Friday, April 11, 2014

"Silver People"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters.

Engle’s recent books include The Lightning Dreamer and When You Wander, and her middle grade chapter book, Mountain Dog, was published in August 2013.

Engle applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, and reported the following:
From page 69:
If only I could find some way
to take a steamship home
and start my life over.

I’ve never had a chance
to go to school. If I send enough
silver home, will my little brothers
and sisters be able to study?
Maybe one of them will even
grow up to be
a teacher
or a nurse.

That would make all my Serpent Cut
This excerpt of Silver People, found on page 69, is the end of a poem in the voice of a young Jamaican laborer named Henry. The poem is called Sleepless. It begins with rain and the jungle noises he hears as he lies awake, “troubled by wishes.” In some ways, this page is quite typical of the entire verse novel, since it focuses on the emotional aspects of an overwhelmingly difficult task. The reason Henry signed up as a Panama Canal digger is revealed: to help his family. The suffering of the “Serpent Cut” (Culebra Cut) laborers is mentioned. Both dismay and hope is expressed. Even more important, the first line of page 69 refers to a grim fact: once they had arrived in Panama, laborers from the Caribbean islands had no way to change their minds and go home, partly because they had signed contracts, and partly because they couldn’t afford steamship passage.

In other ways, page 69 is not typical, because it doesn’t include the mysterious power and beauty of nature, which is a theme throughout the novel. If a reader skips ahead a few pages, there will be poems in the voices of howler monkeys, giant hissing cockroaches, crocodiles, a jaguar, and trees. By alternating between human and rain forest points of view, I hoped to convey the immensity of history’s most ambitious engineering project, as well as the desperate need to protect the last remnants of tropical rain forests, exactly one hundred years later.
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue