Welcome to my Blog!

16 Jun

My name is Jenny Boyd, I am a student in Dr. Vardell’s Literature for Children and Young Adults course for the Summer of 2011.  Here I will be posting book reviews and other assignments for the course.  Please feel free to look around and make any comments that you see fit!


Fantasy: The Graveyard Book (Audio Book)

8 Aug

Gaiman, Neil, and Dave McKean. The graveyard book . New York: HarperCollins Pub., 2008.


“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

Nobody Owens has no memory of life outside the graveyard.  He crawled into it when he was only a toddler.  His mother, father and sister had just been murdered.

The ghosts of the graveyard decide to adopt the orphaned child on that very night and give him the name Nobody “Bod” Owens.  For the next fifteen years Bod lives in the graveyard learning from the souls of the people buried there.  Silas, his guardian and mentor is not quite dead, but not quite alive.  He is adopted by Mr. And Mrs. Owens one of the more respected couples of the graveyard.  Bod learns from the dead, how to make himself disappear, how to create fear amongst the living.  He learns of ghouls, witches, and the generations of souls buried since before the arrival of the Romans.

Bod is often reminded that he is not safe amongst the living.  The man Jack, the murderer that killed his family is still looking for him, looking to finish the job.

Neil Gaiman’s epic fantasy The Graveyard Book follows the life and adventures of Nobody Owens, the living child of the graveyard.  From mishaps to mystery this book is full of life that is sure to capture the imagination of young readers.


I chose to review the audio version of this book.  The narrator is captivating and does an excellent job of creating the mood of the story.  The story is complimented with ghoulish music between chapters, creating a sense of adventure throughout the book.  Neil Gaiman does an incredible job developing the characters of the book- the wise Silas, calm and thoughtful, Mr. and Mrs. Owens lighthearted and loving, Scarlett the young girl that is Bod’s only connection to the real world.  Gaiman creates a world where the graveyard becomes a safe and comforting place, a place of adventure but also loneliness.  The reader is transformed into the realm of the supernatural, where the dead pass on the lessons of how to haunt the living.  Even in the fictional world of witches and ghouls Gaiman does not fool the reader, Bod still has to find ways to get real food and learn to read.  While filled with fantasy and action, the book still illustrates universal themes of friendship, loneliness and longing.  Imaginative young minds are sure to love the uniqueness of the story. The Graveyard Book is perfect for stimulating creativity and imagination amongst young readers.


“Wistful, witty, wise-and creepy. This needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming..this is a rich story with broad appeal. ” (Booklist (starred review) )

“Lucid, evocative prose and dark fairy-tale motifs imbue the story with a dreamlike quality. .this ghost-story-cum-coming-of-age-novel as readable as it is accomplished.” (Horn Book (starred review) )

“THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, by turns exciting and witty, sinister and tender, shows Gaiman at the top of his form. In this novel of wonder, Neil Gaiman follows in the footsteps of long-ago storytellers, weaving a tale of unforgettable enchantment.” (New York Times Book Review )


*Neil Gaiman’s website for young readers:  http://www.mousecircus.com/ including book trailers

*Teacher’s Guide:  http://files.harpercollins.com/PDF/TeachingGuides/0060530928.pdf

Graphic Novels: American Born Chinese

8 Aug





Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Speak

8 Aug




Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.


“We fall into clans:  Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Goths and Shredders.  I am clanless.”

As Melinda Sordino beigns her freshman year of high school there is one thing she is sure of- she is unwelcome.  She has put on weight, she doesn’t fit in any of her clothes, she has stopped brushing her hair and she has done the unthinkable… she called the cops on one of the biggest parties of the summer.

Melinda is nobody.  She doesn’t speak.  She hides in bathrooms and janitors closets just to get away, to be alone.  It isn’t just school.  She has stopped talking to her parents and has lost all of her friends.  The only thing that she’s finds solace in is her art class, a place where students can do their own thing and listen to the radio in silence.  Maybe she should tell someone what happened.  Why?  No one would listen.  No one would care.

Laurie Anderson masterfully develops the story of Melinda Sordino, a teenage girl navigating high school just like any other girl but this girl has a secret, a dark secret that leaves her silent and distant from the world around her.  Will she ever tell?  Will she ever get the strength to speak?  What unfolds is a journey of trauma and healing, of comedy and sadness and a story that is an inspiration to any young teenager with secrets to be told.



Laurie Anderson creates an absolutely compelling, fabulously written tale of teenage life and trauma of a young girl in this contemporary realistic fiction.  Melinda is funny and relatable, detailing language and thoughts that are common of anyone that has ever attended high school.


“The room does not smell like apple.  It smells like frog juice, a cross between a nursing home and potato salad.  The Back Row pays attention.  Cutting dead frogs is cool.”

“It is easier to floss with barbed wire than admit you like someone in middle school.”


However, woven into the humor and realism is a very real story of teenage rape, peer pressure and depression.  Melinda lives through the torment of her peers who only know half of the story, and she watches as her attacker is doted upon by her former best friend.

“Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings.  How can I not find them?  They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes.  I squeeze my eyes shut.  Jeans that fit, that’s a good start… I will make myself normal.”


This is an absolutely incredible story of honesty and strength in the face of a terrible act of violence.

*Note this book has been banned due to content in several districts.


An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last. — The Horn Book, starred review

Melinda’s sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers. —Booklist, starred review

The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn…its raw and unvarnished look…will be hard for readers to forget. — Kirkus Reviews, pointer review

Awards for Speak:
A 2000 Printz Honor Book
A 1999 National Book Award Finalist
An Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
A 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite Award
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Top Ten First Novel of 1999
A BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare Title



*lesson plans for high school:  http://www.lsu.edu/faculty/jpullia/3223speakllesson.htm; http://hypermedia.educ.psu.edu/k-12/units/findyourvoice/unitplan.html


*interview with Laurie Anderson on the banning of Speak: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/886910-312/andersons_speak_under_attack_again.html.csp



Historical Fiction: One Crazy Summer

1 Aug




Garcia, Rita. One crazy summer .New York: Amistad, 2010.


Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent on a plane from their home inBrooklynto visitOakland,Californiaand the mother that abandoned them with their father when Fern was only an infant.  This story is the journey of three girls, desperately wanting to make a connection with a mother that disowns them.  The girls are mostly left to fend for themselves, picking up Chinese take out and going to the Black Panther Community Center for food and companionship.  For the next twenty eight days the girls try to connect with Cecile (their mother) with very little progress.  They find food, companionship and lessons with the Black Panthers and learn more about their mother through her involvement with them.  By the end of their stay, the girls do get some recognition from their mother and “one crazy summer,” with the Black Panthers that they will remember forever.


One Crazy Summer has received numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Award, recognition as a Newbery Honor Book and the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction.  A quick Google search reveals rave reviews amongst numerous notable publications.


While the themes of family sticking together (the three children) and innocence of children in comparison to highly political Black Panthers are good themes and educational, I had an extremely difficult time getting through this book.  I began with the audio version and then switched to reading the text myself to see if the audio was distracting from the writing.  The first half of the book is mostly anti-climactic with the children co-existing with a mother that disowns them.  The story becomes a little more interesting towards the middle as the children become more involved with the Black Panthers but even still it is not enough to make up for the extremely slow start.  I found the ending to be extremely disappointing as there is no real resolution with their mother other than a brief conversation and finally calling the children by their names.


Nonetheless the book has received numerous positive reviews. I can only speculate that my disappointment resides with my lack of knowledge about the Black Panther movement or sensitivity towards mothers that abandoned their children.  This was also the last in my collection of historical readings for this genre and I may have been spoiled by the previous reads that I found much more captivating.


“Delphine is the pitch-perfect older sister, wise beyond her years, an expert at handling her siblings…while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The setting and time period are as vividly realized as the characters, and readers will want to know more about Delphine and her sisters after they return to Brooklyn…” —Horn Book, starred review

“Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion.” –Booklist, starred review

“Delphine’s growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers.” —Publishers Weekly

“Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.” —School Library Journal, starred review



Historical Fiction: The Midwife’s Apprentice

1 Aug



Cushman, Karen. The midwife’s apprentice . New York: Clarion Books, 1995.

The story begins in medievalEnglandwhere a young abandoned homeless girl goes looking for warmth in the night.  Under a compost heap of trash and rotted hay she finds a warm place to lie for the night.  This girl has no name; the only name that she has ever known was “Brat!”  Soon enough Jane the midwife finds the girl hiding in her dung heap.  Jane puts the girl to work in her home and before long she becomes known as (dung) Beetle, the midwife’s apprentice.  Beetle helps the midwife with gathering and preparing herbs and medicines, and watches outside windows as Jane helps deliver babies all over town.  Beetle watches and learns from the midwife and one day is even mistaken as a real girl named “Alyce.”  Beetle decides to take the name for her own.  Alyce soon gets a reputation for being a good midwife’s apprentice but after failing to deliver a baby without Jane’s help she flees the town in disappointment and shame.  Alyce starts a new life and continues to live in silence and shame as a failed midwife’s apprentice.  That is until she finds herself delivering an unexpected baby all on her own.  Alyce learns that perseverance and determination were the only things holding her back from being a good midwife.  A young girl that has never known love discovers the strength and beauty within herself.  Alyce returns to town, this time with the confidence to be a midwife’s apprentice.


Karen Cushman relates universal feelings of shame, disappointment, growth and determination in this quick historical novel.  We follow a young girl on her journey from homeless, nameless, to “Brat, Beetle,” and eventually as “Alyce.”  Alyce’s strength and character develop slowly throughout the book, a great pull for any young reader.

Cushman creates the medieval setting with descriptions of how to care for dirt floors, dialect between the characters and medieval recipes for assisting with labor.


“…cobwebs for stanching blood, bryony and wolly nightshade to cleanse and comfort the mother, goat’s beard to bring forth her milk, and sage tea for too much, jasper as a charm against misfortune, and mistletoe and elder leaves against witches.”

The author concludes the book with a description of midwifery in medievalEngland.  Many of the spells and recipes used by Alyce and Jane the midwife were often used medicines for assisting with labor.


This book is recommended for grades 6-9, students should have a general idea of medieval times and midwifery to be able to thoroughly understand the context of the book.


“With simplicity, wit, and humor, Cushman presents another tale of medieval England. Here readers follow the satisfying, literal and figurative journey of a homeless, nameless child called Brat. . . . Earthy humor, the foibles of humans both high and low, and a fascinating mix of superstition and genuinely helpful herbal remedies attached to childbirth make this a truly delightful introduction to a world seldom seen in children’s literature.”– School Library Journal, Starred


“This novel is about a strong, young woman in medieval Englandwho finds her own way home. . . . Kids will be caught up in this short, fast-paced narrative about a hero who discovers that she’s not ugly or stupid or alone.”Booklist, ALA, Starred Review


A fascinating view of a far distant time.’ — The Horn Book, starred review





Historical Fiction: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

31 Jul



Schmidt, Gary D.. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster boy . New York: Clarion Books, 2004.

Turner Buckminster is having a terrible time adjusting to his new home in small town Phippsburg, Maine.  The expectations are high for the 13 year old son of the newly recruited Reverend Buckminster.   Turner soon learns that all eyes are watching and reporting his every move back to his father and before long Turner is convinced that he is as useless as the people of Phippsburg think he is.  Meanwhile, Lizzie Bright Griffin from the islandof Malagasneaks her way along the shoreline of Phippsburg, careful not to be noticed as she collects clams for the day’s meal.  After a chance encounter Turner and Lizzie become great companions and Turner is finally able to feel happy in his new home.  Unfortunately their new friendship does not last long as the townspeople soon learn that Turner has been spending time with the “negroe girl” from Malaga.  He is forbidden to see her or return to the island ever again.  Even worse, Turner learns that the First Congressional Ministry intends to force the “shanties, thieves and lazy sots” off the islandof Malagabecause they are sure that the “shanties” (former slaves) are what are keeping tourists away from Phippsburg.  Turner finds himself caught in a firestorm of hate, propaganda and love of his new friend.  Turner stands up to the racism of the town, only to see Malagaburn to rubble and his father die in the heat of the controversy.  Author Gary Schmidt tells a compelling story of innocence and virtue at the height of American racism in this historical fiction.

While the characters and storyline in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy are fictional, the story ofMalaga community and its trials with the city ofPhippsburg are true.  Inhabitants of theMalagaIsland were indeed evicted from their homes and sent to a nearby insane asylum.  Their homes and shacks were ordered to be burned by the then governor ofMaine.

Author Gary Schmidt does an excellent job of transforming this historical incident into a story that is relatable to adolescents.  Turner, the minister’s son, has a character no different from that of many modern day 13 year old boys.  Picked on by the local boys, the loneliness of moving to anew cityand the feelings of disappointment as a son are all traits that many young boys can relate to.  Schmidt touches on the innocence of children at a time when hatred and discrimination were the norm.

“You never touch a girl before, Turner Ernest Buckminster?  Or is it just that you never touched a girl with black skin before?”

“I never even talked to someone with black skin before.”

“Well,” she said, “never mind.  You’re holding up your end just fine.”

Schmidt captures American dialect in 1912 through the voices of the characters in the story, a feature of the book that makes it an easy read for adolescents while still keeping true to the era.  While racism is one of the key plot elements, Schmidt keeps it simple and straightforward without bogging the reader down with details.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is recommended for children in grades 6-9.  Children should have some basic knowledge of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement in order to thoroughly understand the book.


“Gloriously figurative language…brilliantly evokes both time and place…both beautiful and emotionally honest, both funny and piercingly sad.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“an evocative novel…with fully developed, memorable characters…fascinating, little-known piece of history…will leave a powerful impression on readers.” School Library Journal, Starred

“historical incident ignites a rich novel…a drama that examines the best and worst of humanity.”  Horn Book


  • Teacher’s Guide available at:  www. randomhouse.com

Informational Books: Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice

22 Jul


Hoose, Phillip M.. Claudette Colvin: twice toward justice. New York: Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.

Plot Summary:

This book tells the story of one of the key unsung heroes during the Civil Rights movement.  History has largely overlooked the story of Claudette Colvin, the fifteen year old girl that sparked a flurry of controversy in Montgomery, Alabama when she refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Yes, before there was Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.

Hoose tells the story of Claudette, her checkered upbringing in the poorest of neighborhoods, her inspiration that led to the stance on the bus, her relationship with Rosa Parks and the events that caused her to be overlooked as a Civil Rights leader.

Critical Analysis:

The story is laid out in a way to provide multiple accounts of what happened during this time.  The author narrates the story with inserts of Claudette’s own words as she described the events that unfolded.  Hoose compliments the accounts with original black and white photos, newspaper cut outs from the time and text boxes that define some of the people and events mentioned in the narration.  The book is largely chronological beginning with Claudette as a child and moving into adulthood.

This is a difficult story to tell for multiple reasons.  Claudette’s story opens the door to some of the political hierarchies present during the Civil Rights movement.  Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr are widely revered for their tremendous work and advocacy during this time.  The story of Claudette tells a different story, the story of a young girl that took a stand without political ties.  A young black girl with very dark skin.  A girl from a terrible neighborhood.  A girl that became an unwed pregnant teenager.  Already leery of her background, Civil Rights leaders turned their back on this courageous young teenager when she became pregnant.  Even with such tough subject matter Hoose does an excellent job of remaining objective and telling the story through facts and accounts.  The book closes with an extensive bibliography and reference notes broken down chapter by chapter as to where the information was obtained.  This is a testament to the accuracy of the book.  The author also explains how he came about the idea to write the story and how he came to interview Claudette.

This would be an excellent read for middle or high school students.  The story of Claudette Colvin supplements history and has a remarkable ability to elicit critical thinking for young students.


“This inspiring title shows the incredible difference that a single young person can make.” Starred, Booklist

“Inspiring.” —Kirkus Reviews    

“Outstanding.” Starred, School Library Journal  

“Hoose reasserts her [Claudette Colvin] place in history with this vivid and dramatic account, complemented with photographs, sidebars, and liberal excerpts from interviews conducted with Colvin.” —Starred, The Horn Book


Other Connections:

Phillip Hoose’s Official Website

Hey Little Ant Website – Phillip and Hannah Hoose

Video- Claudette Colin: Twice Towards Justice
Author, Phillip Hoose Explains Montgomery Bus Boycott at Portland, ME Schools

Informational Books: Inclined Planes and Wedges

22 Jul


Walker, Sally M., Roseann Feldmann, and Andy King.Inclined planes and wedges . Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Group, 2002.


Plot Summary:

Inclined Planes and Wedges introduces young learners to the concept of simple machines, gravity and force.  Several examples are given of simple vs. complex machines and the author provides activities that children can do with household materials to create their own planes and wedges.  The book is accompanied by photographs of the material as well as photographs of children creating their own simple machines.


Critical Analysis:

Inclined Planes and Wedges is one of many in Sally Walker’s Early Bird Physics series.  The series is designed introduce students in grades 2 to 5 to basic Physics concepts and vocabulary.  The book uses very simple language with photos of children demonstrating what is being described in the text.  The author provides a list of related vocabulary at the beginning of the book and encourages children to be a “word detective,” and look for these words as they are reading.  A Glossary is provided at the end of the book.

Inclined Planes and Wedges is a simple, quick read and students will gain a much better understanding of the concepts through the visuals that are used.  Walker also provides examples of simple machines and experiments that students can perform easily in their own homes.  Walker uses common examples that children will understand and can relate to.  For example, nails are shown as an example of a wedge, doorknobs an example of simple machines and escaladers as examples of complex machines.  Walker also provides suggestions for adults on how to introduce children to books and encourage reading.


  • Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • National Science Teachers Association Recommended Books


“The print is clear, the graphics are excellent, and every page contains an illustration. The Early Bird Physics series is a much-needed and valuable resource for integrating informational reading and providing authentic experiences in physical science for young children.” —Science and Children magazine

Children’s Literature Review: This entry in the “Early Bird Physics” textbook series explains what work is, defines the simple machine under discussion, introduces special terminology such as fulcrum, fixed pulley, third class lever, or friction, and shows variations on that machine that make it more complicated. Simple hands-on activities explore some of the properties of inclined planes and wedges and illustrate ways to increase or decrease the force needed to lift objects by varying aspects of the simple machine. A multiracial cast of children who look to be about nine or ten are photographed in posed situations to illustrate concepts and most look realistic. Diagrams also help children see where force is applied or what can be altered to make work easier. An end note to adults presents helpful discussion questions and ways to explore the vocabulary specific to each machine, while a bibliography of other books about the topic and two generic web sites suggest further exploration. A glossary and index with a note about how to help children use these sources are included. All in all, this book present solid support for adults in introducing simple machines to elementary age children in an appealing package that children can also read for themselves. Reviewed by Susan Hepler.

Other Connections:

Sally Walker has a large collection of non-fiction books which may be found on her website.

Here are a few examples:


The author accepts requests for school visits!

Information on further books and contact information can be found here: http://www.sallymwalker.com

Informational Books: Our Eleanor, A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life

22 Jul


Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor: a scrapbook look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarkable life. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005.

Plot Summary:

Our Eleanor introduces young readers to a key figure in American political history, Eleanor Roosevelt.  The book visualizes the life of Eleanor, from the child of New York socialites, until her death as an activist and political leader.  Eleanor Roosevelt epitomizes female empowerment from her time.  As one of the most active and prominent first ladies in American history Eleanor Roosevelt worked on everything from housing the poor, to women’s issues, from helping her husband get elected president, to serving in the United Nations.  The book follows the life of this remarkable woman including excerpts from Eleanor herself, photos from throughout her life and photocopies of letters and speeches she gave.

Critical Analysis:

A Scrapbook at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life is a thoroughly accurate description of what readers will find when they open this book.  While the book does tell a narrative, every page of the book is filled with pictures, captions and copies of documents that supplement the story being told.  I was most impressed by the personalized nature of many of the chapters.  Fleming touches on Eleanor as the “ugly duckling” of her family, a child that had good reason to feel that she was unwanted by her family.  She talks about her families struggles with alcohol abuse, violence and suicide.  Many will be surprised to learn that Eleanor and Franklin are fifth cousins and came from extraordinarily different upbringings.  Yet even as a young child Eleanor greatly enjoyed feeding the poor and serving the public.

The strength of the book resides in its layout and its honesty.  The multitude of pictures and captions make the book easy to interpret for young readers.  Students can see the early pictures of Eleanor and Franklin embracing each other in the park in contrast to their lives in later years where Franklin’s mistress sits between them in a car.  The photos tell the story of Eleanor’s rocky relationship with her mother in law and with her children.

This book would make an excellent compliment in Social Studies classes and would be well suited to a book report or presentation.

*Classroom Guide available on author’s website.

Awards and Honors:
ALA Notable Book
Best Book for Young Adults
Jefferson Cup winner,Virginia Library Association
Junior Library Guild Selection
New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2005
Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Medal Winner
Parent’s Choice Gold Medal
Publisher’s Weekly Best Book 2005
School Library Journal Best Book 2005


“Candace Fleming has chronicled the life of Eleanor Roosevelt as no other. With photographs on every page and with special attention having been given each important person, place, and project, this book provides an exciting glimpse into a remarkable life. It will appeal to young and old alike.”

–Chandler Roosevelt Lindsley and Elliott Roosevelt Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandsons

“Candace Fleming’s portrait bursts at the seams with energy, and makes brilliantly clear why Eleanor Roosevelt is a perfect role model for American kids, and for kids around the world. Mrs. Roosevelt wasn’t the head of her time, she’s the head of our time.”

–James Carville

“Creating a unique form for biography—the collage—the author has given us a superbly rounded and penetrating portrait of one of our greatest women, Eleanor Roosevelt. No one can read it and not feel deeply grateful for her long service to the American people and to human rights the world round.”

–Milton Meltzer, five-time National Book Award finalist


Other Connections:

The author has a large collection of books including novels, biographies and historical picture books.  Collection as well as teacher guides can be found at http://www.candacefleming.com


Poetry for Children: The Surrender Tree

3 Jul


Engle, Margarita. The surrender tree: poems of Cuba’s struggle for freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2008.



This verse novel follows the stories of Rosa, Jose, Sylvia and others as they live through the tumultuous struggle for Cuba’s freedom.  Three wars devastated the country, burning towns and plantations, separating families and causing widespread death and disease.  From slavery, to escape; from freedom to concentration camps; the characters in this novel share their journey in a historically accurate, incredibly potent portrait of life in Cuba from 1810 to 1899.


Margarita Engle has created an exceedingly powerful yet incredibly elegant memoir to her grandparents and those that lived through the Cuban wars in this verse novel.  “Lieutenant Death’s” passages are eerily placed throughout the book, giving depth to the hatred of slaves and rebels by the Spanish Army.  Of slaves he says:

“Even then, many run away again,

or kill themselves.

But then my father chops each body

into four pieces, and locks each piece in a cage,

and hangs the four cages on four branches

of the same tree.”

“a chopped, caged spirit cannot fly away

to a better place.”


The book primarily features Rosa, a medicine woman that learned from the elders how to cure injury and illness with flowers and herbs.  We begin with Rosa as a child, referred to as “the little witch” by her owners.  Her innocence shines as a young girl:

“Hatred must be

a hard thing to learn.”


Rosa grows into a legendary nurse- “Rosa la Bayamesa,” the cave nurse from Bayamo. She and her husband Jose run secret hospitals in the jungles and caves of Cuba.  Ms. Engle creates a stunning portrait of life on the run, as Rosa becomes a target of the Spanish army.  The number of sick and wounded grows astronomically as Rosa states beautifully:

“I look around, and realize

that she came through the roof

because the door was too crowded

with families weeping, rebels moaning,

women begging…


This war is a serpent,

Growing, stretching….”

Besides Rosa, the book offers narratives and perspectives from Sylvia, a young orphaned girl that will likely follow in the footsteps of Rosa and the medicine women before her.  This book is extremely poignant and creates an emotional glimpse into the casualties of war.



BOOKLIST started review:  “Engle writes her new book in clear, short lines of stirring free verse. Caught by the compelling narrative voices, many readers will want to find out more.”

HORN BOOK: “A powerful narrative in free verse . . . haunting.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba’s troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments

KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Young readers will come away inspired by these portraits of courageous ordinary people.”

VOYA: “The poems are short but incredibly evocative.”



*can be connected to social studies lessons covering slavery, war, oppression and the use of concentration camps