Sarah's Stars

Margarita Engle.  The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
Henry Holt  $22.95HC  ISBN 0-850-7706-5  183 pg.
Reviewed by Meghan, Age 14

"Fireflies, music, angels,
    birds, wings,
These are just a few
    of the words I find
    for songs to sing
    and rhymes to rhyme
    while my mother and I
    try to stay alive
    waiting for mercy
    or death
    whichever comes first--
    or are they
    the same?"

Juan is a slave in Cuba, born in 1797. While still very young, he is taken from his parents by his owner Dona Beatriz. He will be her pet, almost like a son, coming to recite pretty verses when she is entertaining company. But Juan has dreams of his own, songs of his own to sing. His poetry is strange, haunting and it tells his own sad story, of how he fights for the freedom that is already his and faces adversity bravely.

Margarita Engle's story is an amazing work of art. Her poetry manages to capture the beauty and horror of the plantations and the hope and fear of the slaves in the same breath. It's wonderful to read and I love how she told the story from different points of view (Juan, his mother, etc.) It added flavour and colour to the story. Sean Qualls art accents the poems fabulously. The pictures are odd and confusing, but that perfectly reflects Juan's world, his confusion and the many different parts of his life.

I really enjoyed reading The Poet Slave, it was wonderful, sad and happy at the same time. I highly recommend it, not only for poetry lovers, but for all people who enjoy a good story. It's very easy to read and is very entertaining. I would recommend it for kids, ages twelve and up. Adults would most likely enjoy it too, even though it is not a challenging nor a long read.

I would give The Poet Slave of Cuba four and a half stars out of five.


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