Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Poet Slave of Cuba Book Review

Juan Francisco Manzano’s story, told by Margarita Engle in The Poet Slave of Cuba, is one that will break your heart through his suffering and then mend it time and again through his hope and survival.

Through lyrical verse, Engle tells of Manzano’s life not only through his eyes, but also through the people that were connected to him whether through familial ties or servitude. Manzano’s first owner, Doña Beatriz, thought of Juan as simply a “poodle,” a toy to be played with and thrown away when no longer needed for entertainment. However, she did say that upon her death Juan would be free from slavery. This promise was not upheld by his new, cruel owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, who felt that Juan should have been grateful for everything she “gave” him. Engle’s words and Sean Qualls’ images powerfully tell the reader the brutality and injustice Manzano faced as a slave.

Enlge has written an award winning book that will draw in readers of all ages. Readers catch a glimpse of the suffering Manzano and other salves faced daily in Cuba. Engle’s poetry gives a depth to the story that an informational biography may not have. Her poetic prose allows the reader to not only know Manzano’s story, but to also feel it.

You can find this review at the following web address:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Craft Lesson-Poetry Content

Red Hot Salsa by: Lori Marie Carlson, Students’ Writing Notebooks

Many students think that writing a well-written poem means making sure certain lines rhyme and including tons of literary elements. While these are important aspects of poetry, content is often overlooked. Some of the best poems are the best because of their content, which is rarely pointed out to students. In this lesson students will look at content in the book Red Hot Salsa and work on the content of their own poems.

Begin by having students share, in groups, their experiences with well-written poetry. What makes a good poem? What do you try to do when writing poetry?

Then explain that a well-written poem does not always rhyme and is not usually overloaded with figurative language. Content is a deciding factor in most good poems. To make sure everyone is on the same page, define content as a class. Then, have students open (or hand out a poem) Red Hot Salsa to a poem of your choosing and as a class decide the content and look at how the author conveyed that content (Invisible Boundaries by Ivette Alvarez on page 24 is a good choice). Do not settle for answers such as being young and Latino (which is on the front of the book), have students really dig deep and see the content the author is writing about.

Afterward, have students pair up and look at a poem from the book (it would be faster to assign poems to each group). After they have discussed the content as a group, have them share with the class. Have them talk about the content and how it affected them while they were reading the poem.

Now, have students go to their writer’s notebooks and find a poem they wrote, or have been working on. Instruct them to look at the content of their poem and make revisions. At the end of class have students share how their poems improved just by looking at the content of what they are writing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Red Hot Salsa Journal

Again poetry surprises me in a very pleasant way! I absolutely loved Red Hot Salsa. I went through a mixture of emotions when reading this book. Every poem tells a different story about being Latino.

I enjoyed the code switching between Spanish ad English. This, as Carlson writes in the editor’s note, shows the language’s “hybrid linguistic beauty.” For many English language learners it is tough to speak their native tongue in schools because they are taught to speak English instead. This book helps to show ELLs (and other Spanish speaking students) that their first language is just as important. It is important to not only their background, but also who they are. It is a wonderful book for Latino students. Poems are included that not only talk about “being young and Latino,” but there are also poems that talk about being who you are, identity, stereotypes, living in the barrio, violence, Chicanos, and more. These are topics that have surrounded the Latino community for years.

This is also a wonderful book for English speaking students. It exposes them to another language and the experiences of Latinos. Many students get so caught up in their own lives that they don’t take the time to stop and realize what is going on with the other people around them. This book helps students see the same world they live in through another point of view. In the same way that this book is important for Latino young adults it is also important for young adults of other ethnicities and backgrounds. The history of Mexican-Americans is not something that is taught in schools on a regular basis, and this book opens the door for that to happen. While you can just take the poems at face value, the deeper you look at them the more you will learn about the Latino culture.

In addition, the poetry in this book is so beautiful and well written; it is a great book to use to teach poetry lessons. I enjoy that the poems are all by different authors–not only do you get many different perspectives you also get to see and show students many different types of poetry. You can show them that there is not merely one way to write poetry.

Video Book Talk-Getting Away with Murder

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Poet Slave of Cuba

I was not sure what to expect when I began reading The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle. What I read was a book that broke my heart through the beauty of Engle’s words and the strength of Juan Francisco Manzano’s spirit.

In school I read very little poetry and for that reason I have always seen this genre of writing as out of my grasp. I never considered that I would like or even understand poetry. I think that many students today are the same way. In my experiences in school there was very little poetry introduced, and what was meant nothing to me. What I have come to realize is that you do not have be taught everything about poetry to read and understand it. You just have to be exposed to poetry that means something–poetry you can identify with. This book would have made me love poetry when I was in school and I think it can do the same for many students.

If Juan’s story had been told in a normal biography I don’t think I would have responded to it like I did. Of course it would still be a sad and terrible story, but through her poetry Engle put feelings into it that would have been absent from straightforward writing. The way she used different people to tell about Juan’s life really gave a lot of perspective. It showed how Juan’s mother, María del Pilar, felt about her life and what her son had to endure. The words of Doña Beatriz showed how she thought Juan was simply a “poodle,” a toy to be played with and thrown away when no longer needed for entertainment. It even showed how La Marquesa de Prado Ameno felt that Juan should have been grateful for everything she gave him and how he should never have been sad because it would have made her sad. The poetry showed the selfish and terrible woman that she was.

The parts of the book that showed the torture Juan endured by his master were very graphic and terrifying. They were graphic because Engle used terrifying words, but because she put Juan’s feelings into these scenes. Not only could you imagine what he was physically feeling, you really knew as the reader how he felt emotionally. Which was just as hard to bear as what was being done to him. Although, the scenes were graphic, I would bring this into the classroom. I would use it in a high school classroom to not only tell Juan’s story, but also to show how Engle told it though lyrical verse. I would use it show what we can do with our words when we know how to use them.

I would not merely use this in conjunction with a history lesson (although that would also be ideal). I would use this alone in a reading or an English classroom. I might even use it when studying biographies to show students that there is more than one way to write any story. I would want to bring The Poet Slave of Cuba into the classroom to show students how beautiful poetry can be and how beautiful and tragic Juan Francisco Manzano’s life was.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America

Living in West Texas makes cotton a big part of our everyday lives; however cotton is meaningful to everyone in the United States. It touches everyone every day, literally through our clothing, and other items we use every day. Many people also make a living from cotton. Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, by Deborah Hopkins, shows that Cotton has been important for every person since before the civil war.

Having worked in the cotton industry I thought I knew a lot about cotton and its history, after reading this book I found out I didn’t know even half of the history of cotton all over the United States. Hopkins does a great job of blending firsthand accounts with the history of that time. She tells about cotton through the eyes of the people that lived it, helping the reader understand this part of our history in a personal way. It helps them relate. Also, the pictures in the book were very telling. Through her research the author really showed what it was like to work in the cotton industry.

I enjoy how the author separated the book into two parts: before the Civil War and after. This helps to break up some of the information, since there is so much in a 104-page book. This would definitely help in a classroom, when trying to teach about a certain time period in cotton’s history. It helps the reader see the time line of cotton through words and pictures.

My only reservation about the book was that at times I would drift away from what the author was saying. For that reason I would not use this as a classroom set in an English class. I would use it for research, or certain sections for background information. However, in a social studies or history class I would actually use the book as a textbook when studying the civil war, slavery, and industry.