The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

Paperback | March 15, 2011 | Spanish

byMargarita EngleIllustratorSean Qualls

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A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.

Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.

Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.

The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Latino Interest.

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From the Publisher

A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet. Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional...

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.Sea...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 8.26 × 5.48 × 0.6 inPublished:March 15, 2011Publisher:Square FishLanguage:Spanish

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312659288

ISBN - 13:9780312659288

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Read from the Book

JuanMy mind is a brush made of featherspainting pictures of wordsI rememberall that I seeevery syllableeach word a twin of itselftelling two storiesat the same timeone of sorrowthe other hopeI love the words written with my feathery mindin the airand with my sharp fingernailson leaves in the gardenWhen my owner catchesa whiffof the fragranceof wordsengraved in the flesh of succulent geranium leavesor the perfumed petals of alelí flowersthen she frowns because she knowsthat I dreamwith my feathersmy wingsPoetry cools me, syllables calm meI read the verses of othersthe free menand knowthat I’m never alonePoetry sets me aflameI grow furiousdangerous, a blaze of soul and heart, a fiery tonguea lantern at midnightMy first owner was sweet to meI was her pet, a new kind of poodlemy pretty mother chosento be her personal handmaidMy motherMaría del Pilar Manzanoa slaveTogether we belongedalong with countless othershuman beasts of burdento Doña Beatríz de Justíz, La Marquesathe proud Marchioness Justíz de Santa Ananoble wife of Don Juan Manzanowho shares my nameeven thoughhe is notmy fatherDon Juan rules El Molinohis plantationon this island of sugarand many othersweet illusionsThese were my mother’s duties:dress La Marquesaundress hercool her skin with a palm-leaf fananswer questionsnever askcollect milk from new mothersin the hutsnear the fieldsslave milk, the lotion used for softeningthe skinof noble ladiesThis my mother accomplished:deliver the milkgrind eggshells and rice into powderfor making la cascaradaa pale shell for hidingthe darknessof Spaniardswho pretendto be pale in our presenceWhen the noble ladies go out in publicmilk-soothed, eggshell-crustedmasked and disguisedwe no longer look the samedark ownerand dark slavesNow my owner is ghostlyinside her skeleton of powderbut I, being only a poodle,can watchI am allowedto knowthese truthsabout shadow and brightSo I listenwhen the ghost-owner calls me her own babyshe plays with meand even decidesto set my true motherfreeFree to marry Toribio de Castroa man also promisedhis freedomMy father is winged, like my motheroh, I envy themwhat will happento melittle birdleft behind in this haunted nest?She takes me with her wherever she goesI become the companion of my owner, noble ghostno, not a companion, remember?a poodle, her petwith my curly dark hairand small child’s brown skinsuitablefor the theaterand partiesSo I barkon commandI learn to whine and howlin verseI’m known as the smart one who neverforgetsI can listenthen reciteevery wordListen, she says to her friendsand the priestsee how little Juanito can singsee how I’ve trained himwatch himperformBack and forthover and overcountry home, city home, palaces, the plantationonly six years old, she saysbut listen to his big funny voiceBack and forthover and overI recite strange words in several languagesSpanish, Latin, Frenchwhile my sweet ghost-Mamá-owner and all her friends listen they are forgetfulI am rememberfulI remember there is also one more mother in my songa bird-mothercaged but winged  Excerpted from The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle.Copyright © 2006 by Margarita Engle.Published in 2006 by Henry Holt and Company.All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Editorial Reviews

"An absolutely lovely book . . . that should be read by young and old, black and white, Anglo and Latino." -School Library Journal, Starred Review"Readers will hear the stories--and never forget them." -Booklist, Starred Review"A work of literary imagination. Engle's skillful portrait will spark readers' interest in Manzano's own poetry." -The Horn Book, Starred Review"The moving poetry and finely crafted story will draw readers in and leave them in tears and in awe." -The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred Review"A rare and stunning account . . . a tour-de-force." -Juan Felipe Herrera, winner of the Pura Belpré Honor for Laughing out Loud, I Fly: Poems in English and Spanish"I not only learned about an exceptional life--I felt it. Soul-stirring and direct." -Nancy Osa, winner of the Pura Belpré Honor for Cuba 15"Only a poet with Engle's delicate sensitivity could have presented the complexity of Manzano's life and the depth of his soul in such a brief, accessible, and enthralling book." -Alma Flor Ada, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Under the Royal Palms"Every once in a while a book comes along that is so heart-achingly beautiful, so pure, you want to tear down the doors and make the world take notice. This is one of those rare works." -Cindy Wathen, co-author of Remembering Cesar: The Legacy of César Chávez"This beautiful, unique biography reads and sounds like a symphony. Lyrical, informative, and inspiring." -Teresa Dovalpage, author of A Girl Like Che Guevara"Through this impassioned story we plunge into the inhuman depths of slavery and surge up with the Poet Slave to triumphant freedom." -Anilú Bernardo, author of Jumping Off to Freedom