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The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan…

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

by Margarita Engle

Other authors: Sean Qualls (Illustrator)

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The Poet Slave of Cuba is a very dynamic biography. It is written in poetry, in the different perspectives of Juan, Juan's mother (Maria Del Pilar), Juan's father (Toribo), Juan's first owner (Dona Beatriz), Juan's second owner (La Marquesa De Prado Ameno), La Marquesa's son (Don Nicolas), and the Overseer. Because there were no table of contents or list of characters it was a little difficult remembering the names of the characters for each poem, I found myself flipping back to make sure I knew which person's perspective I was reading. That being said, I throughly enjoyed the format and the way the author was able to connect each person to the flow of the story. It takes place in Cuba in the eighteenth century. The main antagonist is clearly La Marquesa De Prado Ameno for her merciless actions. Don Nicolas provides perfect contrast to the antagonists because he does not wish to hurt Juan and only wishes his mother would not punish Juan so that they could play together. The Overseer seems to be an antagonist in his actions but also helpful at times. There are illustrations sporadically throughout this book which helps the reader better visualize each character.
With the first owner, Dona Beatriz, Juan was subject to becoming her parrot at parties, reciting poems and quotes that he had memorized. She literally compared him to a poodle that doesn't shed. With the second owner, La Marquesa, Juan was repeatedly tortured. She would have him whipped and leave him in the cellar with no food or water for days, luckily her son Don and Juan's mother Maria would sneak food to Juan and sips of water when they could. Don and Juan's friendship throughout the book was strong. His mother, Maria, was a big part of his life despite the fact that she was free and he was not. A shift in Juan's outlook seems to appear shortly after the second owner starts her abuse. With the first owner he seems to have a pleasant view on learning and life; viewing his mind as, "a brush made of feathers [...] I love words written with my feathery mind." With the second owner she seemed to look for reasons to torture him, each punishment increasingly worse than the one before. An interesting quote coming from Juan's perspective is, " or are crushed between the stones that grind the cane and separate it from the bagasse a fancy word that means dry, fibrous trash like my heart." Throughout the story though, Juan kept his faith in God even though he repeatedly got the short end of the stick. I believe there are good examples of sacrifice, injustice, friendship, imagination, and faith that would be good for mature children to read. There are graphic moments so I would be cautious when recommending this to a child. ( )
  AubrieSmith | Jan 25, 2017 |
This was an interesting biography. I had never heard of the Poet Slave of Cuba before, so this was brand new to me. The author presented his life story in verse, told through various people, which was a unique way to present the information. ( )
  Jacobf | Sep 26, 2016 |
Poems about the life of an escaped Cuban slave. I like that this is a history text but in the form of poetry. It could bring a lot of discussion not just about the content, but also word choice for the emotion the author wants.
  SavannahRussell | Mar 12, 2016 |
This book is at once heartbreaking, beautiful, and inspiring. Juan is a slave in Cuba, and the woman treats him as her son, yet her slave son, who must call her momma, entertain her by reciting poetry and verse, yet is denied an education or even access to his own mother. Yet through all of his hardships, including promises of freedom that never come, Juan never looses his sense of hope or optimism. This book would serve not only to launch a poetry unit in the classroom, but more importantly to discuss hardship, empathy, optimism, and the true cost of slavery.
  aliceanne | Feb 28, 2016 |
A haunting and hopeful story, both for what the poems express and don't express. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margarita Engleprimary authorall editionscalculated
Qualls, SeanIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805077065, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Juan Francisco Manzano was born in 1797 into the household of wealthy slaveowners in Cuba. He spent his early years at the side of his owner's wife, entertaining her friends. His poetry was his outlet, reflecting the beauty and cruelty of his world. Written in verse.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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