“Martí’s song for freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad” Emma Otheguy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” and a “Selected Bibliography.”

Marti'sSongForFreedomJosé Martí (1853-1895) was born when Spain ruled Cuba with an iron fist. Slave labor on sugar plantations allowed the rich to become richer, oppressing natives of all races. Determined to free his people José advocated for freedom from Spain, which led to imprisonment and deportation. Despite being away from the island he loved, José continued his fight to abolish slavery from his new home in New York through poetry and speeches. Ultimately he gave his life for his country, remembered for the words he left behind which deeply illustrated his love for freedom and justice for all.

Otheguy’s well-researched bilingual picture book tells the story of Cuba’s greatest poet and patriot, as Vidal’s simply drawn, yet colorful paintings, illustrate his struggle in a clear, straightforward manner. It will appeal to older elementary readers, especially those in grades 3-6, and may well be a contender for the upcoming Pura Belpré award. If it wins or places, remember that you read it here first.

Recommended for ages 8-11.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


“The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist” Margarita Engle

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Harcourt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 182 pp. (Includes Historical Background, Historical Note, The Writing of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, and References). Winner of the 2014 Pura Belpre Author Honor award.

TheLightningDreamerGertrudis, known as Tula, lived during a time in Cuba’s history when it was ruled by Spain, slaves abounded, women didn’t have any rights and those having thoughts of independence were severely punished. From an early age, Tula believed in emancipation for slaves and women, feeling the magic of books and words flowing from within while being denied their solace because she was a woman.

Undeterred by her mother’s anger and ridicule Tula found ways to release the words and injustice felt in her soul by writing poems she was forced to burn and telling tales to orphans which contained hidden meanings. At the age of 15, she refused an arranged marriage, thus finding a freedom of choice denied to other females.

Through her trademark style of writing in verse, Engle tells Tula’s story through her own voice and those who knew her. In the “Historical Note” section, readers learn more of Tula’s struggles in her personal life and how she influenced her world through her thoughts on women and slavery.

By bringing Tula’s story to light, Engle has enabled readers learn of this brave and outspoken woman at the forefront of equal rights who would otherwise have been relegated to historical footnotes.

Recommended for ages 12-16.

“In too Deep” Coert Voorhees

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published July 9, 2013. Hyperion (Disney Book Group). 322 pp.

InTooDeepFinally! A romantic teen novel with a great historical/action/adventure plot with a scuba diving twist. Loved it!

Annie is a scuba diving pro, even though she’s only 15 years old. It’s rough being the only kid on scholarship at a school for the rich and famous, but she has great friends and loves working with her mom in their scuba shop. Her dad teaches history at the school, and instilled a love in her for the ocean and sunken treasures.

When she goes to Mexico for a school trip with her teacher Mr. Alvarez, Josh (her major crush) and several other students, she learns more about the missing Golden Jaguar of Hernan Cortes. Despite a school presentation she’d done on it, nothing prepared her for the knowledge that Mr. Alvarez was actually a treasure hunter who knew how to find it.

Annie finds an important clue leading to its whereabouts, but almost gets killed for it because another treasure hunter wants the Jaguar for himself, and will stop at nothing to get it. Annie and Josh team up to stay in the hunt, but time is running out. Will they find the Golden Jaguar before the bad guys do?

Teens aged 14 and older will enjoy this romantic, historical adventure too, while also learning a lot about scuba diving.

“A Thunderous Whisper” Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books), 2012. 309 pp. Includes “Author’s Note,” “Acknowledgements,” and “Glossary.”

A Thunderous WhisperIn 1937 Guernica, Spain readers are introduced to twelve-year-old Ani and fourteen-year-old Mathias during the Spanish Civil War. Ani has always been ridiculed and called “Sardine Girl” because she helps her mother sell sardines and smells like fish. As a result, she has never had friends. Ever since her father went off to join the Basque forces fighting against Franco, she has spent time feeling belittled by her mother who seems to be resentful of her presence. Mathias is partly crippled due to a bout with polio as a young child. He has moved a lot, and has never had an opportunity to make a friend. His mother is German and his father is Jewish, so he has troubles of his own.

The two meet, and become inseparable when Mathias convinces her to join him in a plan to help his father’s spy ring gain information about the invading Franco and his forces. A few months later, their lives change forever when Hitler sends planes to deliberately bomb their city. Guernica is in ruins and their family members are dead, leaving Ani and Mathias to find a new path for their lives.

Diaz Gonzalez’s carefully researched book unearths a long buried part of history. Previous to reading this book, I had never heard of the bombing of Guernica. On its 75th anniversary, it is important that others learn about it. Readers ages 12-16 will also learn of the Basque and Spanish culture, while the “Glossary” at the end of the book helps explain many of the terms used in the book.

“Small Damages” Beth Kephart

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) to be released July 19, 2012. Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers). 304 pp.

Kaitlin is in her senior year of high school, has a boyfriend she adores, college plans, and a close knit group of friends with whom she can hang out with on a daily basis. Her dad died suddenly and she doesn’t get along with her mother, but Kevin helps her through both the good and the bad. He sings a different song, however, when he gets her pregnant as both he and her mother want her to get rid of “it” so they can live their lives. Early on in her pregnancy, Kaitlin feels the love of motherhood for her unborn child and insists on keeping it. As a result, she is shipped off to Spain to spend 5 months of her life on a ranch with a family she’s never met, with the goal of giving her baby up for adoption to a Spanish family before she can return home.

I had mixed feelings as I read because I felt there were too many characters with complicated stories to tell, while Kephart seemed bound and determined to also infuse every single detail about Spain, its history, and its people into these stories. In addition, Beth’s use of flashbacks to tell most of these stories often took away from a sense of continuity. However, the ending was quite emotional and allowed me to almost forget what I had to “plow through” to get to it.

Thus, I will leave it up to high school readers interested in learning more about Spain, gypsies, flamenco and other aspects of its history to decide if they should read “Small Damages” or not.