Q_joanneknowles's Reviews > The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle
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's review
May 04, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

I really enjoyed reading The Poet Slave of Cuba. It is an excellent multicultural young adult biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Margarita Engle writes beautiful poetry through the eyes of Juan Francisco Manzano, and the story left me extremely intrigued about Manzano's life after his escape. I found this book culturally relative because it incorporated Latino/a culture and language without overtly Americanizing it or re-writing Spanish phrases in English. I do not know much about the history of slavery in Cuba, but the poetry seemed culturally accurate. It portrayed a variety of Latino/a characters. I think the story would be wonderful for classroom use. The text is written in short poems, so it would not be overwhelming to students. The tragic story could be used when discussing slavery, discrimination, Latino/a history, and even cencorship (See the Biographical Note at the end of the text.) One of the things I loved about this book was the way Engle distinguishes between darker and lighter skin tones. The slaveholders lighten their skin with an eggshell and rice mixture, but can not do so on Holy Week when they have to be "humble." Overall, I would definitely recommend this book and will add it to my classroom library.

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I originally read this book for another class and did not enjoy it. I found it to be bland and unexciting. This is partly due to the fact that I do not, or did not, enjoy poetry at all. My negative feelings going into the novel reflected back at me as I read it. In fact, this was the first book I had ever read for one of the children’s literature classes at NLU as part of the genre of poetry. After putting it aside for the rest of the course, I went back and read it once I had a multicultural literature course. I loved it the second time I read it! This time I was able to examine it for its multicultural factor and not for simply being poetry. As I reread it I noticed Latino/a aspects such as the darker and lighter skin tone descriptions you mention above or whitening of the skin with the eggshells. I totally missed this the first time or skimmed over it because I was so caught up in disliking the format the novel was written in. Since then, I have incorporated this book into my 8th grade classroom library as an independent read for my students. I could also definitely see using it as part of a unit on slavery or poetry.

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