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The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
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The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  1,779 Ratings  ·  332 Reviews
It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who ca
Hardcover, 169 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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Cuba's three wars for independence are conveyed in expressive free verse. A variety of voices, from an angel of mercy nurse and her husband to a merciless solider known at Lieutenant Death; slaves, resistance fighters and refugees--all tell of Cuba's tragic nineteenth century quest to be free of Spanish colonial rule.

The first concentration camps were created in Cuba during this time, a legacy of tyranny and slavery that carried from the Caribbean to South Africa to Central and Eastern Europe t
Feb 12, 2009 Betsy rated it really liked it
It's good to finally get a chance to read the most infamous of the 2009 Newbery Honor books, but I'm confused by at least one plot gap. Lieutenant Death just sort of fades away without much explanation. With his Javert like intent upon killing Rosa, why did that disappear? Shouldn't we have gotten some conclusion there? Still, a great little book. And admittedly I probably wouldn't have read it had it not been for the big shiny award it garnered.
Jul 14, 2008 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
WOW! What a powerful story for such a little book.

Using sparse, beautiful poems to chronicle a period in Cuba's struggle for independence, this story depicts the beauty of compassion and dignity as well as the ugliness of greed and hate. Margarita has created a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

"Can it be true that freedom only exsists
when it is a treasure,
shared by all?"
Aug 07, 2008 Jamie rated it liked it
I'm not the biggest fan of novels in blank verse, but I do find this book to be useful.

A three part history of 19th century Cuba, this book is told in brief poems, mainly through the voice of Rosa, a young natural healer, and Lt. Death, her nemesis, the slaveholder.

The poems are occasionally gory (the slaveholder collects ears to count how many slaves he catches) and occasionally magical. They are all spare, blank verse.

I'm not sure a teen would pick this up on their own, but it would make a go
Aly Gutierrez
Dec 05, 2016 Aly Gutierrez rated it it was amazing
• Book summary
-This is a book of poems that follow the struggles of Rosa, a young girl who heals people with natural remedies. She was often viewed as a witch in the society. It was set during the nineteenth century and is a recollection of both Cubans and Spanish fighting over control of the island. Rosa writes about the runaway slaves and the slave hunters that go after them. Suddenly, Cuba is considered free and the slaves are freed. Though, the new found freedom did not last long. The Spanis
Anna Reid
Nov 17, 2014 Anna Reid rated it it was amazing
Shelves: t-l-307, poetry
Rosa, a natural healer who doesn't charge for her services, helps victims of the war as Cuba fights for freedom in the 19th century. She is known as a natural healer by some and a "witch" by others. She marries Jose who joins her in natural healing as they both pass on knowledge to other free slaves like Silvia. Towards the end of the book, the fictional character, Silvia is introduced who has lost her whole family due to disease and the war. She learns from Rosa, and helps others in need. This ...more
Jun 10, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
Recommended to Becky by: Sylvia Vardell
Set in the last half of the nineteenth century (1850-1900), The Surrender Tree traces the struggle of Cuba's freedom and independence movements. Told through multiple narrators (Rosa, Silvia, Jose, etc.), the poems are strong, vivid, and powerful. They capture the gritty hardships of a life lived on the run, in hiding. These freedom fighters and these nurses have a price on their head. They were especially hunted down by slavehunters.

When the slavehunter brings back
runaways he captures,
he rec
Sep 23, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: latino
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle, tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence in the second half of the 19th century, through poems. Each page or poem tells a portion of the story, from the perspective of the different characters. Rosa and José are freed slaves trying to avoid the reconcentration camps, the military leaders, and the former slave catchers, while using Rosa’s skills as a natural healer to help those around them. As Cuba’s wars be ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: higher level eighth graders and up
This book was historically enlightening and captivating due to Engle's amazing use of language. The book is written in prose form and covers Cuba's struggle for freedom from 1850 to 1899. At first glance, I thought that the book might be difficult to understand since it was written in poem form; however, it was surprisingly fluid and so interesting that I could not put the book down. Each poem is told by a different character, hence a different perspective. Rosa is the main character and she is ...more
Jan 23, 2010 Heidi rated it really liked it
Historical Fiction; Novel in Verse
This portrayal of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain is told through alternating first-person poems. Characters both historical and composite include Rosa, a nurse who heals rebels and Spaniards alike using cures from nature; Jose, her husband and nurse; Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter; Captain-General Weyler of the Spanish military; and Silvia, a young girl who aspires to be a nurse. Engle weaves Spanish and English together to create terrible and bea
Beverly Kennett
I read along with this story while listening to the CD. The book tells a fictional dramatization of historical figures struggling during the years of three wars for Cuba's independence from Spain. The story tracks Rosa's life. The book begins by describing how she fled to the woods to hide from soldiers and was taught how to use plants and nursing techniques to heal the wounded and sick while hiding the ill from soldiers, too. Then the story jumps a few years when Rosa is grown, and she marries ...more
Angela Bailey
Title / Author / Publication Date: 
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom. / Margarita Engle. / 2008.

Genre: Young Adult Historical Nonfiction.

Format: Book (in verse) - print. 169 pages.

Plot summary:
"Poems that explore Cuba's fight for independence follow Rosa, a nurse who turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her, and who does her best to help everyone, with no regard to race or nationality" (NoveList).

Considerations or precautions for readers advisor
Jan 18, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it
Shelves: rll-538
This Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the Pura Belpre Medal by Margarita Engle is the account of Cuba's war for independence. The Surrender Tree takes you through the fight in verse stated by the characters living through it. Rosa, the healer who is hunted by Lieutenant Death, and her husband Jose along with their converted friend, secretly heal the slaves that flee and hide from the soldiers of Spain. The book dramatically takes you through the wars and perils of the refugees' struggle for ind ...more
May 09, 2011 529_Gary rated it it was amazing
This is an interesting historical fiction book about Cuba. The three main characters are: Rosa, Jose, and Lieutenant Death. Rosa and Jose help the wounded during several of the wars that Cubans had fought in. Rosa is a nurse who uses natural remedies to help cure the sick and injured. Rosa doesn't discriminated when it comes to helping people. She helps all people. Jose is her husband and they work together to help those in need. They both are constantly on the move and hiding. Lieutenant Death ...more
L- Lisa
Jan 23, 2010 L- Lisa rated it really liked it
This Newberry Honor Book is a must read for insight into the history of Cuba's tragic struggles for freedom. The books' use of prose invites the reader to feel the pain of Rosa, the nurse and natural healer of Cubans and all the others from the Spanish army injured and sick during this long war. Her healing efforts were not selective as she worked endlessly to help. Cuba's reconcentration camps were the first in history and where Cubans died in hideous conditions.

Engle organizes the book into ti
Newberry Honor 2009

Pura Belpre Award 2009

This story is the story of Cuba’s struggle for freedom during three wars in 1850-1900. It is told from the viewpoint of both the rebels and those hunting them down. Rosa learned healing methods young and together with her husband, Jose, heals the hurt and sick, even the enemy. Lieutenant Death tells of his hunt for Rosa and trying to kill her. He even gets injured to learn how she works, but it doesn’t help. The various points of view made the story inter
Miz Lizzie
Feb 13, 2009 Miz Lizzie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: 10 year olds and up
A fascinating poetic account of Cuban history that is not addressed much in children's literature. It is a difficult to fully comprehend the span of years involved, especially in between the various wars, given the narrative format of the poetic snapshots. The American complicity at the end is certainly an eye-opener. I would have found it easier to follow the actual history if there had been some explanatory prose as an introduction to each part. Certainly more historical and fictional narrativ ...more
528_Mary F.
Mar 16, 2011 528_Mary F. rated it liked it
Shelves: mc-literature, poetry
In this award winning book by Martha Engel, we hear stories of Cuba's troubled past presented in poetic form. It does seem a little repetitive at times. Perhaps that is symbolic the struggles in Cuba for freedom.

My criticism would be that I have very little background knowledge about Cuba. The chronology in the back of the book helps with that. If I had known it was there I would have read it first.

Winner Americas Award
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Bank Street College of Education Best Book
Abby Johnson
Jan 26, 2009 Abby Johnson rated it it was amazing
In beautiful, luscious verse Margarita Engle gives readers a look into the Cuban wars for independence through the eyes of a slave healer. Rosa, born a slave, learns the healing arts from her mother and uses plants in the jungle to heal rebel fighters while Cuba battles Spain for independence. I found it to be an accessible, interesting read well deserving of its Newbery honor. An author's note, historical note, chronology, and list of sources make me giddy with glee. Highly recommended for fans ...more
Feb 22, 2010 Luann rated it really liked it
Recommended to Luann by: JLG
You wouldn't think you would be able to learn so much from so few words! But not only are many details here, the emotion and depth of these characters shines through. This is a great way to learn some history and read some beautiful poetry at the same time. This made me want to learn more about Cuba's history. It definitely deserves the awards it has received.
Jan 25, 2010 Ch_amyM rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mc-literature
I read this book in one sitting and found it fascinating. The beautiful poetry was in contrast to the dark reality that it relayed. I felt like a I walked away with an understanding of a part of history that I had little knowledge of before without having to read a heavy textbook.
Rebecca McNutt
May 03, 2015 Rebecca McNutt rated it it was amazing
in-depth collection of poetry with powerful themes of hope, loss and finally freedom. Various characters and their situations are introduced and it quickly gets incredibly intriguing and gripping.
Venice Williams
This is one of the most inspiring and moving books I have ever read.
Karen Witzler
Interesting introduction to Cuba's complex history.
This book goes to the top of my list of Books Inspiring Peace. This is a book to think about and talk about. This is a book full of complexity - simply stated. Not a matter of "even a child could understand it" - rather a matter of any and all of us can read it. And any and all of us that read it can't help but contemplate it and be inspired.

The subject is war, slavery, independence, freedom. The message is peace, hope, compassion - essentially love.

It is a rare book deserving an unmitigated p
Jan 20, 2017 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because of my previous experience with the author (Drum Dream Girl and a couple others) and my intent to become more informed about this period in American history (the Spanish-American War) through the lens of the Cubans.
The book was beautifully written and the perspective it provides is unlike anything offered by our American history books.
I hope to be able to use the book in my teaching.
Mary Foxe
*closes book*

*returns book*

*checks out every other book by the author in the library*

I knew nothing about Cuban history besides Castro and vaguely remembering the Rough Riders. This book blew me away and made me realize how much this effected my world. I found the poetry to be good. I would recommend this to my students.
Feb 01, 2017 June rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book of verse, my first experience with this genre of writing. It is told in five parts with multi-POV which blend seamlessly together. It has all the pathos of war, desire for freedom and the beauty of Cuba in the mountains. Tells a period of history I'm not familiar with but want to learn more. Highly recommend this book. Definitely fits black History month reading.
Nov 02, 2016 Abby rated it liked it
I think I would have gotten much more out of this book if I knew more about Cuba's history. The free verse style did not give enough context for me to understand what was happening around the main characters.
Dec 31, 2016 Madeline rated it liked it
Shelves: childrens-poetry
A very wonderful collection! It read well, right up until the last two sections, where it suddenly became very black and white (morality wise). It took away a lot of the mystique and wonder of the poems and the characters for me.

Still, nicely done!
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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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“If we knew how to find
the lost, we would know
how to rediscover
the parts of our minds
left behind
in battle.”
“The old life is gone, my days are new,
but time is still a mystery
of wishes, and this sad, confusing fragrance. "
More quotes…