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Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  615 ratings  ·  146 reviews
One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions f ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2014)
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 ·  615 ratings  ·  146 reviews

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Christie Angleton
The language in this story is so beautiful I could cry.
Kelly (Diva Booknerd)
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uqp, bookgasm
Margarita Engle could only be considered a poet, her immaculate use the simplest of words have a incredible impact on the reader. Told from several points of view, the two main characters of Mateo and Henry represent how each class is treated differently, and more severe than the last, while local girl Anita watches her beloved forest being bulldozed and destroyed.

Silver People was incredible. A fictional story behind those who created the Panama Canal, i
Melissa Barbier
I loved this book. It is written in poetry the entire way through. There are different characters that tell their side of the story through their own poems. There are also sections that are told through the eyes of the animals in the jungle which are also done through poetry. The story itself is about the people who were recruited to help dig the Panama Canal. The darker the skin, the less they were paid. This is a heartbreaking story for many reasons, and I learned a lot about this specific poi ...more
Penny Ramirez
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was another free-verse book that I chose for the Reading Without Walls challenge at the library where I work. I find I'm enjoying the format!

This book was very moving on many levels. I've always been fascinated by the Panama Canal, and visiting it has been on my wish list for a long time. Previous works I've read have focused on the engineering feats (and disasters) that allowed the canal to be constructed. This book focused on the human tragedy of the Caribbean workers who were tricked int
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is another book that I picked up for my nephews as I thought it would be a good one that would help them get familiar with the Panama Canal.

I have never read any book by this author before, so I don't know if all of her books are written this way but I really had a pleasurable time reading this one. The book was not just spilt in long chapters but into sections. There were the voices of the people building the canal and then there were the voices from the forest. The animals who's home was
Sinead Anja (Huntress of Diverse Books)
Silver People is a verse novel about the building of the Panama Canal. I was intrigued in this book, as I thought it was an interesting writing style choice and I’m also up for verse novels.

This book is #ownvoices for Cuban representation.

Check out my book blog for more book reviews and other bookish posts!


I was very surprised and excited at the beginning, when I realised that the perspectives were not all human perspectives, but some of them were nature perspectives. For example, the howler m
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It’s a pleasure to read great verse novels, filled with strong voices and images. Sharing important stories in beautiful words of poetry grabs me every time. I sink into the story, admiring the ability of those who are able to tell stories that sing. And this book sings an important story beautifully.
I’ve looked forward to this book since I first heard about it. I read about the amazing feat of the building of the Panama Canal in a brief book by David McCullough a long time ago. Then last week
Amanda (abookishinvasion)
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Actual Rating: 4.5
At least none that will make any sort of sense.
Here are my feelings.

I've read very few books written in verse (WHY!?) and I've realized how much I love it. I love the way characters can be truly brought to life through poetry. The way it can be read with a flow that prose lacks. Being able to read this in verse brought a certain excitement and fun to this book. It took me to a place I've never been and shown me things I've never seen and did it with flawles
Kathy Whitmore
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-poetic
This is a book I'll want to read more than once. Halfway through I was not certain I liked it at all, even though I trust Engle to write beautiful and IMPORTANT poetic novels. By the end I was mesmerized, angry, more knowledgeable, full of questions, and astounded by Engle's talents. This is a book that could spark important inquiry into the Panama Canal, apartheid, injustice, and the rain forest. ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Devoured it and loved it. You can read my review and suggestions for using Silver People in the classroom here: http://criticalchildrenslit.blogspot.... ...more
Brenda Kahn
Spare poems convey stark and disturbing imagery as the story unfolds from the points of view of three teenagers and an adult, as well as the animals and trees. Important and powerful.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A verse novel chock full of exploitation, racism and more. Highly recommend.
Matthew Harris
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was very interesting and uses servers Literary techniques that really help tell the story of the “Silver People”. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am not a big fan of poems, but I really enjoyed this book. I especially liked the parts told in the pers0ective of the different animals in the rainforest.
This book is a must read! I had never given a single thought to the Panama Canal. Sure, it was mentioned in school, but nobody taught me about the injustice, the segregation, or chaos involved in making the canal.

Even when I look it up, the first thing that comes up is the splendid machines they used.

How important it is to learn about the injustice that non-white people (or even white but from the “wrong” country) have had to go through in the past and even today. This book calls you to learn, a
Joanna Marple
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing

SILVER PEOPLE looks at the creation of the Panama Canal, completed in 1914, and in particular at the fictitious lives of Mateo, a young Cuban laborer, and his friends. The setting is factual. The story is narrated in verse from multiple points of view, including historical figures such as George Goethals, Jackson Smith and Theodore Roosevelt. Engle states that ‘poems in the voices of historical figures are based on their own documented statements’. Mateo flees to Panama away from an abu
The Panama canal was a labor intensive and extremely racist undertaking. This book puts the story back into the hands of the poor people of color who did the actual work on creating such a fantastic architectural marvel. Mateo and Anita are great characters who really draw attention to the beauty of Panama. This was a pretty fun historical glimpse into an undervalued time period.
Amanda Herman
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I found many things about this novel interesting. First, I enjoyed the poetic verse that it was written in. It made the story more whimsical and easy to read. The use of similes, such as “life seems as changeable as a clearwing butterfuly that appears green when it rests on a leaf, brown on a twig, or blue in a cloudless sky” (130), provides a wealth of imagery to the reader. I also enjoyed how the story was told from so many different perspectives. Even though this was not a long novel, the rea ...more
Nov 30, 2013 added it
Engle, M. (2014). Silver people: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 260 pp. ISBN: 978-0-544-10941-4. (Hardcover); $17.99.

Poetry by itself is hard enough. Verse novels that explore history and remain poetry are few and far between. Don’t let the fact that these novels read quickly fool you into thinking that they are any less rigorous than a novel dealing with the same history.

In Silver People, we take a look at the creation of the Panama Canal. Silver people are the darker
Sharon Marchingo
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Silver People is a clever verse novel that reminds me why I love reading. This book transports the reader back 100 years to the building of the Panama Canal, a major engineering feat that connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The project was driven by American President, Theodore Roosevelt and vastly improved shipping between the continents, however, there was a darker side to this story and this is what beautifully written book reveals. The story is told principally through the voice of tw ...more
Ms. Yingling
Apr 01, 2014 rated it liked it
This novel in verse is in alternating viewpoints that include the howler monkeys and trees. The main narrators are Mateo, a Cuban boy who has pretended to be Spanish to get a job working on the Panama Canal so that he could escape his abusive father; Henry, a Jamaican who at first hates Mateo; Anita, a native girl who sells herbs; and Augusto, who has studied in New York and does drawings. We also hear from Theodore Roosevelt (the first US president to leave US soil while in office), and various ...more
Like many schoolchildren, my classmates and I briefly studied the building of the Panama Canal, but only from the perspective of the United States and as a great feat of engineering. Little did I realize the human or environmental cost of this canal. As she does so skillfully in all her books, Margarita Engle tells the canal's story through multiple voices, including those of the trees and howler monkeys who will suffer devastating losses to their species and to their habitat. Readers will also ...more
Marina Minina
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
The book Silver people is a novel in verse based on a real historical fact, the creation of Panama Canal, and set in factual situations as the author told at the end of the book. Besides, “poem in the voice of historical figures” such as John Stevens, Theodore Roosevelt, George Goethals, Jackson Smith, Gertrude Beeks, and Harry Frank. I would like to use historical fiction books in my classroom because they are very informative and believable as they are about a real life. Through this book chil ...more
Mark Taylor
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Panama Canal was one of the largest construction projects in the world. Originally begun by the French government, and then finished by the United States in 1914, the Canal cost some $375 million dollars, and many human lives. More than 5,000 workers died during the U.S. phase of construction, in addition to 22,000 workers who died during the French attempt. Margarita Engle’s 2014 novel Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, tells the story of the building of the Canal. Written in vers ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
An amazing piece of historical fiction in verse form, Silver People portrays the construction of the Panama Canal from the viewpoints of workers, geologists, project leaders, and residents of Panama (humans, animals, and even trees). The text is a heartbreaking tale of mistreatment, loss of habitat, and sickness - but also shows friendship, kindness, and first love. I'm amazed at the way each character's voice rings true, from the howler monkeys to the native girl who sells herbs, each is distin ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is a mix of poetic prose and historical fiction telling the account of what I consider the US' 20th century version of slavery. I especially enjoyed the narratives from the animals and trees of Panama's tropical rain forest. Great book to include in a MG History/ SS curriculum. ...more
Dawn Moews
Mar 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: n1
I had a vague notion of the difficulties encountered by those who actually dug and built the Panama Canal--I didn't understand who those people were or how they were treated. I never gave any thought to the natives who were displaced. And I certainly never thought about the extreme disturbance to the ecosystem. This book brought all that to my attention. I found the book to be both interesting and informative. It left me wanting to know more about this.

My problem with the book is the style in wh
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Silver People has won Jane Addams Children's Book Award Nominee for Older Children (2015), Américas Award (2015).

This book was a choice for class that I wanted to read on my own.

The entire novel is written in free verse and tells the story of how the Panama Canal came to be built. The narrative switches mostly between Mateo (a Cuban), Henry (a Jamaican) and Anita (an island girl) as well as other people and animals (the monkeys are used every time). As it turns out, they were called "Silver Peo
BAYA Librarian
In Silver People Margarita follows the stories of three workers and a young native herb girl named Anita, all of whom are witness to the harsh, dangerous, and discriminatory situation in Panama during the construction of the Panama canal. Those in the camp for white workers earn gold and comfortable lodgings; those in the camps for mixed and dark-skinned workers earn silver and varying levels of less luxurious lodgings. The four nonetheless come together to teach and help each other, and they fi ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
It's not fair for someone who doesn't like poetry (generally) to rate a poetry book, but I read it so I'm rating it. I was excited to see a children's book about the Panama Canal -- until I realized it was poetry. I tried to read it as if it were prose, which it pretty much is except for being broken up in self-important lines. (Prose should be poetic, not dismembered and dubbed poetry.) The story was fine, but I wanted it told as a story.

I thought it odd that the protagonist is Hispanic when t
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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.

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