It is my great pleasure to announce that I'm participating in a fabulous celebration of children and books called Día Blog Hop, organized by Latinas for Latino Lit. The Blog Hop has been happening for the entire month of April and it features the very best of Latino children's book artists and authors.
The Día Blog Hop will be culminating on April 30th in honor of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros.
The entire list of authors and illustrators and the blogs they are featured on can be found here:
Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her young adult verse novels have also received two Pura Belpré Awards and three Honors, as well as three Américas Awards and the Jane Addams Peace Award, among others.
Margarita’s next verse novel is Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal (March, 2014, Harcourt). Books for younger children include Mountain Dog, Summer Birds, When You Wander, and Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish (March, 2014, Harcourt).
Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiding in the forest to help train her husband’s wilderness search and rescue dogs.
Learn more about Margarita at www.margaritaengle.com.
Reflecting on Childhood by Margarita Engle
Looking back at the reading experiences of my childhood is like standing on the shore of a bioluminescent beach, gazing at radiant sea water. In the Caribbean, glowing beaches are both common and miraculous. When fingers and toes move through the luminous shallows, they take on the light from microscopic organisms. We see the glow, but we can’t see its source.
It’s the same with books that children read for pleasure. They learn, without realizing that they’re learning, because the experience is so magical. When a child is caught up in the thrill of a story or the rhythm of a poem, something happens that can’t be explained, measured, or tested. It’s the complex satisfaction of exploring. A sense of wonder is the invisible source.
As a child, I loved history and folklore, but there were no children’s books about Cuba, and all the folktales were from continents, not islands. That didn’t stop me from reading every fascinating book I could find, but as an adult, I want something more. I want children of all backgrounds to have the chance to read stories rooted in a wide variety of cultures and viewpoints.
Most of my verse novels are about Cuban historical themes, but my newest is set in Panama. I wrote Silver People in honor of the Caribbean islanders who were hired by the U.S. as laborers to dig the vast canal. It was completed exactly one hundred years ago, and still serves as the shipping route for most of the manufactured-in-Asia products we use in daily life. Silver People is also my personal love letter to the tropical rain forest, written not only in human voices, but in the cries of howler monkeys, and moans of threatened trees. It’s the unusual sort of story that I would have been happy to read when I was a child. In those days, the only tributes to the people and creatures of the tropics were travelogues written for tourism, or archaic fiction told from a colonial standpoint, with references to “savages” and “primitive” cultures. I hope that my reflections on history will help young people of all backgrounds understand that being different does not mean being inferior.
In addition to history, fiction, science, and poetry, I loved reading folklore when I was a child. I still love folklore, but it’s not easy to publish, so I’m thrilled to have a new picture book inspired by a Cuban folktale. Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish is a poem about a little bunny who wants to grow. I hope it will help very young children see that each of us has unique strengths.
With a wealth of multicultural books now available, I hope parents, teachers, and librarians will expose children to all sorts of books. One of the most difficult to find is memoirs by Latinos. While there have been quite a few published for adults in recent years, childhood memoirs are scarce. Under the Royal Palms, by Alma Flor Ada, is one of my favorites, but my own childhood memoir—scheduled for publication by Harcourt in March, 201—is quite different from Ada’s, because I grew up in the U.S., with only a few precious summer visits to my extended family in Cuba.
Writing is challenging. Reflecting can be scary, but facing that challenge means that children who read a variety of books will feel inspired to perceive their own widely varied stories as valuable.