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Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  263 ratings  ·  60 reviews
In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but b
Hardcover, 163 pages
Published August 30th 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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I have fallen in love with Engle's works this year. They cover aspects of Cuban culture and history that are often dismissed and overlooked. As a woman married to a man of Cuban descent, raiding two little boys who are of Cuban descent, I find Engle's works to be relevant in my household.

This particular book covers the journey of Chinese Cubans, a group of Cubans who are often ignored in larger history. Engle's blends historical fact with beautiful free verse poetry and a mix of fictional and r
Scott Fillner
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wonderful historical fiction novel in verse! This novel has powerful pages that will stay with me. I found myself stopping to look up more about the history behind this novel, like the sad events of the 1871 LA riot.
Gabriel D
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this book was really short I think that the author put in a lot of detail into it. I thought this book wasn't going to be good but I ended up liking it. I recommend this book to anyone who likes books with a different type of setting ...more
Linda Pérez
For some reason, I got tear-eyed while reading this. I really liked Engle’s writing style and the story turns so beautiful in her words. I’m super excited about having her memoir and jumping into another of her works soon.
This book takes place in Cuba, but refers to race riots in L.A. in the late 1800s. As a northern Californian i'd never known of them. The book shows the power of words and the pen, terrific inspiration for kids. The afterword answers a lot of questions and raises a few.

(She thanks a bookstore and booksellers!)

Engle has become one of my favorite writers.
I actually read some additional background while I was reading this story of Cuba’s past when that country fought for freedom from Spain. I wanted more information to help me understand the story. Margarita Engle allows three young people to tell the story through her poems. A girl Fan and a boy Wing are twins who escaped anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco, escaping with only their father when the mother and brother died during the escape. They meet a boy Antonio who is mixed blood from Asia, ...more
I learned a lot about Chinese indentured workers in Cuba from this book.
Continuing to mine Cuba's rich history for stories of civil rights and resiliency, Margarita Engle introduces readers to Antonio Chuffat, a Chinese-African-Cuban messenger--12 when the book begins--and Wing, a Chinese fruit seller who had to flee San Francisco with his family, including his sister Fan who loves to sing. Antonio is convinced that words have power, a postulate that becomes increasingly clear to him over the course of the book as the three friends find different ways to push agains ...more
Cat Evans
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lion Island is a brilliant blend of cultures set in Cuba during the late 1800’s. This novel takes the format of narrative poetic prose by telling the tale of the hopes and losses of the three main characters who struggle to choose peace and diplomacy over violence: Antonio Chuffat, a young Cuban messenger boy with a multicultural heritage, Wing, a young Chinese refugee who sells fruit from his father’s orchard, and Fan, Wing’s young sister with a gift for poetry and a natural talent for singing ...more
Lollie George
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wow, what a history I knew nothing about. I also didn't know that this title is part of a series of books on the history of Cuba that Engle has written. Man's injustice towards other men is timeless and is always awful to learn about. I hope our civilization is learning something from those who have chosen to write about the ways of the world and the ways of survival.
This title was confusing with the different voices in the alternating chapters. I wish there had been more explanation in a prolo
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Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was absolute intrigued right from the start of this book, in particular because I had not known that in mid to late 19th century many Chinese Americans had fled California's anti-Asian riots to Cuba, an island at the time experiencing war as well, brought about by struggles for independence from the Spanish. In this struggle African slaves fought alongside American Chinese immigrants and indentured servants and the native population. (The Chinese emperor at the time had signed a treaty with Sp ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lion Island is a historical fiction novel written in verse. I personally loved this book. I love that it has an interesting story and yet contains so much factual information. I learned so much about the history of Cuba. I also really enjoyed the fact that this book was written in verse. I had a teacher tell me that poetry is the most powerful form of writing. If you want to make an impact or leave an impression, put your thoughts into verse. The format of this novel made it an absolutely amazin ...more
Shannon (That's So Poe)
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-books
This is a stunning middle-grade historical fiction told in verse about Antonio Chuffat, a boy who worked for the emancipation of Cantonese indentured servants in Cuba in the 1870s through recording their stories and writing about their plight. Chuffat was a real person, although this is a fictionalized account which imagines his young teenage years when he was getting involved in this effort. It also adds two fictional characters, a pair of Chinese-American siblings (a boy and a girl) who fled C ...more
Reviewing for CLAU's poetry long list. I was interested in this book because it told of a part of history that I had absolutely no knowledge of before. It was intriguing to have the different voices and roles in what was occurring. To see glimpse by glimpse through poetic words a part of history, including some true historical figures--that was very well done. Has me interested in learning more. My favorite part was the poems by different people that Antonio helped to collect--not actual words f ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classroom-ms-hs
Incredible historical fiction in verse with immense research behind it. Of an era I knew nothing about until this novel -- the landscape of Cuba in the 1870s. Forced to work in the fields were enslaved Africans and Chinese indentured servants (who often were often kidnapped and forced into signing 8-year indenture contracts over and over again). Additionally, Chinese families were fleeing from anti-Asian riots in California and settling in as well on the island.

Lion Island tells the story of An
Nicolina Circella
This novel is a wonderful representation of a historical lesson regarding different ethnicities. When reading this book, we are taken back to the late 1800s where we meet Antonio. We learn that Antonio was lucky and is gifted a job as a messenger, through this experience, he is informed of the many injustices the rest of his people of Cuba are faced with. Antonio meets two others who ban together to achieve justice for the people of Cuba. This story not only highlights historical aspects, but ma ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 stars. I'm very torn about how I feel about this novel in verse. It is gorgeously written and I learned a lot about late 1800's Cuba. I loved the setting, the history, and the stories of freedom, family, power, and words. Ultimately I didn't love the format. For a story with such a rich setting, interesting characters and cultures, a large scope in both time and history, I wanted there to be more. More descriptions, more depth. I didn't feel as connected to the characters as I wanted to be. ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Until I read this book, I was unaware that there was a large migration of Chinese workers to Cuba in the 1800's. The story centers on a boy who has an African mother and a Chinese father. His life is centered on helping Chinese diplomats and businessmen in conducting correspondence. He meets a boy whose family has escaped from California where anti-Chinese riots killed his brother. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and gives a lot of history of the rebellion against Spanish rule in Cuba ...more
Sep 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I'm thankful for this book because I wouldn't have known of the Chinese population of Cuba and their indentured servitude without it. I read a ton of novels in verse and I usually wish for a prose version as well so that I can get even more information about the situation at hand. But, regardless of my preferences Margarita Engle does a fantastic job of bringing the culture and history of places like Cuba to light. Americans tend to know "Castro, communism, cold war, blah blah" as if there's not ...more
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A piece of history that I did not know. I have read other things by this author but found out about this particular title through an interview with her on the children's literature podcast The Yarn. As with other books by her, she brings a voice from history to life with her free verse, in this case a Cuban (of Cuban, African, and Chinese heritage) by the name of Antonio Chuffat. Good for reluctant readers. ...more
Amazing how much unfamiliar historical detail can be conveyed through the spare medium of a novel in verse.

Two quotes that resounded for me:

"Imagine having choices
instead of

And (in relation to the lynchings of Chinese Californians during the Los Angeles Riots of 1871):

"No one in that nation ever pays for any crime
against people
who look different."
Judith Taveras
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So sad, and yet so beautiful. A short reading on the sad history on America and Cuba's exploitation of immigrants to build their economy and supposed country's greatness. The story is told through the viewpoints of teens who are trying to determine their own ways of fighting their oppressive circumstances. ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Of all the Margarita Engle books I've read, this one is my favorite. Loved the characters. The free verse format allows for an exploration into not only the history but the emotion. This allows the reader to explore more and research the history. ...more
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One thing that amazes me about verse novels is that you don’t need a lot of words to pack a lot of meaning. I enjoy historical fiction in general, but all the more so when it deals with history that is not well-known (at least to me).
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another good novel in verse by Margarita Engle. I learned about Chinese people who went to Cuba to escape racism in the US.
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-verse, read2017
I learned a lot, but I really didn't like the constantly switching narrators! It was confusing and made it too hard to connect with any of the characters. ...more
Mona Gonzalez-Tricker
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, beautiful book! I love the cover. I love her writing. I love its prose. It's hard to believe this is a juvenile book. I cannot wait to read her other books. ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm not a huge fan of books written in verse, but this is a fast read. It is also informative about a piece of history that I was previously unaware of. Great choice for children who enjoy history. ...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.

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