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The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  380 ratings  ·  94 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 (first published January 1st 2013)
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*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
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
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
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
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
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
Powerful free verse poetry paints the picture of a revolutionary young girl living in Cuba in the early 1800s. Tula values books and writing and freedom of choice and thought. Her views are seen as radical and she is saddled with many undesirable labels, but Tula continues to stick to her beliefs.

After refusing to participate in an arranged marriage she is sent away. Tula experiences love and loss and describes the events in powerful language that cuts to the heart of the jumbled emotions that
Alma  Ramos-McDermott
Gertrudis, known as Tula, lived during a time in Cuba’s history when it was ruled by Spain, slaves abounded, women didn’t have any rights and those having thoughts of independence were severely punished. From an early age, Tula believed in emancipation for slaves and women, feeling the magic of books and words flowing from within while being denied their solace because she was a woman. Read the rest of the review on my blog: http://shouldireaditornot.wordpress.c...
La Coccinelle
Verse novels are one of my favourite discoveries of the past few years. Historical fiction seems to lend itself well to this style of writing, which is probably why so many of the verse novels I've read have been set in the past. This book is no exception. It's about a real girl, an early feminist and abolitionist, who lived in Cuba and helped change attitudes about slavery and marriage.

This book was beautifully written. I kept highlighting passages as I read, ones that struck me as particularly
Tula is a storyteller and a dreamer. She is supposed to marry for money and family connections, not for love like her mother did (twice). She is supposed to heal the gap between her mother and her grandfather, but that is not who Tula wants to be. She wants to make up stories and to be heard. She wants equality for women! But women in Cuba are supposed to be seen and not heard! The only women who are supposed to read are the nuns in the convent. Told entirely in verse this story is a powerful st ...more
In early 19th century Cuba, slavery was rampant and few people had any voice in what happened to them. Tula knew early on that even though she was not a slave—her mother came from wealth—she would be sold into marriage against her will. All she wanted was to read and tell stories, and to write all the words and passions that filled her soul. Her mother forbid her, because it would ruin her marriageability, but Tula found ways to let her words fly free. The pain of slavery, though, pulled at her ...more
THE LIGHTNING DREAMER: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist is the story of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, called Tula. She grows up to be a poet, novelist, and playwright who combined abolitionist and feminist views in her writing. As Margarita Engle wrote in her historical note, Tula "helped readers question the way they viewed slavery, interracial marriage, and the broader issue of voluntary marriage" (171, ARC). Engle's novel in verse goes back to when Tula was a child to explore how she became inte ...more
Margarita Engle, award-winning author of verse novels, continues her stories of Cuba. In this book, she explores the life of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, also known as Tula, who becomes a revolutionary Cuban poet. Raised to be married off to save the family financially, Tula even as a young girl relates more closely with slaves and the books she is reading than with girls of her own age and her own social standing. As she reads more and more, sheltered by both her younger brother and the nuns ...more
I admire those writers who can write a wonderful story in verse, and Margarita Engle can do that very well. I added so many bookmarks to the beautiful language in this story, an inspiring fictional creation based on the life of real-life abolitionist and poet, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellandea, originally from Cuba, who ended up living (and writing) in both France and Spain. She left Cuba knowing that she needed to leave in order to be free, free to write, free from the oppression of women. Her chi ...more
Although she longs for words and considers that "Books are door-shaped / portals / carrying me / across oceans / and centuries, / helping me feel / less alone" (p. 3), Tula's mother has other plans for her. She is to marry well and help the family regain its privileged place in society. Tula resists and quietly revolts, reading in secret and weaving her own stories for her brother Manuel. When she discovers the writings of Jose Maria Heredia, Tula (her formal name was Gertrudis Gomez de Avellane ...more
Engle’s historical fiction novel in free verse introduces readers to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, a Cuban author, feminist, and antislavery activist in the 1800s who rebelled against her mother’s resistance to girls’ reading and writing as well as her insistence on a forced marriage to increase the family’s wealth. Tula (Avellaneda’s nickname), a gifted storyteller, is thirteen when the story begins. She is allowed to visit the nearby convent for lessons in embroidery and the saints; while the ...more
Written in free verse, The Lightning Dreamer is the story of Tula, a young girl growing up in Cuba in the mid-1800's. Her full name was Gertrude Gomez de Avellaneda and we meet her in 1827 at age 13. Margarita Engle writes from Tula's perspective, revealing her love of books and words. Tula's father encouraged her love of stories; her mother and her mother's new husband do not. Tula must hide what books she is able to get her hands on. She uses her younger brother Manuel to help disguise her boo ...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...
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano The Wild Book Mountain Dog

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“Some people are born with words flowing in their veins.” 3 likes
“Marriage without love is just one more twisted form of slavery.” 2 likes
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