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The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

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A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet. Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet. Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty. Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope. The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year. Latino Interest.


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A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet. Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet. Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty. Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope. The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year. Latino Interest.

30 review for The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kandace

    After devouring The Poet Slave of Cuba in an afternoon, I can see why it was awarded the Pura Belpre Award. Based on his own autobiographical notes, Margarita Engle retells the story of Cuban poet Juan Francisco Manzano. Engle was haunted by the life and poetry of Manzano and felt it’s reliving could only be told in verse. She captures the intense and brutal childhood of an enslaved child poet with her own poignant words and the haunting black and white sketchings of Sean Qualls. Born into slave After devouring The Poet Slave of Cuba in an afternoon, I can see why it was awarded the Pura Belpre Award. Based on his own autobiographical notes, Margarita Engle retells the story of Cuban poet Juan Francisco Manzano. Engle was haunted by the life and poetry of Manzano and felt it’s reliving could only be told in verse. She captures the intense and brutal childhood of an enslaved child poet with her own poignant words and the haunting black and white sketchings of Sean Qualls. Born into slavery, Juan is forced to live life as the companion and pet of his wealthy female landowner. He is physically and emotionally abused by his owners and forced away from his real family. Juan seeks solace through literature. His owners use him as entertainment by having him recite great works, while still treating him with contempt and disgust in their inhumane treatment. He is repeatedly shackled, locked into darkness and whipped at the whims of his captors. Yet, somehow Juan is able to escape the inhumanity by retreating into his own creativity. Secretly he reads, writes and expresses his artistry at every possible moment. The disturbing subject of Juan's biography is not easy to digest. However, the barbaric nature of slavery is a part of history that must be studied. The Poet Slave of Cuba beautifully recounts an ugly chapter of our past. Told through the verse of several people, including Juan, his parents, and owners, Juan's tragic tale comes to life. Readers of all ages won't be able to put this book down due to the ingenious storytelling of Margarita Engle. Juan is able to extract hope in a life surrounded by cruelty; a lesson we can all learn from. There aren't enough stars for me to express how moving this story was!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Such a tragic life, to want to be so possessed by his owner because of his gifts and to be so harshly punished for every little slight that was the over-reactive imaginings of a cruel woman. Margarita Engle brings Juan's early years to life with her trademark lyrical prose, an elegy to the poet slave Juan Francisco Manzano. Juan Francisco Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slave-owner in Cuba in 1797. We know details about the early years of his life thanks to a collection of his auto Such a tragic life, to want to be so possessed by his owner because of his gifts and to be so harshly punished for every little slight that was the over-reactive imaginings of a cruel woman. Margarita Engle brings Juan's early years to life with her trademark lyrical prose, an elegy to the poet slave Juan Francisco Manzano. Juan Francisco Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slave-owner in Cuba in 1797. We know details about the early years of his life thanks to a collection of his autobiographical notes being smuggled out of Cuba to England, where they were published by abolitionists who hoped to raise support for their cause. He spent most of his childhood close to a woman who insisted he call her Mama, despite the presence of his own mother Maria del Pilar. Though he wasn't formally educated, he had a gift for language and poetry and despite the severe punishments he endured for continuing to express joy and suffering through his words. The woman who kept him initially allowed his mother and any unborn children to buy their freedom and promised Juan freedom on her death. It was a promise rescinded by those still living after the woman’s death, though his mother continued to try to purchase his freedom without result. The Marquesa is a bitter, cruel woman who even when inflicting the most grotesque punishment on Juan, still finds reason to blame him for her own suffering. Juan Francisco Manzano didn't stop producing spontaneous poems until very late in his life, after being arrested for trying to stir up a slave rebellion through his poetry and spending a year in prison. That experience silenced his voice forever. His work is astonishing, bold, thought-provoking, intelligent and lengthy. Once you begin reading it you can't stop and I can see why both his work and his story haunted Margarita Engle for so long. That she has been able to condense his experience and thoughts into this humble volume is a gift to readers young and old. The artwork in all her books is fantastic, this work illustrated beautifully by Sean Qualls. I recommend reading the original translation by Richard Madden of Juan Francisco's work, which you can access below: Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, Recently Liberated; Translated from the Spanish, by R. R. Madden, M.D. With the History of the Early Life of the Negro Poet, Written by Himself

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristy K

    Short, heartbreaking, and infuriating, yet somehow tinged with hope. Off to find his poetry now.

  4. 4 out of 5

    R K

    Just when I was impressed by Engle's The Firefly Letters she did it again. Stupendous This was a biography told in verse about the poet Juan Francisco Manzano who was a Cuban poet and slave. Engle had done a lot of research into this poet and took is upon herself to educate the world about this man. About the way he was treated by colonialism. Juan constantly, throughout the book, refers to his body not being his. The body that his soul inhabits is not his. It belongs to his mistress. He is at h Just when I was impressed by Engle's The Firefly Letters she did it again. Stupendous This was a biography told in verse about the poet Juan Francisco Manzano who was a Cuban poet and slave. Engle had done a lot of research into this poet and took is upon herself to educate the world about this man. About the way he was treated by colonialism. Juan constantly, throughout the book, refers to his body not being his. The body that his soul inhabits is not his. It belongs to his mistress. He is at her beck and call. To act the clown, the poet, the actor, the quiet steward when asked. He goes around in essentially what is not his. Only the words he learns, the poems in his mind are his. And he is cruelly punished for this. Over and Over again. Juan's life is not a happy one. Actually, I taken that back, happiness is a concept not known to Juan. It's a destructive poem that tells the reader what life in Cuba was like in the 18th and 19th century. It shows the horrors of colonialism. Even the history of sugar is not one of good conscious. Most importantly, it shows the consequences on the human spirit and society when censorship comes into play. Fantastic poetry and I highly recommend it to everyone

  5. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This was a powerful biography about Juan Francisco Manzano (1797–1854), a 19th century Cuban poet who wrote an autobiography, two books of poetry and a play. His book, The Autobiography of a Slave, the only existing documented account of 19th-century Cuban slavery, is also the only existing narrative account of slavery in Spanish America. This biography was inspired by his work and written in verse by Cuban-American poet, novelist and journalist Margarita Engle. If you’re afraid of trying a book This was a powerful biography about Juan Francisco Manzano (1797–1854), a 19th century Cuban poet who wrote an autobiography, two books of poetry and a play. His book, The Autobiography of a Slave, the only existing documented account of 19th-century Cuban slavery, is also the only existing narrative account of slavery in Spanish America. This biography was inspired by his work and written in verse by Cuban-American poet, novelist and journalist Margarita Engle. If you’re afraid of trying a book written in verse, don’t be. It wasn’t sing-songy at all; I didn’t notice it was written in verse, I was just swept away by the power of language. I listened to the audiobook, which got an Audiophile Earphones award in 2009. The chapters alternate between Juan, his parents, the two women who claimed to own him, and the son of the last woman. The narrator for Juan was superb. Some of the other narrators, I think in an effort to convey either ennui or gravitas, spoke a little too slowly and without enough emotional inflection. It’s still a good listen tho. This is not an easy listen, it depicts the brutality, torture and inhumanity of slavery, but Juan’s insightful poetic observations and his eventual escape help lighten the story. His hunger for learning and his aptitude for language was inspiring. Even when his heinous treatment made him bitter, he still took joy in small things and believed freedom was possible. Appropriate for older middle grade, YA and adult readers. CW: slavery, torture, physical, mental and emotional abuse, death, dangerous situations; lying, obsession and dishonesty on the part of the slaveholders (he was supposed to be freed on the death of the first, but the second insisted he belonged to her and was a horrendous person with a touch of megalomania). In the epilogue, Engle reads some of Manzano’s poetry, first in 19th century Spanish and then in her English translations.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Noninuna

    4.5 🌟It's a very poignant biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, a slave who has a gift with words & a good memory. Tho it is titled as a biography, it's only consist of probably half his life and the rest was told in the historical note in the end of the book. The poems by the author are really compelling in telling the story of the cruelty of Manzano's second master. Here I quote: somehow she imagines that his dark thoughts when really it is exactly the opposite. She is the one with a mind that ne 4.5 🌟It's a very poignant biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, a slave who has a gift with words & a good memory. Tho it is titled as a biography, it's only consist of probably half his life and the rest was told in the historical note in the end of the book. The poems by the author are really compelling in telling the story of the cruelty of Manzano's second master. Here I quote: somehow she imagines that his dark thoughts when really it is exactly the opposite. She is the one with a mind that needs light. and another one We make fun of ourselves. We make pain feel like fun. It's a great experience to read and learned of what actually slavery was like in those sugar plantations in Cuba.

  7. 5 out of 5

    book.to.frame

    This was so sad to read. What this boy-to-man went through was despicable and heartbreaking. I cannot begin to imagine the horrendous things slaves experienced during their lifetime. This is a middle grade book so the content is not as bad as it would have been if it was for adults. This book focuses on a slave named Juan Francisco Manzano of Cuba who grew up to become a writer and poet. He was a gifted child and could recite anything and everything he heard. His owner took care of him and upon This was so sad to read. What this boy-to-man went through was despicable and heartbreaking. I cannot begin to imagine the horrendous things slaves experienced during their lifetime. This is a middle grade book so the content is not as bad as it would have been if it was for adults. This book focuses on a slave named Juan Francisco Manzano of Cuba who grew up to become a writer and poet. He was a gifted child and could recite anything and everything he heard. His owner took care of him and upon her death, gave him to a relative who was one of the cruelest women I can think of! I will definitely be looking into Manzano’s work to get a true feel of his life and what he went through.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tristan

    This is an accessible and enjoyable verse biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. I liked Engles's The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom slightly better, but this work accomplished its aims effectively. Manzano was a poet of colonial Cuba, born a slave and learning the art of verse secretly. His life is captured in this series of first-person poems, mostly narrated by him, but also including the voices of the woman who first owned him and set him free at her death, his mother, hi This is an accessible and enjoyable verse biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. I liked Engles's The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom slightly better, but this work accomplished its aims effectively. Manzano was a poet of colonial Cuba, born a slave and learning the art of verse secretly. His life is captured in this series of first-person poems, mostly narrated by him, but also including the voices of the woman who first owned him and set him free at her death, his mother, his father, the woman who kept him enslaved after the first owner's death, her son, and the overseer responsible for "punishing" him. Each of these voices gives the life of Manzano texture and fluidity as different perspectives are seen of his life until his escape from his second owner, la Marquesa de Prado Ameno. This is clearly a biography aimed at children, presenting narrative with little to no discussion or analysis, in simple, easy-to-understand language. By telling the story in smooth, prosy free-verse poems, Engles allows the story to dictate what happens and open the story up to strong description and turns of phrase like " in the morning / my breakfast of screams". This makes it better than most biographical work aimed at children, and a good way to introduce children to Cuban history. The poetry itself is fine, but not stellar--serving mostly to make the multiple perspectives a more effective device than it would have been in a prose narrative. In all, an important book, and a good book, but I was not awed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aly Gutierrez

    • Book Summary -The Poet Slave of Cuba is a lyrical biography of an escaped Cuban slave who went on to become a renowned poet. Juan Francisco Manzano was born a Cuban slave. Although denied an education, Manzano had a knack for poetry. His poetry reflected the beauty of the world around him, while also depicting the dark, haunting life of being a slave. • Pura Belpre Award • Grade level, interest level, Lexile -5th-7th • Appropriate classroom use (subject area) -Teach about multicultural slavery. S • Book Summary -The Poet Slave of Cuba is a lyrical biography of an escaped Cuban slave who went on to become a renowned poet. Juan Francisco Manzano was born a Cuban slave. Although denied an education, Manzano had a knack for poetry. His poetry reflected the beauty of the world around him, while also depicting the dark, haunting life of being a slave. • Pura Belpre Award • Grade level, interest level, Lexile -5th-7th • Appropriate classroom use (subject area) -Teach about multicultural slavery. Slavery did not just occur in the United States. • Individual students who might benefit from reading -Students that are Cuban or have a family lineage that were once slaves. As well as, any students interested in history and slavery around the world. • Small group use (literature circles) -After reading, have students analyze the events that occurred and talk about how they feel about what happen to the protagonist. How does it compare to slavery in America. • Whole class use (read aloud) -Analyze events that occurred after each section. How does it compare to slavery in America. • Related books in genre/subject or content area -“Enchanted Air” by Margarita Engle is another poetic memoir. • Multimedia connections -Available on a Kindle or as a paperback copy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A powerful novel in verse.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Doug Glenning

    Such a good, but sad story! It was interesting to see this angle of Cuban history. It worked so well in poetry form I cannot.imagine it as a traditional narrative!

  12. 5 out of 5

    L12_markmesserly

    This review pertains to the 2006 hardcover edition, suggested for grades 7 and higher. This 2008 Pura Belpre Medal winner is the biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, a Cuban slave. The perspective of the poetic narrative shifts between Juan and the other characters in the book. His first wealthy owner, Doña Beatriz describes Juan as being “much cleaner than poodles and parrots or the Persian cats that are always shedding their fur on my pillows…” (p. 13). Denied an education, Juan has a talent fo This review pertains to the 2006 hardcover edition, suggested for grades 7 and higher. This 2008 Pura Belpre Medal winner is the biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, a Cuban slave. The perspective of the poetic narrative shifts between Juan and the other characters in the book. His first wealthy owner, Doña Beatriz describes Juan as being “much cleaner than poodles and parrots or the Persian cats that are always shedding their fur on my pillows…” (p. 13). Denied an education, Juan has a talent for poetry that entertains his first owner. His sadistic second owner, La Marquesa de Prada Ameno, is determined to extinguish Juan’s creativity, hoping he will focus upon becoming a tailor or chef. Other voices in this narrative include Juan’s father, Toribio, the sympathetic Don Nicholas, and the cruel Overseer. The poetic narrative describes Juan’s harsh life, including the death of his mother, a brush with prison, and his ultimate escape attempt. The historical notes at the end of the text describe facets of Juan’s life in more detail. There are intriguing circumstances surrounding censorship by the Spanish authorities in Cuba; some of Juan’s autobiographical notes were smuggled to England. The poetic narrative ranges from the haunting beauty of Juan’s dreams, to graphic and disturbingly vicious treatment suffered by slaves. The stark black and white drawings effectively mirror the range of emotions expressed in the verse. For classroom use, the Macmillan website media.us.macmillan.com/teachersguides... suggests several activities suited to this text. The document provides a graphic organizer to describe character traits, a template for the creation of a Bio-poem, and a detailed model for a Jigsaw activity. Other classroom uses could focus upon slavery in Cuba, researching the political climate and circumstances relative to slavery in the United States. A related text is The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle (ISBN: 0805090827, grades 8 and up). This narrative tells the story of Fredrika Bremer in verse, who was a suffragette in mid 19th century Cuba. -

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    PURA BELPRE NARRATIVE AWARD (2008) AMERICAS AWARD (2006) Format: Book, Free Verse Poem, Biography Age level: Early high school The Poet Slave of Cuba is a biography of Juan Francisco Manazano. Juan was born in 1797, a slave to a wealthy landowner. His first master died shen he was 11 yeard old. Although Juan had been promised his freedom, he was sent to a new master, la Marchesa de Prado Ameno. La Marchesa was said to be crazy and was exceptionally cruel. Juan suffered many horrible punishments at he PURA BELPRE NARRATIVE AWARD (2008) AMERICAS AWARD (2006) Format: Book, Free Verse Poem, Biography Age level: Early high school The Poet Slave of Cuba is a biography of Juan Francisco Manazano. Juan was born in 1797, a slave to a wealthy landowner. His first master died shen he was 11 yeard old. Although Juan had been promised his freedom, he was sent to a new master, la Marchesa de Prado Ameno. La Marchesa was said to be crazy and was exceptionally cruel. Juan suffered many horrible punishments at her behest. Despite his torments, Juan secretly learned to read. His wonderful verses, along with his talents at recitation and healing, won him many admireres, both slaves and free men. Juan's story is told through a collection of free-verse poems. While many of the poems are from his point of view, a variety of other people in his life also have poems included. Some of the other characters include his mother, his father, and his first master/mistress. The format of this biography is compelling. Because Juan himself was a poet, it was very appropriate to tell his story in verse. I feel that the poetic form helped convey the strong emotions Juan would have been experiencing. The illustrations in this book are all black and white. Some of the illustrations are of a particular situation in Juan's life while others merely contribute an object or two to symbolize his experiences. I found several of the illustrations to be just as haunting as the poem it represented. Despite the many atrocities Juan suffered, this book is uplifting as one learns about his strength of character amid oppression. It is an amazing true story of a very talented young man and will be inspiring to readers. It could be included with a biography unit, a poetry unit, lessons on slavery, or stories about triumph against adversity.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    I am have a difficult time finding words to describe what i thought about this book. The poetry was beautiful and descriptive. The story it told was sad and depressing. The poems from others in the book - Juan's mother, the overseer, Don Nicholas and La Marquesa De Prado Ameno give us their thoughts about Juan's treatment but do nothing to soften how I feel about the injustices that were lain upon him. I found myself praying that Juan would either escape or die so that he would not have to suffe I am have a difficult time finding words to describe what i thought about this book. The poetry was beautiful and descriptive. The story it told was sad and depressing. The poems from others in the book - Juan's mother, the overseer, Don Nicholas and La Marquesa De Prado Ameno give us their thoughts about Juan's treatment but do nothing to soften how I feel about the injustices that were lain upon him. I found myself praying that Juan would either escape or die so that he would not have to suffer anymore. And while I prayed for his release or death, Juan continued to write poetry and find beauty in the world. Page 48.... "Flowers the frounds of ferns and palm trees harps, ribbons birds in flight pleasure gardens where ladies with parasols stroll beside peaceful lakes" He can write like this even while in chains. I think If I used this book in the classroom the age group would have to be 13 or above. Younger ones might not understand these injustices and the book does seem to bring out depressing thoughts (at least it did for me). However, it is a lovely autobiography about the life of a brilliant Cuban slave and could lead to a great discussion about slavery and the African Diaspora. Also could be used to introduce a form of poetry that doesn't rhyme. I give this book 4 stars for the griping story that it tells and the truthful way that it was told. I would give it zero stars for it's truthfulness and the fact that we even had such truthfulness to write about.

  15. 5 out of 5

    NSAndrew Liebergen

    The Biography of the Cuban slave is a dramatic and visual ride through Cuba in 1797. Born into a household of a wealthy slave owner, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mother of his home. Juan was not allowed to become educated. Yet through all his adversity he showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses show his vision of the beautiful idealistic world, yet at the same time uncover the brutality and savage The Biography of the Cuban slave is a dramatic and visual ride through Cuba in 1797. Born into a household of a wealthy slave owner, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mother of his home. Juan was not allowed to become educated. Yet through all his adversity he showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses show his vision of the beautiful idealistic world, yet at the same time uncover the brutality and savagery that lies underneath the skin. One criticism is that it is hard to keep track of the many characters in the book. It would be helpful to have a character map and a timeline to gain a visual reference for the events laid out in the book. The book is mostly positives though. I enjoyed how it told the story from various points of view, including Manzano’s masters. This is a raw view of slavery in all its cruelty, torture, physical, and mental abuse. But throughout the book, the author keeps a ray of sunlight shinning for the reader to hold on to much as Juan does. I also find it interesting and something I have never considered is how the author shows how slavery not only affects the slaves, but the slave owners as well. This would be an excellent book to compliment a Cuban history unit. Combine it with a nonfiction book of Cuba and the students have a whole picture to latch facts and figures on to.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Grades 8-12 Audio read by Cabreri, Nunez, Rodriguez, and Santana A biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, The Poet Slave of Cuba is a testament to the power of artistic expression and how it can transcend evil. The novel pieces together the story of the poet born into slavery in 1797. He possessed the great talent of being able to recall and perform every poem he heard, and even though he was denied education, he learned how to write poetry in an invented language, paint, make pastries, and sew. He Grades 8-12 Audio read by Cabreri, Nunez, Rodriguez, and Santana A biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, The Poet Slave of Cuba is a testament to the power of artistic expression and how it can transcend evil. The novel pieces together the story of the poet born into slavery in 1797. He possessed the great talent of being able to recall and perform every poem he heard, and even though he was denied education, he learned how to write poetry in an invented language, paint, make pastries, and sew. He eventually learned how to read. Several times throughout his life, he is given hope for freedom only to be subjected to unimaginable cruelty and torment. Engle's poems bring the unimaginable to light through her sometimes suffocating, sometimes beautiful poems. Like Engle's Surrender Tree, the most evil characters show little if any humanity, but there are gray areas of mercy appear. The form, novel in verse illustrated with black and white painted illustrations, parallels the powerful message that creativity will prevail. Symbols in the illustrations enhance the reader's comprehension of the novel, which is why the audio, although well done, should be accompanied by the text. The audio is read by four actors representing the poems which are each titled by their characters and show a shifting perspective. For readers who are not bilingual, the audio is also helpful for correct pronunciation of the Spanish which is intertwined throughout the text.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Subtitle: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slaveowner in Cuba in 1797. The young Juan showed a talent for poetry, and he was used by his owner as entertainment for her friends; he recited poetry, sang opera and performed for them. Dona Beatriz gave Juan’s mother and father their freedom, but kept the “child of my old age” with her. Her promise that Juan, too, would be freed on her death was not kept; he was sent to the Marquesa de Prado Amen Subtitle: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slaveowner in Cuba in 1797. The young Juan showed a talent for poetry, and he was used by his owner as entertainment for her friends; he recited poetry, sang opera and performed for them. Dona Beatriz gave Juan’s mother and father their freedom, but kept the “child of my old age” with her. Her promise that Juan, too, would be freed on her death was not kept; he was sent to the Marquesa de Prado Ameno, whose cruelty apparently knew no bounds. He eventually escaped her estate and made his way to Havana. His poetry was censored by the colonial Spanish government because his depictions of slavery were considered to incite revolution. We know of his life today only because his autobiographical notes were smuggled to England where they were published, though half his manuscript was lost, so only his earlier life is recorded in his own hand. Engle studied Manzano’s poetry and life and was determined to write about him. She decided that to do justice to the power of his words, the biography should also be written in verse. Her poems are powerful, evoking a visceral response to the cruelty, sadness, dashed hopes and lost opportunities the young Juan experienced. But there is also the triumph of his indomitable spirit and a voice that would not be silenced. I’m so glad I came across this little gem.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I would recommend this book for grades 7 through 10. The life of a nineteenth century Cuban slave, Francisco Manzano is the focus of this book written in free verse. Although he lived in a brutal world, he learned how to read and write poetry. The story begins when he is six years old when his parents are set free. He is forced to perform in front of guests, like a pet. His owner dies five years later and he is given to a crazy woman who locks him up and beats him. He doesn't escape until he is I would recommend this book for grades 7 through 10. The life of a nineteenth century Cuban slave, Francisco Manzano is the focus of this book written in free verse. Although he lived in a brutal world, he learned how to read and write poetry. The story begins when he is six years old when his parents are set free. He is forced to perform in front of guests, like a pet. His owner dies five years later and he is given to a crazy woman who locks him up and beats him. He doesn't escape until he is sixteen. Not only is Juan's voice prevalent in the book, but we also hear from his mother, his owners and a white child who tries to help him. The sketches in this book emphasize the horrible situation Juan is in and what absolute anguish he feels as well as the deep strength he possesses. The afterword also cites some important historical information. This book was difficult for me to read at times, so I would only recommend it to students on an individual basis. I cannot wait to read more of Engle's work! Her books have yet to disappoint!

  19. 5 out of 5

    La Keesha

    Juan Francisco Manzano was a favorite in my household for many personal reasons. When I was a child his poems both fascinated and frightened me and as an adult they still do; his words just resonate. This book made me want to find his poems again and I did on a tear filled night while my household slept. Race, love, hope, yearning and pain are all present in his works and this IRA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Award for Young Adult–Nonfiction (2007), Américas Award (2006) and Pura Belpré Med Juan Francisco Manzano was a favorite in my household for many personal reasons. When I was a child his poems both fascinated and frightened me and as an adult they still do; his words just resonate. This book made me want to find his poems again and I did on a tear filled night while my household slept. Race, love, hope, yearning and pain are all present in his works and this IRA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Award for Young Adult–Nonfiction (2007), Américas Award (2006) and Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative (2008) winning novel by Margarita Engle is just as evocative and lyrical. The author introduces the poet and brings his world right into your head. This is a book for older children and young teens; maybe an advanced 10 year old but not much younger. The subject matter is a little heady and the concepts a little complex (especially when it comes to race and self-hate) for smaller children. Once you have read the story of this Slave, Man and Poet you will absolutely want to go and discover or re-discover his work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Q_Jill Burke

    This is a beautifully written book about a boy slave in Cuba in 1797. The boy, Juan, had a talent for poetry even though he was not educated. He was promised freedom by his first owner, but at her death, he comes to live with La Marquesa De Prado Amena who is never satisfied. She has him whipped and tortured for as little as taking a bath. Even so, she cannot take the gift of verse from him. This would be a great story to read with high school students. It reminded me of "Day of Tears" by Julius This is a beautifully written book about a boy slave in Cuba in 1797. The boy, Juan, had a talent for poetry even though he was not educated. He was promised freedom by his first owner, but at her death, he comes to live with La Marquesa De Prado Amena who is never satisfied. She has him whipped and tortured for as little as taking a bath. Even so, she cannot take the gift of verse from him. This would be a great story to read with high school students. It reminded me of "Day of Tears" by Julius Lester and teachers could do a comparison of both texts as well as study of Juan Francisco Manzano's poetry. I found several websites that provided translations from the nineteenth-century Spanish versions. Just google his name. His poetry is beautiful!

  21. 5 out of 5

    David

    A poetically beautiful piece of juvenile literature capturing the early years of Juan Francisco Manzano's life. This work, written from multiple perspectives (in verse), chronicles the hardships and overcome adversities of the enslaved, Cuban poet, who lived during the 18th and 19th century in Spanish colonized Cuba. A must read for anyone interested in both juvenile literature and minority culture.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alyse Liebovich

    I found this book in my library collection when creating a display for National Poetry Month, a day after returning from a week in Cuba. I liked the afterword--bio info, historical notes--more than the actual poetry, but I definitely appreciate what the author was trying to do. Learned about a specific time period in Cuban history that I had not learned anything about while actually in Cuba, so that added even more questions to my long list.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sonny

    This book was brilliant in the way it was composed. Manzano (the slave poet)endured a life that was more than worth telling, and the author did a beautiful job of connecting the biographical information with the spirit of the slave poet in verse format. This was highly original and a unique concept to deliver a powerful biographical portrait of a genius that far too many people are unaware of.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Long

    This book came out of no where for me. It is one that really pulls you in and gets you to hope for the best. It is unbelievable how people can be so detached from reality and yet be surrounded by those who are not. Great read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    Completely written in prose, awesome read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tara Crump

    I listened to the Audible version of this book. I had a hard time keeping up with the story, so I imagine my rating is a bit skewed. I think I would enjoy the text version of this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    An interesting and beautiful biography. Written in verse, this is a deeply emotional and moving account of his life. Loved the writing style! Really enhanced by gorgeous illustrations!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeimy

    I loved The Firefly Letters and Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics. My mom is Cuban and I am very curious about Cuba and its history. I am also in awe of stories of people who rise above their station and leave their mark on the world. All of these things raised my expectations for this slim novel in verse. Unfortunately, this felt more like a book about the horrors of slavery than a book about the poet referenced in the title. Readers only get a glimpse of Manzano's poetry in a postscript th I loved The Firefly Letters and Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics. My mom is Cuban and I am very curious about Cuba and its history. I am also in awe of stories of people who rise above their station and leave their mark on the world. All of these things raised my expectations for this slim novel in verse. Unfortunately, this felt more like a book about the horrors of slavery than a book about the poet referenced in the title. Readers only get a glimpse of Manzano's poetry in a postscript the author added. When I closed the last page I immediately went to Amazon to see if I could buy one of the works authored by Manzano. I purchased a Kindle copy of one of his poetry books. Hopefully that will give me an idea of the themes explored by Manzano in his work.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Beautiful, sad, and lingering. This was about a poet and a person I knew nothing of, during a time I don’t think much of, and in a country I know very little history about. Such a wonderful, informative way to express the history of poetry in the Caribbean. Another thing I didn’t know about until reading this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    I love this author and illustrator both, and it is really well done. Slavery is terrible, though, and for all the magic of the book, there are some hard things in here.

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