Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

Newbery Honor Book

Q & A

Where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My mother is from Trinidad, Cuba, and my father is an artist from Los Angeles. They met when he traveled to Cuba after seeing photos of her town in National Geographic. He did not speak Spanish, and she did not speak English, but they communicated by drawing pictures.

My own deep attachment to Cuba stems from childhood visits, and return visits as an adult.

What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
I loved to read, especially travel books, adventure stories and poetry. I began writing poetry when I was very young. I remember going for walks, and making up poems about what I was seeing. I did not save any of those poems, but I can still remember the satisfied feeling I received from composing them.

What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
I was already a writer of adult literary novels about modern Cuba, when I discovered that I was also fascinated by the island's long, troubled history. I began struggling to write in prose about Juan Francisco Manzano, who was known as el Poeta-Esclavo, the Poet-Slave of Cuba, because he wrote poetry while he was still a slave. Inspired by Karen Hesse's young adult multiple voice novel in verse, Witness, I switched to the verse novel format, and suddenly, the story worked.

Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
I am slowly working on a brief autobiography in verse about childhood visits to Cuba, the Missile Crisis, and resulting loss of contact with my extended family on the island. It is an extremely emotional subject for me, probably the most difficult poetic challenge I will ever face.

What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I absolutely loved The Black Stallion. Until I was around six years old, I firmly believed that I could grow up to be a wild horse. When people asked me what I wanted to be, I would answer, "a horse." As I grew older, I realized that I would have to be a person. By the time I was in seventh grade, Island of the Blue Dolphins was my favorite book. I also sneaked into the adult section of the library, and checked out translations of novels from distant countries, such as Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I longed to travel, and understand the world.

What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I love hiking. We live near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and my husband has two wilderness search and rescue dogs, for his volunteer work finding lost hikers. I enjoy hiding in the forest, so the dogs can practice finding someone by scent.

Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
I enjoy books for young people that can be read on various levels, depending on one's age and experience. Katherine Paterson and Karen Hesse are two of my favorites, and I love Kate DiCamillo's books, especially A Tiger Rising, and The Tale of Desperaux. I also love combinations of harsh reality with magic realism, such as Strays, by Ron Koertge, and I love folklore and retold fairy tales, such as the ones by Donna Jo Napoli.

What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Read, read, read. Start every day with poetry, even if it isn't what you plan to write. Be adventurous. Explore. Be honest.

How does it feel to write an entire novel in poems?
It feels like travel, because there is a sense of discovery, and when I write a novel in verse about history, it feels like time travel.

Books by the Author

All the Way to Havana
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All the Way to Havana

Margarita Engle; illustrations by Mike Curato
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

So we purr, cara cara, and we glide, taka taka, and we zoom, zoom, ZOOM!
A family drives into the city of Havana to celebrate a cousin's first birthday. Before their journey, the boy...

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Available 08/29/2017

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Bravo!
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Bravo!

Margarita Engle; illustrations by Rafael Lopez
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their...

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Available 03/14/2017

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Orangutanka
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Orangutanka

Margarita Engle; illustrated by Renée Kurilla
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

All the orangutans are ready for a nap in the sleepy depths of the afternoon . . . all except one. This little orangutan wants to dance! A hip-hop, cha-cha-cha dance full of somersaults and cartwheels....

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Mountain Dog
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Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle; illustrations by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
Square Fish
Square Fish

When Tony's mother is sent to jail, he is sent to stay with a great uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a daunting move—Tony's new world bears no semblance to his previous one. But slowly,...

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Hurricane Dancers
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Hurricane Dancers

Margarita Engle
Square Fish
Square Fish

Quebrado has been traded from pirate ship to ship in the Caribbean Sea for as long as he can remember. The sailors he toils under call him el quebrado—half islander, half outsider, a broken...

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Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories
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Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories

Edited by Ann M. Martin; stories and illustrations by various authors and artists
Square Fish
Square Fish

Hilarious and heartwarming dog stories from nine renowned authors:

• Ann M. Martin
• Jon Muth
• Mark Teague
• Margarita Engle
• Thacher Hurd

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When You Wander
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When You Wander

Margarita Engle; illustrations by Mary Morgan
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

When you wander
down a leafy path
I can smell
your invisible
trail . . .

This cozy story gently teaches children what to do if they lose their way, and reassures them that...

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The Poet Slave of Cuba
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The Poet Slave of Cuba

Margarita Engle; Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Square Fish
Square Fish

A lyrical account of the life of Juan Francisco Manzano, the poet slave of Cuba, in verse

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Summer Birds
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Summer Birds

Margarita Engle; illustrations by Julie Paschkis
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars...

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The Firefly Letters
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The Firefly Letters

Margarita Engle
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

The freedom to roam is something that women and girls in Cuba do not have. Yet when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden in 1851 to learn about the people of this magical island, she is accompanied...

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The Surrender Tree
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The Surrender Tree

Margarita Engle
Square Fish
Square Fish

The Surrender Tree is a Newbery Honor winning, lyrical history in poems, and this edition has the Spanish and English text available in one book.

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Tropical Secrets
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Tropical Secrets

Margarita Engle
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and...

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