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With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero

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A novel in verse about Rubén Darío, the Nicaraguan poet and folk hero who initiated the literary movement of Modernismo.

As a little boy, Rubén Darío loved to listen to his great uncle, a man who told tall tales in a booming, larger-than-life voice. Rubén quickly learned the magic of storytelling, and discovered the rapture and beauty of verse.

A restless and romantic soul, Rubén traveled across Central and South America seeking adventure and connection. As he discovered new places and new loves, he wrote poems to express his wild storm of feelings. But the traditional forms felt too restrictive. He began to improvise his own poetic forms so he could capture the entire world in his words. At the age of twenty-one, he published his first book Azul, which heralded a new literary movement called Modernismo that blended poetry and prose.

160 pages, Hardcover

First published February 18, 2020

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About the author

Margarita Engle

63 books344 followers
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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5 stars
73 (24%)
4 stars
111 (37%)
3 stars
87 (29%)
2 stars
22 (7%)
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5 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Mariella Taylor.
Author 5 books6 followers
March 28, 2023
A moving depiction of a boy growing up in a war-torn country, surrounded by mayhem and natural disaster, as he attempts to comes to terms with the inner dilemma of love and kinship and finding a voice through poetry and translation work after being abandoned by his parents.
Profile Image for The.
4 reviews
March 12, 2021
With a Star in My Hand is a poetic biography by Margarita Engle, a Cuban-American writer, on Rubén Darío, a famous Nicaraguan poet of Spanish-Indian descent. Set during his childhood and adolescence, the book focuses on the development of Darío’s poetry and how his work is intertwined with his life. However, writing poetry isn’t easy for him as he has to deal with being underestimated by the adults around him.

This is a good book because even though it isn’t an autobiography, and even though I haven’t read any of Darío’s works, he is speaking to me through Engle’s poems. As Engle herself says in her author’s note, this is because of Darío’s writings: he wrote with such detail that she could describe even his feelings with accuracy.

Engle started transporting us into Darío’s world not with any specific words, but simply through her medium. By deciding to write his biography in poetry instead of prose, Engle makes us feel that it is really him telling us his life through his pieces, especially since many of her poems about him are in his first-person perspective. First-person prose does bring you close to the narrator, but Engle’s choice of writing effectively hides her role in the book, allowing us to focus on Darío’s story and not on the storyteller.

Engle also managed to accurately describe Darío’s character. He is truthful, refusing to say what politicians want him to, even when there could be terrible consequences; and he is idealistic, falling in love multiple times and hoping that each crush will run away with him despite the age of him and the love in question. However, these traits make him rather rebellious and impulsive, attributes that leave him in trouble later in the book.

Engle also skillfully uses setting to contrast the poor, down-to-earth nature of rural Latin America with the advanced but repressive urban environment of the industrial parts of the continent. She does this by exploring the people and environment around Darío instead of simply around him: the religious villagers, the statues of those who have passed, corrupt government officials, and racist Chileans are some of the subjects she shows us.

The skill in Engle’s description of Darío’s two main environments is important because his journey between these two worlds is a crucial event in his story. As Darío’s life becomes urban, he faces major challenges. He discovers the corruption in the government, but when he challenges it, he is punished. When he gets money for his work, he squanders it and ends up in prison. However, despite these setbacks, Darío must learn to deal with city life as it is in this environment that his poetry will eventually grow.

This book gets four out of five stars. It describes Darío’s character very well, and its story is quite captivating. However, the book features quite a few terms that only poets would understand, which is why the book currently targets that demographic only. For example, the poems “Practicing Traditional Poetic Forms”, “Challenging Myself” and “Why I Begin to Crave Improvisation” are pretty much gibberish without a little poetic knowledge.

To fix this, the author shouldn’t use obscure poetic jargon (like hendecasyllabic, along with Spanish poetry words that don’t translate into English). Some poems would have to be removed from the book as a result (like the three I mentioned earlier), but they don’t contribute that much to the story anyway, since other more “accessible” pieces already tell the reader about Darío’s relationship with poetry (like “Lightness”, which describes how poetry heals him in times of pain).

These suggestions would help the book reach the demographic of academic readers who don’t care for popular narrative fiction: people who want a story with deep themes and artistic merit. There is much in With a Star in My Hand to analyze, and academic readers would enjoy interpreting Darío’s thoughts and actions.

In conclusion, With a Star in My Hand is a book on Rubén Darío that any academic reader should read, as it features strong characterization and an evolving setting that creates a captivating plot. Engle’s written a Spanish version of this very book, and I’m sure that just like the English title, it is a star of a novel.
Profile Image for Maggie.
517 reviews45 followers
January 16, 2021
I became interested in Ruben Dario when I was doing research on dyslexia and poetry, after being inspired by Margarita Engle's The Wild Book (in which the main character is a Ruben Dario fan.) I consider myself something of a poetry aficianado, but I'd never even heard of him. Fact is, nearly all of the poets I learned about, even in grad school, are English (although to be fair, reading poets in translation is not the ideal way to study them.) Even in English, though, Dario's poetry is breathtaking. Anyway, I was delighted when I learned Engle was giving Dario is own book. It's just lovely, and I highly recommend it! A fabulous addition to the biographies in verse Engle has become known for. Also--that cover! Gorgeous.
Profile Image for bjneary.
2,382 reviews80 followers
October 9, 2021
Wow I just continue to love all the novels in verse Margarita Engles writes and Ruben Dario's life was depicted authentically in this poetic rendering. I loved how Engle uses poetry to tell his story, also how he created the Modernismo literary movement blending poetry and prose. From his first beginnings as a cast away child, listening to the magical stories from his uncle and others and vowing to be like them wandering and speaking and writing like the storytellers who grew up listening to. With the passing of his uncle, life moves on and known as Felix Ruben Garcia Sarmiento as a lad, his adopted family decides to change his name to Ruben Dario and so begins his journey in nature, life and adventures in poetry. This is a must read!
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews108 followers
June 29, 2020
Engle explores the life of Rubén Darío. Born in Nicaragua, abandoned by his mother, Rubén began experimenting with different, more complex poetry forms at such a young age, he became known as el niño poeta. This is such a lovely book and led me to discover more about the poet and read his own poems.
Profile Image for Emily.
133 reviews2 followers
March 21, 2021
This would be a great teaching book, especially in a unit about poetry. Engle writes in the voice of Darío, giving the reader access to his poetic education and his experiences of politics in the Americas.
Profile Image for Ruth.
71 reviews
April 4, 2020
Margarita Engle crafts a beautiful novel-in-verse of the early life of Nicaraguan national poet Rubin Dario. The prose is alive with vivid words painting Dario’s world filled with emotion as he experiences abandonment, political unrest, loss, racism. This is definitely a finely crafted YA biography that will be savored by poetry lovers. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Claire Noland.
Author 3 books15 followers
November 11, 2019
With a Star in My Hand is a biography written in verse about Nicaragua's national poet. Abandoned by his mother as a child, Rubén Darío, was raised by his great uncle, El Bocon – Big Mouth and his wife, Bernarda. His childhood was filled with stories told by his uncle, the cook, and the priest yet he desperately wanted to know his own story. We learn of his beginnings as a child poet-

Math, geography, and grammar
Also have their orderly place in my school day,
But poetry arrives in its own way,
Wild like a hurricane,
A storm of turbulent wind
And ocean waves!

Margarita’s beautiful verses flow on the page bringing this poet to life who, as a twelve-year-old, sold his poetry for treats, tickets to the circus, and money. When he was published in a newspaper, he became known as el niño poeta, the boy poet. Margarita’s poems describe the abandonment, betrayal, revolution, illness, love, work, and travel that contributed to the making of Rubén Darío. His poems have touched people all over the world as he became a voice of truth and inspiration and changed literature written in Spanish.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
53 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2020
A poet writes poems about a poet.✨

But seriously, this is stunning. Engle expertly weaves together a novel in verse on the early life of Rubén Darío.
It’s packed with emotional poetry that exquisitely captures what it’s like to be young. What it’s like to be on the edge of political explosion. What it’s like to have so much to say, but doubts about who will listen. What it’s like to have one hand in reality, the other up among the stars.
It’s very much rooted in Darío’s time, but surprisingly timeless.
Bonus: an author’s note fills in Darío’s bio and leads readers to resources for learning more about his incredible life.
7,127 reviews26 followers
March 10, 2020
Engle captures Dario's life by telling his story through poetry. Readers see his world come to life as he grew up and matured in his gift.
Profile Image for heartmiso.
25 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2023
Poetry is sincerely "for the wounded heart & suffering mind." Margarita Engle's rhymes are verses of the heart. Because big picture-wise after all: "yes, broken hearts have a purpose, writing verses to comfort others" (50). To be honest, I was slightly worried that the man he lived in such close quarters with would attempt to harm him and the gazes were of malintent. And they weren't good in the end I guess because he was looking because he felt guilty and I think Dario knew that and who he was deep down. They both did. It was just a matter of time before who admitted it first. I did not know firsthand about the Nicaraguan poet, Rubèn Dario, but the trauma of abandonment and alcoholism that he carried as a child is a burden that no child should ever have to bear the burdens of. This book reminded me of Sharon Creech's "heartbeat" in how storytelling poetry is beautifully worded in verses that don't hold much in quantity but hold so much in quality. I've picked a bunch of short books from my library to get a jumpstart on my reading goals for this year and the books I chose were chaotic randomness of genres, but I was so pleasantly surprised with this one by author Margarita Engle. This book has sparked my interest in revisiting poetry and Dario's work, Azul. However, I worry the translated version may lose some magic. His writing made literary waves and influenced generations of writers and creatives. Dario's fellow poet, Pablo Neruda had once described Rubèn Dario as "a sonorous elephant who shattered all the crystals of an era to let in the fresh air." To me, that's so romantically said. Neruda, a poet-diplomat and politician who won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature only two years before his passing, described Dario's writing to be daring and refreshing in a climate that was "hush-hush" about status quo and speaking out against higher powers. Upon further research, I was disappointed to discover that he had met his fatal adversary and after fighting what seems like a lifelong battle with alcoholism and a brief redemption from the fight against the temptations of alcohol..it was what led to his death at 49. This was something that wasn't mentioned in Engle's work. I recommend this read to anyone who is looking for a uplifting read or is in search of holding a star.
Profile Image for Courtney.
47 reviews
May 4, 2020
Rubén Darío was a Nicaraguan poet who became famous for his poetry at a young age. In this biography-in-verse, Margarita Engle follows Darío from his early childhood to when he had his first book of poetry published at the age of 21. Darío was abandoned by his mother and taken in by family. From a young age, he was a dreamer who loved listening to and reading stories. As he got a little older, he started writing poetry, and discovered he could trade his poems for things he wanted, such as candy.

"With a Star in My Hand" is a lovely book, and Engle seems to enjoy poetry as much as Darío did, both the rules of it, and the enormous possibility for improvisation. The tight focus on his youth frames one of the main questions that seemed to trouble Darío - why should the passion and hope of a young person be stifled, rather than embraced? Why tell someone like this troubled teenage poet to wait for the wisdom and circumspection of adulthood, rather than allowing them to utilize their strengths?

I recommend this to poetry fans and anyone interested in learning a little bit of Nicaraguan history.
72 reviews
May 5, 2022
I really loved this book and the beautiful descriptions and scenes that the author painted in each poem. I think it's sad that some of the original meaning and prose changes after translation, which resulted in some poems being confusing to an audience that likely has never experienced the life that the poet is describing. Unfortunately, that's unavoidable with the only fix being the reader learn the original language the text was published in and be familiar with the way of life in their country to fully read the poems in the way they were intended.

Regardless, I loved the diversity in the poems, the change in length and the way that the structure is fluid between all the poems. I also love that the poems tell a story, not always directly and not always in the order expected. I appreciate stories that are creative in their story telling.

In the classroom, I would recommend this book to students who are from south/central America, maybe in it's original text. I would wait to offer it to an older audience, maybe 14 and older.
Profile Image for Pam Withers.
Author 29 books48 followers
June 17, 2021
Rubén Darío was haunted his entire life by being abandoned by his mother at a young and tender age. And yet, adopted by a great uncle who was a storyteller, he learned to cope with his pain by telling stories – through the medium of poetry. Soon he became known as “the child poet,” and eventually became a world-famous, globetrotting poet who spawned generations of poets influenced by his untraditional, refreshing style. His first book of poems was published at the age of twenty-one.
This biography, told entirely in poetry by a master poet herself, concentrates on Dario’s youth and adolescence, when poetry saved him from hopelessness and abject poverty, and allowed him to see the world from a new perspective.
It’s a message of hope for any teen needing to escape everyday reality. It dares young people to dream, to be honest, to harbor ambitions, to collect stories like stars in their hands.
(This review is also at www.YAdudebooks.ca)
Profile Image for Anne.
4,418 reviews41 followers
May 7, 2020
Ruben Dario was abandoned by his mom in a field of cows when he was very young. He was taken in and adopted by older family members. He was always fascinated by words and poetry and began writing poems to express his thoughts and feelings. He became known as the Boy Poet and used his poems as currency - to buy candy or to get into the circus. Although he became famous at an early age, his life was not an easy one.
This is a novel in verse biography about a Nicaraguan poet. Engle's writing is lyrical and evocative. It begs one to savor it as one reads. It highlights a poet from a culture that certainly does not get enough attention and therefore is an important addition to the collective.
Profile Image for Rachel.
868 reviews11 followers
January 3, 2021
Margarita Engle is a gifted poet and sharing this account of Rubén Darío’s early life and growth into a young man and poet is emotionally stirring and empowering. So much of what Darío accomplished defied the circumstances he faced as a child - circumstances many children still face today. Denied and abandoned by his parents, exposed to violence and injustice, Darío found expression through the words of others and his own writing. There is a depth of power in the idea that poetry is storytelling, and words the vehicle to express emotions and challenge injustice as a way to effect change. A story of heart, feeling, and power, this is Margarita at her best. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Anita McDivitt Barrios.
947 reviews11 followers
May 4, 2021
This is an interesting portrait of child-poet turned international poetry star, but chronic alcoholic, Rubén Darío, a Nicaraguan poet during the turn of the century.

His first published poem comes at age 13, in a local newspaper, but he quickly rises to international acclaim. He flees Nicaragua for El Salvador, where the president takes him under his wing, and where his drinking issues begin to surface.

He's best known for initiating the Spanish-American literary movement known as modernismo (modernism) that flourished at the end of the 19th century.

This is a young adult book, but would be excellent to teach in an 11th or senior year high school course comparing Engle's poetry about Darío to Darío's own poetry.

The Gutenberg Project has several of his books available, such as Azul. And I found this excellent website showing a timeline of his poetry and world events to help put his literary impact into context.

Looking for more book suggestions for your 7th/8th grade classroom and students?

Visit my blog for more great middle grade book recommendations, free teaching materials and fiction writing tips: https://amb.mystrikingly.com/
Profile Image for Kelsey Bielec.
81 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2022
The book is an emotional and unique account full of the passion for writing and coming of age. This book challenges authority and the narrator falls upon many misfortunes. Darío is an incredibly human figure who makes mistakes and has intense emotions that are very singular in the world of literature. Usually, if a story has a main character who makes a mistake the story will take their side. This book, however, remains nearly neutral on his actions. It is an important and special account of Darío’s life that should be consumed and learned. What my expectations coming in have nothing to do with that or the acclaim of the book.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,447 reviews66 followers
July 8, 2020
A decent biography of the famous Nicaraguan poet set to poems written by Engle. Engle does a good job of creating a readable narrative while focusing on highlights of Darío’s life and mostly avoiding preachy lessons.

My one complaint would be that the subject matter feels YA while the poem structure reads as middle grade. I enjoyed With a Star in My Hand, but I have no idea what age group would enjoy the book. I can’t see teenagers who would be inspired by Darío’s story wanting to read something they might consider poems for kids. Quasi-recommended. Quasi-recommended.
335 reviews2 followers
December 8, 2021
This novel-in-verse tells the life story of Ruben Dario, who began writing poetry as a child and was credited for his modernismo style later in life. Despite being abandoned as a child, Ruben was taken in by an uncle and grew up to lead the life he wanted as a poet. He traveled throughout Central and South America seeking new opportunities and wrote with many talented poets. He is most widely known for his modernismo style that blended poetry and prose, complex rhymes, vowel rhymes and free verse.
4 reviews
January 3, 2022
I'm not typically a fan of books in verse. This book is an exception. Engle creatively tells Ruben Dario's life story in an accessible way. I taught this book with 7th graders, many of whom started the unit with indifference derision toward poetry. Many of them went on to say this is their favorite book we've studied so far this year. Engle uses creative structure and word placement that is wonderful fodder for discussion among students (or others in a book-club setting). I look forward to teaching this unit again next year.
Profile Image for Gina Malanga.
506 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2022
I did not know who Rubén Darío was until I read this book but I have since read several of his poems and hope to integrate them into my poetry unit this year because of his unique voice and style of writing. I have read several of Margarita Engle’s books and I love the way she uses poetry to tell another poets story. In this case it is the story of Runén Darío and how he became the father of Modernismo and how his poetry changed the world. I loved this book and the unique way of telling a poets story.
204 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2022
This was my first novel in verse book and I liked the movement of each poem. This was also the first book I read with a Nicaraguan main character. It took a few pages to get used to, but I ended up appreciating how each short poem built a foundation for the next one, just like a story would function. This certainly encouraged me to read more by this author and in novels in verse style!

I liked that there was expression of big emotions in this book and representation I haven't read about before. I'm sure older children and young adults will also enjoy this book as well.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,715 reviews45 followers
March 24, 2022
What an intriguing life and story of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Spouting poetry from a young age, he grew to know and work for many presidents in different countries, he wrote critical poems of all kinds, and loved the world around him wholeheartedly.

The References and Author's Note were a pleasant surprise, especially since Engle's family had such a personal connection with the poetry of Darío.

Profile Image for Nadia.
360 reviews25 followers
April 22, 2023
A collection of poems based on the life of Rubén Darío, this book weaves a story of adventure, wanderlust, melancholy, peace, love, and rebellion. The story of a young poet trying to find his place and be accepted in his world.

My favorite line from the book:

is a powerful force
that leaves the eager traveler
longing to live
two lives
at the same time,
one of adventure,
the other
16 reviews
November 5, 2020
Beautifully executed storytelling through verse. Margarita Engle introduces us to the famous Ruebn Dario, a poetry hero. She magically translates his story into the pages of this book. I'm amazed by how she captures Rubens, emotions, dreams, and struggles while walking us through his timeline. I am in Awe of both Engle and Dario.
Profile Image for Hannah.
Author 5 books206 followers
January 11, 2021
This starts a bit slow, but once it gets going it's quite compelling, and I think it's one of Margarita's strongest verse novels. I think it works better than some of her other subjects because his career both started young and was shaped so much by his young life, so it makes for a more immediately appealing person to follow.
Profile Image for Lauren B.
70 reviews1 follower
February 28, 2022
This book had amazing poetry and was a collection of poems that read like a novel. One poem is connected to another as it tells the story of Ruben Dario and his adventures as he moved through new places and spaces. It would be great to use in the classroom in a lesson plan as an example of fantastic poetry and how it can flow and turn into an amazing cohesive story.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews

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