A Poetry Book by Margarita Engle

1. Bibliography

Engle, Margarita, and Rafael López (illustrator). 2017. Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9780805098761

2. Plot Summary

Beginning with Juan de Miralles, a Cuban born in 1713, and moving through the 1800s with Mexicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans, and into the late 1900s with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, an El Salvadorian, and a Venezuelan, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1980, writer Margarita Engle pens short but stunning poetic portraits of both famous Hispanics and Hispanics whose contributions have mostly been hidden from the public eye. From politicians to priests and healers to healthy recipe writers, the cast of characters in Bravo! demonstrates the diversity of the Hispanic community. Illustrator Rafael López has contributed illustrations that use both digital and painterly elements to create eye-catching visuals to match Engle’s powerful text. The front of the book includes a letter to readers from Engle and the end includes notes about the lives of each of the eighteen Hispanics highlighted in the picture book.

3.  Critical Analysis

As Margarita Engle explains in her introductory letter to readers, “this is not a book about the most famous Hispanics.” Truly, Engle looks far and wide to create a picture book that shines with the diversity of the movers and shakers that are highlighted in this winning picture book. Readers may be familiar with the names of some Hispanics found in Bravo!—Cuban poet José Martí, for example, or nonviolent protestor César Chávez. But readers probably won’t recognize the names of Hispanics like Aída de Acosta, the world’s first woman pilot, or Ynés Mexía, a botanist that collected an impressive number of new plant species in Mexico and South America. With men and women; rich and poor; Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans; and cowboys, librarians, and baseball players, this book truly celebrates the diversity of the Hispanic culture. López’s illustrations also reflect the diversity within the Hispanic world with portraits of heroes and heroines of diverse skin and hair colors, dress, and economic status.

The quality of Engle’s poetry is just as commendable as the diversity of the Hispanics she’s chosen. Although she only has the single page of a picture book spread to explain each amazing Hispanic, Engle finds a way to convey the importance of each life with powerful simplicity. Juana Briones, for example, leaves her cruel husband after he hits her, and—though the 1800s were not kind to single women—survives “as a rancher and healer,” healing others with medicinal plants and “healing [her]self / with independence.” López compliments Engle’s powerful prose with powerful visuals. On the spread dedicated to Juana Briones, he draws a hand with plants blooming within it. While the hand was once the symbol of an abusive spouse—a hand of hurting—Juana decided to turn her own hands into hands of healing. With such a high caliber of poetry and illustrations, Bravo! provides ample fodder for discussion in classrooms, libraries, and homes. This is a must-have for any library dedicated to diversity.

4. Rewards and Review Excerpts

New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing List, 2017, Poetry and Song

Tejas Star Reading List, 2018–2019

Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, 2018, Commended Title

From Bulletin: “Eighteen Latinos who made their marks in the New World are featured in verses in their own voices attesting to their achievements and their struggles. . . . López’s full page, mixed-media portraiture captures both the nobility and humanity of his subjects. . .”

From CCBC: “Biographical poems introduce 18 Hispanics whose lives, notes author Margarita Engle, range from some who were celebrated in their lifetimes but have been forgotten by history, to others who achieved lasting fame. Even the shortest poems provide a brief but intriguing sense of their subjects lives and accomplishments while nurturing readers desire to learn more. . . Gorgeous full-page portraits of each subject incorporate elements of the work for which they were known, while inspired spot illustrations add to the volume’s beauty.”

5. Connections

Ask children (ages 8 to 12) to read through Bravo! on their own, and then discuss which of the amazing Hispanics stood out to them. Dividing children into groups, asking each group to do a little more research on one of the Hispanics highlighted in the book. Invite children to present their research at an “Amazing Hispanics” night.

Create a display of children’s books written by Margarita Engle, such as the following selections:

  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. ISBN 9780805086744
  • Enchanted Air. ISBN 9781481435222
  • Mountain Dog. ISBN 9780805095166
  • Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. ISBN 9780805092400
  • The Drum Dream Girl. ISBN 9781520018171
  • All the Way to Havana. ISBN 9781627796422

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Novel in Verse


Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out & Back Again. New York: Harper, 2011. ISBN 9780061962783


Told in verse, Inside Out & Back Again is the story of a girl and her journey from her war-torn home country, Vietnam, to a strange, often difficult new one in America. The novel begins in February 1975 in Saigon, where Hà lives with her mother and three older brothers. With the country in the throes of war and her father taken by the communists, Hà and her family are shepherded aboard a runaway navy ship by a kind uncle. For over three weeks, the family and other Vietnamese refugees live at sea on cut rations and one bathroom break a day, hoping to be spotted and saved by rescue boats. Finally, Americans come, bringing food and transport to camps in Guam and then in Florida, where the family waits for weeks on end, hoping and praying for an American sponsor. When a “cowboy” comes to the camp looking for a car mechanic, Hà’s brother Quang, who studied engineering in Vietnam, catches his eye and cowboy man decides to bring the whole family home with him to Alabama. The move to the state is difficult for school-smart Hà, who now struggles to learn English and keep up with her classmates. Bullies and racist neighbors make life even more difficult. Still, Hà manages to rise above her difficulties, holding tightly to her family, a kindly next-door neighbor, and school friends who care. One full year after Inside Out begins, Hà senses that her future is bright.


Lai’s mastery of imagery, exemplified in her descriptions of papaya, is astoundingly good. First, Hà introduces readers to the papaya seed she has planted, “a seed like / a fish eye, / slippery / shiny / black”—and then to the freshly picked papaya itself, which Hà describes as “soft as a yam / gliding down / after three easy, / thrilling chews”—and lastly, to a different kind of papaya given to her in her new home in Alabama: “Three pouches of dried papaya / chewy / sugary / waxy / sticky / not the same / at all.” The imagery of the fruit, “middle sweet / between a mango and a pear,” imbues itself into the pages so descriptively, so palpably that readers will feel as though they can almost taste the exotic fruit—and with it, Hà’s joys and sorrows.

Lai hasn’t just mastered imagery; she’s mastered language itself. There’s no doubt that her poetic verse packs a Bruce Lee punch, despite the brevity of the lines. Readers will smile behind the curtains with Mother as Hà’s brother Vu teaches neighbors combat techniques in the front yard, slowly winning over the community after having eggs thrown through their door and bricks smashed through their window. Readers will join Hà in despair when “Mother runs in after work, / hands clenched into white balls,” her amethyst wedding stone—and the last hope of her husband—lost forever. Readers will sympathize with Hà as her friendly neighbor, “MiSSiss WaSShington,” begins to teach her English, the hissy language she can’t pronounce. Finally, readers will cheer with Hà as she reveals her New Year’s hope: to “truly learn . . . to fly.” Hà’s emotions—and, inevitably, the reader’s own—will run the gamut, from scared and sorrowful to exultant.

This book is an important one. It is a book that will likely resonate with refugees and, perhaps more importantly, provide those who have never had a refugee experience with important insights. Furthermore, its format gives middle-graders an impressive introduction to verse poetry, and its imagery and emotional appeal provide unquestionable literary merit to middle-grade, teen, and adult readers alike. This book should be part of every library’s collection.


Newbery Medal Nominee (2012)

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2011)

Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Nominee for Older Children (2012)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Narrating in sparse free-verse poems, 10-year-old Hà brings a strong, memorable voice to the immigrant experience as her family moves from war-torn South Vietnam to Alabama in 1975.”

From BookPage Reviews: “Lai’s spare poetry, full of emotion and infused with humor, is accessible to young children and adults alike. This moving and beautifully told story is a must-read for anyone who works with children new to the country.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “In her not-to-be-missed debut, Lai evokes a distinct time and place and presents a complex, realistic heroine whom readers will recognize, even if they haven’t found themselves in a strange new country.”


  • Read Inside Out & Back Again as an introduction to the Vietnam War. Then suggest the following books on the Vietnam War for teens to read and discuss in groups:
    • Crowe, Chris. Death Coming Up a Hill. ISBN 9780544302150
    • Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now. ISBN 9780547152608
    • Kadohata, Cynthia. Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam. ISBN 9780547152608
  • Read Lai’s free verse poems about the papaya. Discuss how she uses imagery to bring her poetry to life. Invite middle-graders to write their own free verse poetry about fruit. Then, bring papaya and other fruits for a fruit party while children share their poems.
  • After reading Inside Out & Back Again, invite middle-graders and teens to read other books and short stories by Thanhha Lai. Then, have a discussion about which they liked best and why:
    • Lai, Thanhha. Listen, Slowly. ISBN 9780062229182
    • Lai, Thanhha. Butterfly Yellow. ISBN 9780062229236
    • Scieszka, Jon (editor). True Stories. ISBN 9780062316523
  • After reading Inside Out & Back Again, invite teens to read other verse poetry. Then, vote on which they liked best and hold an awards ceremony for the favorite verse novel. The list could include the following:
    • Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. ISBN 9781481438254
    • Anderson, Laurie H. SHOUT. ISBN 9780670012107
    • Wolff, Virginia E. Make Lemonade. ISBN 9780805080704

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

A Book by Douglas Florian


Florian, Douglas. Poetrees. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2010. ISBN 9781416986720


In Poetrees, Douglas Florian has created a poetry collection dedicated to all things tree—its seed, its bark, its roots and rings. His poems also go beyond tree anatomy to teach readers about a wide variety of tree species—among others, the baobab (“Vat tree. / Fat tree. / Bottle tree. / Brown tree”), the giant sequoia (“Grow by degrees / To world’s tallest trees”), and the bristlecone pine (“One of the oldest trees on Earth, / With swirling branches, twirling girth”). The book’s original format turns the book sideways to read top to bottom rather than left to right, and its original art was created using a variety of mediums on top of brown paper bags. The book includes a “glosatree” and a list of other tree resources for the blossoming arbor lover.


Douglas Florian has a strong sense of rhythm, and the arrangement of each poem’s meter and line reflects deliberate writing. In his first poem, “The Seed,” Florian uses a single, unbroken poetic line in the shape of the infinity symbol to deftly depict the never-ending cycle of the tree (and the seed and the tree . . . ). In “Coconut Palm,” Florian creates a short, bouncy ABAB rhyme scheme to echo the light tone of the poem’s text. In “Monkey Puzzle Tree,” Florian pens a true limerick, the perfect vessel for his humorous musings. Each of Florian’s poems has a rhythm that matches its tone, a true feat in the poetry world. Furthermore, Florian’s poetry never feels forced and his poems hold to an unfaltering rhythm, reminiscent of the unfaltering stability of trees.

The design of the book itself is also commendable. The pages turn vertically, allowing trees to reach great heights on the paper. But the quality of the illustrations themselves is a mélange. Some reflect the mood of the poem exceptionally well. (These include “Giant Sequoias” with its breathtaking collage of ecological coexistence, and the gorgeous watercolor circles in “Tree Rings” which complement the wonder of discovering a tree’s history.) However, some illustrations are so bizarre that they make otherwise strong poems seem at best badly matched with their visual counterparts and at worst unappealing. (These include “Roots,” paired with an unsettling and seemingly random brown watercolor of a shirtless man, and “Banyan,” accompanied by underdeveloped tree outlines and a strange Weiner-dog-esque creature lying at the root).

As for the language of Poetrees, one characteristic of the collection is the ample use of the pun. In fact, puns can be found in almost every poem in the collection, in both the poetry itself (cold-climate paper birch is renamed “paper birrrrrrrrrrrrrch”) and in the illustrations (dogs peek out from underneath the “bark”). While clever puns are sure to delight clever children, on occasion the puns feel too ample. In “Japanese Ceder,” for example, the puns “ex-seed-ingly” and “tree-mendous” are repeated five times in the short ten-line poem, making it seem more trite than witty. Occasionally, Florian produces poetry that feels underdeveloped. Take “Oak,” for example, with its four short lines—“From the acorn / Grows the tree— / Slowly, / Slowly.” In summary, Florian’s Poetrees shows a grasp of rhythm and rhyme, but the illustrations and language aren’t consistent enough to merit true excellence.


From School Library Journal: “This exquisite collection, with its thoughtful wordplay and timely subject, rewards careful reading and should resonate with a wide audience.”

From Horn Book Magazine: “Trees need all the help they can muster in today’s world; this quirky entry may well enlist interest.” 

From Booklist: “Starting with the book’s title and ending with a final glossatree, the wordplay in Florian’s latest poetry collection provides plenty of fun.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “Trees receive a witty and informative rhyming appreciation. . . . Although some of [Florian’s] wordplay falls flat (sequoias are “Ancient seers / Of three thousand years”), by and large the poems live up to his usual high standard. . . . Readers and listeners will learn and laugh.”


  • Read the shape poem “Tree Rings” together. Then invite children to create shape poems of their own.
  • Show children a local field guide of trees and go on a neighborhood walk together, allowing children to collect leaves, seeds, and bark. Then, use the book to identify tree species together and create a “neighborhood tree guide” by pasting leaves and seeds onto paper and writing the species name underneath. The following book could be a helpful reference:
    • Gibbons, Gail. Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids. ISBN 9780316309035
  • Read excerpts from Poetrees with other excerpts from Douglas Florian. Ask children which book or poem is their favorite and why.
    • Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings. ISBN 9780152053727
    • Florian, Douglas. Insectlopedia. ISBN 9780152163358
    • Florian, Douglas. Winter Eyes. ISBN 9780688164584
  • Read Poetrees with other picture books about trees. Then, ask children to write and illustrate their own tree story.
    • Napoli, Donna J., and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. ISBN 9781416935056
    • Hopkins, H. J., and Jill McElmurry (illustrator). The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. ISBN 9781442414020
    • Zweibel, Alan, and David Catrow (illustrator). Our Tree Named Steve. ISBN 9780142407431

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Award Winning Poetry Book


Hoberman, Mary A., and Linda Winston (editors). The Tree That Time Built. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009. ISBN 9781402225178


Science and poetry are more alike than we might think. That’s what a children’s poet laureate–schoolteacher duo are out to prove in a book dedicated to the greatest naturalist of all time—Charles Darwin. This compilation of over 100 poems by more than 70 poets is divided into nine sections honoring topics such as the sea, the trees, prehistoric life, reptiles, and our role in taking care of the planet. Classic poets like Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and Ogden Nash make an appearance. Yet the duo is also careful to select poems from modern award-winners like Joseph Bruchac, Douglas Florian, Kristine O’Connell George, and Tony Johnston, as well as lesser-known writers. Poems are sometimes accompanied by minimalistic art and brief comments or questions for the reader to ponder. The back of the book includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and short summaries of each poet.


The organization in The Tree That Time Built is well done and the design is clean and clear. Each section is marked with a thoughtful introduction and a breathtaking tree illustration. Teachers, parents, and middle-graders need look no further for a poetry collection that bridges the gap between juvenile and adult poetry. The book includes not only oral readings of many of the poems, but also a helpful glossary, poet bibliography, and additional resources for further naturalistic and poetic study. And, with questions reflecting on what the world would be like without trees or what would happen if we lost our connection to the natural world, the book prompts thoughtful middle-graders to think more deeply, helping them to gain important analytical skills and a deeper appreciation for poetry, science, and the connections we share with all living things.

Furthermore, poems run the emotional gamut. Some are funny like “The Jellyfish and the Clam”—one “‘no more than a lump of wet squish,’” the other “‘just a thick shell.’”  Some are philosophical like “If They Spoke,” a poem in which Mark Van Doren wonders what animals would tell us if they could talk. Some are comforting like “The Sea is Our Mother,” and others melancholy like “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” In a truly incredible display of their selection powers, Hoberman and Winston have successfully balanced an enormous variety of poetical voices, no one outtalking the others.

One especially captivating poem is an excerpt from March ’79, translated from its original Swedish. The translator writes, “I come across the marks of roe-deer’s hooves in the snow. / Language but no words.” Here, readers uncover an original and wholly surprising insight—that animal tracks tell a story. As delightful as this poem was to read, even more delightful is the fact that each and every poem has its own insight to ponder. In this collection, there are no duds.


Cybils Award Nominee for Poetry (2009)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Taken in total, the poems encompass nature’s multitudinous qualities, from harsher realities (‘On my early walk/ I passed the Frog Prince/ dead in a rut of the road,’ in Virginia Hamilton Adair’s Early Walk) to its ability to inspire at its most microscopic, as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, ‘Atom from atom yawns as far/ As moon from earth,/ as star from star.’”

From Booklist: “Selected by Winston, an anthropologist and teacher, and Hoberman, the current U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, this attractive, accessible anthology collects poems that celebrate both the facts and the mysteries of the natural world.”

From Library Media Connection: “Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman gives us an exciting collection of over 100 poems that make connections between poetry and science. . . . This collection would be a great choice to use as a collaborative tool with Middle School Science and English classes.”

From School Library Journal: “From the playful to the profound, the poems invite reflection and inspire further investigation.”


  • Ask middle-schoolers to pick one favorite poem from the collection and memorize it. Then have a recitation party together.
  • Focus on one of the poems from the collection that includes commentary from Hoberman and Winston. Talk through their commentary and discussion prompt together.
  • Listen to one section of the poetry collection audio CD together while middle-schoolers create a piece of artwork that relates to that poetry section. Then, put on an art show and allow them to present their work.
  • After reading The Tree That Time Built, read through some of the poet biographies in the back of the book and present children with these poets’ other works. The following books could be possible candidates:
    • Hoberman, Mary A., and Betty Fraser (illustrator). The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems. ISBN 9780152055714
    • Prelutsky, Jack, and James Stevenson (illustrator). The New Kid on the Block. ISBN 9780688022716
    • Sidman, Joyce, and Beth Krommes (illustrator). Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature. ISBN 9780547315836
    • Singer, Marilyn, and Josée Masse (illustrator). Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems. ISBN 9780525479017

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.