Singing with Elephants by Margarita Engle

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Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle, Author

Viking Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, May 31, 2022

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Elephants, Nature preserve, Rescue, Gabriela Mistral, Poet, Intergenerational relationships, Cuban, Belonging, Friendship, Novel in verse, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right—even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship—between generations, between humans and animals—and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.

Why I like Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle’s compelling free-verse novel is about learning a new culture, loneliness, a love of animals and the power of friendships. Her narrative is spare in details, yet she paints big pictures with her words and evokes rich visual images. It is truly a novel written straight from the author’s  heart.

Oriol is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She lives in Santa Barbara with her parents, who are veteranarians, and an older sister. Oriol misses Cuba and her beloved Abuelita, who recently passes. English is hard to write, speak and understand. Therefore, she stands out and is bullied at school, when her greatest wish is to belong and be accepted among her peers. Oriol turns to her poetry and the animals who seem to understand her. Especially Chandra, a pregnant elephant that lives at a wildlife-zoo and is under the care of her parents. However there is a mystery Oriol must solve. A bond forms between Oriol and Chandra and they dance together in their own way. An Oriol poem:

OUT LOUD

Hand in trunk with the elephant / I recite poems, and together / we sway as if dancing, / not mourning. 

Elephants seem to understand / the part of poetry that has no words / just music that echoes / like wind chimes/ or bells.  

I love intergenerational relationships. This story hit a sweet spot for me when Oriol meets an older woman from Chile who begins teaching her how poetry can help her express and understand her emotions. Oriol finds her gentle guidance salve for her soul. She soon finds herslef writing her words in English, in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages at one time. Oriol is not immediately aware she is being tutored by Gabriela Mistral,who is a poet, writer, educator, peace diplomat, and. the only Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Engle’s fascinating Cuban-based novel is inspired by the late Gabriela Mistral, who is the only real character in the book, She did live in Santa Barbera around 1947. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end and and exerpt from Gabriela’s Poetry for Children that inspires singing and dancing. This novel would also be a wonderful read for reluctant readers.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books, including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; Rima’s Rebellion: Newbery Honor winner The Surrender Trees; and Forst World. Her verse memoirs includ Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, the latter of which received the Pura Belpré Award and a Walter Dean Myers Honor, and was a finalist from YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among other honors. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl, Hancing Hands, and The Flying Girls. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonterful reviews by KitLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

 

Hope Is an Arrow by Cory McCarthy

Hope Is An Arrow: The Story of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran

Cory McCarthy, Author

Ekua Holmes, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Biography, July 5, 2022

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Pages: 40

Themes: Kahlil Gibran, Biography, Artist, Poet, Biography, Conflict, Hope, Multicultural

Opening: “There once was a boy shot from a bow like an arrow. Strong and straight, he flew across the world, connecting many people with the power of his words. But not right away.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Before Kahlil Gibran became the world’s third-best-selling poet of all time, he was Gibran Khalil Gibran, an immigrant child from Lebanon with a secret hope to bring people together despite their many differences.

Kahlil’s life highlights the turn of the twentieth century, from the religious conflicts that tore apart his homeland and sent a hundred thousand Arab people to America, to settling in Boston, where the wealthy clashed headlong with the poor.

Throughout it all, Kahlil held on to his secret hope, even as his identity grew roots on both sides of the Atlantic. How could he be both Kahlil Gibran, Arab American, and Gibran Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese boy who longed for the mountains of his homeland?

Kahlil found the answer in art and poetry. He wrote The Prophet, an arrow of hope as strong as the great cedars of Lebanon and feathered by the spirit of American independence. More than a hundred years later, his words still fly around the world in many languages, bringing people together.

Why I like Hope Is an Arrow:

Cory McCarthy’s lyrical text, mingles with beautiful quotes from Gibran’s poetry, to create this inspiring  biography of Kahlil Gibran for children. Ekua Holmes stunning collages and acrylic illustrations are rich in detail and capture Gibran’s remarkable journey from childhood to adulthood. 

Children will see how adversity and loss inspired Gibran’s dreams of a better world. He was troubled by the deep religious divisions among the people in Lebanon. His father was imprisoned and his family lost their home, They immigrated to America, where he continued to see division between the wealthy and the poor in Boston’s South End. The young Gibran held a secret hope of peace within him, but he couldn’t find the words in English or Arabic to write them down. So he began to draw. Teachers and artists encouraged him. Later in life he began to write poetry to help people celebrate their many differences. 

Gibran’s secret hope is a still timely book called The Prophet. It is published in 40 different languages and  resides in libraries around the world where young and old alike revel in his hope.

Make sure you check out the four pages of of additional stories about Gibran’s life and work at the end of the book.  Each entry is related to the inspiration behind the beautiful quotes shared throughout the story, including :

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, 

And let the winds of the heavens dance

between you.

Love one another, but make not a 

bond of love: 

Let it rather be a moving sea between

the shores of your souls.”

Resources: Ask children if they have a special hope or dream to help a family member, friend, or community, Encourage them to draw or write about their hopes/dreams. There are no right or wrong answers so let them be creative. For starters: planting more trees in their city, helping a disabled friend, and rescuing animals, 

Cory McCarthy is an acclaimed, best-selling author of books for young readers. They studied poetry and screenwriting before earning and MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where they now serve on the faculty. Like Kahlil Gibran, their family emigrated from Lebanon and settled in New England. Learn more about their books at this website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

For Spacious Skies by Nancy Churnin

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Nancy Churnin, Author

Olga Baumert, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Biography, Apr. 1, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Katharine Lees Bates, Biography, Musical history, Poet, Writer, Scholar, Suffragist, “America the Beautiful”

Opening: “When Katharine Lee Bates was very young, the Civil War raged. Some of her earliest memories were of men trudging home in tattered blue. When Abraham Lincoln was shot, Katharine’s mother wept. A hush suffocated the streets of her village. The country’s heart was ripped in two.”

BookJacket Synopsis:

Katharine Lee Bates first wrote the lines to “America the Beautiful” in 1893, on a summer evening after a stirring visit to Pikes Peak. But the story behind the song begins with Katherine herself, who grew up with memories of the country divided by the Civil War and who pushed beyond conventional expectations of women to become an acclaimed writer, scholar, suffragist, and reformer.

She became the extraordinary woman who penned one of our country’s favorite songs. She believed in the power of words to make a difference, and in “America the Beautiful,” her vision of the nation as a great family, united from sea to shining sea, continues to uplift and inspire us all.

Why I like this book:

Nancy Churnin’s For Spacious Skies, is an inspiring and beautifully written biography about a young Katharine Lee Bates who defies the social norms for young women to sew, cook and marry in the 1880s. She wants to be a writer, studies hard and graduates from Wellesley.  It is heartwarming how her widowed mother believes in her daughter’s dreams. She takes in washing and sewing, and sells vegetables to help pay Katherine’s college tuition.

As Bates travels across the country in 1893, she sees its magnificent beauty, but she also sees great division and despair among its people. When she reaches the top of Pikes Peak she is moved by the “most glorious scenery I ever beheld.” A poem forms in her mind and she’s moved to write it down. Two years later it is published in a national magazine. In 1910, Samuel A. Ward composes a melody and her poem is sung and loved across the country. She never accepts money for what she writes. It is her gift to America — a country she believes in her heart is more connected than divided.

Bates is someone children can look up to because she shows them that they too can make a difference when they see injustices in their local communities and world. Bates becomes a professor and an activist for the poor, believes in equality and the right for women to vote. Her passionate journey to bring the country together will certainly inspire elementary students.

The book is visually engaging for young readers, thanks to Olga Baumert’s the stunning illustrations.

Resources: This book is a resource. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the book, and a Timeline of Bates’ life. There is also a revised version of “America the Beautiful,” which I encourage you to teach your children, if they don’t know it.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the author of a Beautiful Shades of Brown: The art of Laura Wheeler Waring, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, and The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England.  Visit Churnin at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.