing the slavery and arranged marriages thro
Amy Rae
I'm wobbling between three and four stars for this one. It's a quick, powerful story of a fascinating figure from Cuban history. I learned a great deal, and I loved the way Engle brought 19th-century Cuba too life. Tula's relationship with the family servant (previously slave), Caridad, was drawn out especially well.

The main thing that bugs me about it is Engle's choice to write poems from the points of view of "the nuns" and "the orphans" as a group. They feel generalized, and considering how i
Yoo Kyung Sung

I am a big fan of Margarita Engle. Every book of her I read taught me something new in World history especially Cuban history. I remember how I was fascinated with book, Engle wrote, Tropical Secrets, Holocaust Refugees in Cuba some years ago. The Light Dreamer too woke me from my ignorance in Cuban history and also lit my eyes feeling identifiable connections and familiarity with traditional and historical world view in women and education in long ago Korea or remote rural area in Korea. In Lig
Stefanie Skrdla
Text to Text

Tula, the star of this fictional biography, reminded me of Felicity in "A Snicker of Magic." The books could not be more unrelated as far as content goes, but both have strong, young female characters who use their words to guide them away from negative influences. Tula sings, reads, and writes constantly, while undergoing extreme stress and pressure to conform to the societal norm of an arranged marriage. Very similarly, Felicity imagines and creates words that guide her to new frie
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I am usually head over heels in love with Engle's novels in verse for young readers. This is the first one that didn't positively thrill me. It is extremely well-written, but it didn't seem as passionate and inspired as her earlier books. Still, Tula's rejection of a forced marriage, and her assertion of the rights of women and abhorrence of slavery in Cuba circa 1827 is an important subject.
"I think of my feather pen
as something magical
that still belongs
to a wing.

All I need
is paper, ink,
and the courage
to let wild words soar."

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist, P. 94

"I feel certain that words
can be as human
as people,
with the breath
of compassion."

The Lightning Dreamer, P. 26

Margarita Engle's poetry is the great glasslike wave cresting high over the ocean from which it rises, dark green obsidian torn to foamy shreds as it breaks under its own l
Perpetual Writer's Block
This book tells the story of Tula, a young Cuban girl in the 1820s, whose eyes are being opened to the inequities and horrors around her -- slavery, arranged marriage, education being refused to girls.

It's told in beautiful, simplistic poems and, overall, is a very touching, sweet read that, to a young writer like me, is very meaningful. However, I found a lot of it lacking in real substance. Though it is based on the life of a real historical figure and poet, her actual accomplishments weren't
Spanish (sorry "cuban") girl 13 turning 14 and must marry. In the 1800s women and slaves have no power. Yet a simple love story hovers in the background. She struggles to accept this. Would open up nice discussion on vaule of freedoms people now have, along with voting. However all thru the book, I kept thinking WHYYYYYYYY wasn't this a novel??! (grrrr) Poetry form is very nicely and beautifully written. However it felt choppy; just as you would understand the point of words, it changes into a n ...more
Historical fiction about an early 19th century poet, abolitionist, and feminist, written in free-verse? Excellent! This book is a very fast read, being only 167 pages of free-verse poetry, but through it, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of a young woman who grew up to be rather influential. Engle's light, flowing poetry caught my interest and conveyed images of a young teenage girl whose ideas don't match those of the people who surround her.

As with much historical fiction, I judge it ba
Kasey Thurman
1. Name all of the characters in the book and what their relationships are to each other.
2. Explain why Tula is writing poems and what her beliefs are in Cuba in the 1800’s.
3. Apply your knowledge of Tula’s beliefs and write about why she could not express them as she wanted to.
4. Compare the beliefs of Tula to her Mother, her brother, Manuel, and her grandfather.
5. Write about a world in which Tula was able to get through to her family and to the public about her beliefs about slavery and w
Edward Sullivan
A beautifully written historical novel in verse about real-life Cuban abolitionist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. Wonderfully insightful about Tula's times and culture.
"I think of my feather pen as something magical that still belongs to a wing. All I need is paper, inck, and the courage to let wild words soar." The lightning Dreamer is the fictionalized account of Getrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. This lushly poetic book is delivered in verse and an enjoyable read. Getrudis or "Tula" is a young Cuban girl who is horrified by the institution of slavery in Cuba. Ironically she is trapped by the desires and wishes of her mother. Tula's mother wants her to marry well ...more
I can't recommend this book enough to readers of all ages. Lovely, Lovely.
I think I would have enjoyed it more had I been looking for a verse novel, but it wasn't what I was expecting. Also, verse novels in general are not really my favorite genre to begin with because poems to me aren't supposed to be as blunt as verse novels usually are. I'm not saying that no one should read this book because there were excellent arguments made for both sides, even if the antagonists' were more vague. It also tells the time period we know for the Civil War and the Gettysburg Addres ...more
This is a Young Adult Golden Sower Nominee for 2015-16.

In this sparse and delicate verse novel, Engle takes the reader on a journey of historical fiction about Cuba's abolitionist Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (Tula). The narrations switches effortlessly from Tula, to her mother, her brother, the suitors, the nuns, the help, and her companions. With all of these voices, the story is rich and complex, despite the brevity on the page.

There is an author's note at the end, along with a reference sh
This is the historical fiction story of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (Tula). Tula loves books and learning, but in her country it is extremely improper for a girl to 'like' to read and want an education. In Cuba, girls are not allowed an education. This book is written in verse. I wish the book would have taken it one step further in what happened later on in Tula's life. Did she accomplish even more? Overall, an alright book. If someone loves poetry, then they may have more appreciation for th ...more
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Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.
More about Margarita Engle...

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“I envy the trees that grow at crossroads. They are never forced to decide which way to go...” 3 likes
“Some people are born with words flowing in their veins.” 3 likes
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