Thursday, April 3, 2014

Poetry Friday-Silver People Review

          Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting today at her wonderful blog, The Poem Farm. Nice to be visiting the farm today, Amy!

If you'd enjoy discovering all kinds of great things happening during April, for poetry month, see this post by Jama Rattigan, at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

And, don't forget the Progressive Poem hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem! Today's line will be created by Anastasia Suen. It's already getting interesting! 

     These past few days I've been enjoying my spring break, catching up on different tasks, including reading. I'm excited to share a book I've just completed, Silver People: Voices From The Panama Canal, a verse novel out just on March 25th.
        It’s a pleasure to read great novels in verse, 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 I am always left wanting more of the lives that have been told.
        I’ve looked forward to Margarita Engle’s book Silver People 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, I read a children’s non-fiction book in order to gain some additional background of the construction, knowing the book was about to be published. I realize I cannot know the story of every part of history, but when I supported my students’ research, I pressed them to ask, as I do, “what is the ‘other’ story?” the one that hasn’t been told. Do you remember the radio pieces by Paul Harvey? And now, in my mind, the Canal was a feat like few others, but because of Margarita’s book, I know the “rest of the story”.


       The canal was completed one hundred years ago, but unfortunately for those who might have wished a huge celebration, it was also August, 1914, and the beginning of World War I.  Margarita Engle has chosen to tell the stories of a few people, some forest creatures, and briefly, those in power. Here are a few words from the voices you will hear when you read the book.  

     Mateo--the main character, a Cuban boy of 14 who signs up as a worker, hoped to escape an abusive father and to make money for his mother and siblings. He convinces the bosses that he is part Spanish, thus receiving a little more pay. The pay, although white Americans and Europeans were paid in gold, was silver.  Hunger at sea for three days/feels like a knife in the flesh—twisted blade, rusty metal… And-Ferocious jungle heat/closes in around us/ like the blaze/of a glowing oven. Finally, about his art:  If only I could be free to fly/on paper/all week.

     Blue morpho butterfly: just high enough/to fool the eyes of hungry beings/with our blue wings/just a passing/shimmer/of sky.

     Henry—A young man from Jamaica who became Mateo’s friend. Soon, Henry discovers that Jamaicans receive even less pay than the Spaniards. It’s like the sugar fields at home,/where Englishmen own the land/and medium-dark foremen supervise,/while men like me/have to chop, chop, chop… and  fancy, fancy tourists…thinking/that we look/as tiny/as rows/and rows/of scurrying/ants.

    Anita—a young native woman, carrying and selling baskets of herbal remedies, becomes Mateo’s friend. I give him a bit of the fragrant spice/as a gift, to help him remember/his mother’s kitchen/and to thank him.

Jackson Smith, from the USA, in charge of housing: When reporters ask me/about conditions for silver men/I explain that the dark races/are ignorant—they prefer to live/in boxcars or out in the jungle, so/there’s no point giving them/extra clothes/or dry blankets./They would just get/everything/dirty.

The trees:
Shrinking

It never seemed as if anything
could make our huge trunks
smaller

but men
with machines and explosives
have made some of us
vanish

leaving the others
lonely
for
time
more time
sun, soil, growth,
while some of us shrink, others survive
and grow, grow, grow . . .

      Text shared with permission from the author.

       It’s a book filled with pain, yet even in the sadness and devastating conditions of hard work and disease, there is hope and happiness in friendship and in the forest’s beauty. Thanks to Margarita, she’s given us the rest of the story. 


For support in teaching this book, There is a printable teaching guide available here, and also on Margarita’s website here.  She told me that a printed Teaching Guide will also be available next week at the HMH booth (1730) at the Texas Library Association conference.

32 comments:

  1. So much going on in April all over the place!
    And you still had time to review a book. You find such interesting books! I barely get enough time this month to wash my face! Ha! Not really. But I have 2 books I thought I'd be reading and so far I've just carried them around!

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    1. It's because of that little grandson, Donna. You've been extra busy! And you're writing awesome poems!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this, Linda - it is definitely a book I want to have for my library. I love teaching history through narrative poems in many voices - our children need to be aware of the existence of many layers of perspectives. You truly seem all over the place this poetry April - bravo!

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    1. I really was excited to read this, & love Margarita's books, too. I hope you like it, Tara. Thanks!

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  3. I am so happy to read this review as this a book I look forward to reading. There is such a wisdom in Margarita's work. Your words about "the other story" ring very deeply with me. There is so much here. Thank you, Linda. Happy Poetry Friday and happy continued break!

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    1. Thanks Amy, I imagine you will enjoy the book very much. Thanks again for hosting!

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  4. My copy arrived this week. I am intrigued by novels in verse and have heard so much about this one. Margarita is a generous soul, too. She sent personalized bookmarks to my students.

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    1. That's wonderful for the students, Margaret, & I'm happy you have the book. Enjoy!

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  5. You beat me to this one, Linda! Love reading your take-aways. I am excited to read! xo

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    1. Thanks Irene. I loved the voices very much, hope you do too!

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  6. This book sounds wonderful--I'm putting it on my to-read list (And now I've got Paul Harvey's voice in my head!)

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    1. Ha! The minute it came to me about Harvey's work, I could hear him, too, Buffy. Thanks, hope you'll get to the book soon!

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  7. Thanks for the review--I'm looking forward to reading this one!

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    1. You're welcome JoAnn, it is a story that must be read!

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  8. You have powerfully succeeded in making me want to read this book all the more! Thanks for the terrific review.

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    1. Thanks Michelle-get to your nearest bookstore!

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  9. This sounds so good. I can't wait to read. Thanks for your thoughtful review. Enjoy your break!

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    1. Thanks Dori, I hope you will like the book. As you can see, I loved it!

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  10. I love novels in verse and your suggestions (thoroughly enjoyed Counting by 7's based on your recommendation). Thanks for sharing this gem. = )

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    1. Oh, Counting By 7s was so good, Bridget. I'm excited that you're liking it, too! This verse novel is very strong in story, and the information just sneaks in too. Hope you'll enjoy it as well! Thanks!

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  11. Sounds like something I need to order for the library. I'll write up a card on Monday.

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    1. Wonderful, Diane. I hope lots of students and you like it! Thanks!

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  12. Oh Linda, what a beautiful review. I just finished reading Margarita's The Lightning Dreamer - and was inspired once again by the beauty of her words. I can't wait to read this one. It sounds like a book filled with voices that need to be heard. :)

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    1. Indeed it has them, Myra. I know you will enjoy it, although it's so sad to me in some parts. It's very good.

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  13. I JUST commented to Robyn about loving back story. This sounds fabulous -- very compelling review! What a diversity of voices.

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    1. Thanks, Mary Lee, and yes, the back story is important, in all the stories.

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  14. Her writing is so lyrical, and this introduction sets the stage beautifully. Thanks for giving us sneak peak into this book!

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    1. You're welcome Keri. Hope you enjoy the book.

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  15. Your wonderful review sure makes me want to read, Linda! Thanks.

    Violet N.

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    1. Hope you'll find a copy to read and enjoy, Violet!

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  16. what a fascinating topic and I love Margarita's deft treatment. She has a wonderful gift for writing novels in verse. I would love to read this book. Thanks for the snippets to whet our appetites.

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    1. You're welcome B.j. It's an amazing story, and poignant in this telling, too.

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