The Poet-Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
The Poet-Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
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Annotation: Biography, told in poetry, of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.
Catalog Number: #600103764
Format: Ebook
No other formats available
Special Formats: Ebook (Subscription, 1 Year) Ebook Downloadable Downloadable
Publisher: Macmillan
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition Date: 2014
Illustrator: Qualls, Sean,
Pages: 192
Territory: North America
Availability: Special Order Only - Contact Customer Service at +1 800 637-6581 or +1 217 243-5451
ISBN: 1-466-88963-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-466-88963-7
Dewey: 811
Language: English
Reviews:
Horn Book
This biography in verse, based on Manzano's autobiographical notes, is a work of literary imagination. As a young enslaved boy, Juan impressed his owner with his memory, reciting Homer, opera, Latin sermons--and his own precociously lovely poetry. Engle alternates between Juan's perspective and those of his owners and his parents, painting a complex picture of growing up in bondage.
Kirkus Reviews
A work born out of love for the man and his poetry, this biography-in-verse pays tribute to Juan Francisco Manzano, who lived between 1797 and 1853. Like many verse novels, the biography is told through alternating points of view, including Juan's as he grows from childhood to adulthood. Separated from his mother and father, Juan is reared by a slaveholder who adores his genius with words. When he is 11, she passes away. Even though she promised him his freedom upon her death, he remains enslaved, this time to a mentally unbalanced woman who abuses him unmercifully. Amazingly, Juan sustains himself through the tiny kindnesses of others, brief opportunities to make art of any kind and an endless reservoir of hope. This powerful and accessible biography may significantly engage adolescent learners but it could be too brutal for sensitive elementary-school readers. Simple charcoal drawings accompany the text and capture its emotional and geographical atmosphere. (Biography. 10-14)
Publishers Weekly

Engle (Skywriting, for adults) achieves an impressive synergy between poetry and biography as she illuminates the tortured life of the 19th-century Cuban poet. Born a slave, Juan is kept like "a poodle, her pet/ with my curly dark hair/ and small child's brown skin," by his "godmother" and owner, Beatriz. She grants his birth parents manumission (for a price), while refusing to free Juan until her own death. Juan shows talent for memorization, and recites literature for Beatriz's amusement. Despite his mother's payment, Juan is transferred, at Beatriz's death, to another owner, the Marquesa de Prado Ameno, who punishes Juan cruelly. There he also secretly learns to read and write—posing a threat to the Marquesa and the social order. Engle's compelling poems shift in viewpoint among seven people, and the technique works beautifully: readers thus draw their own conclusions from Juan, his desperate parents, brutal owners, the Marquesa's sympathetic son and the conflicted Overseer. Juan's poems articulate both his enduring pain and dream of release ("I sit tied and gagged./ She is there, behind the curtain./ .../ She can't hear the stories I tell myself in secret"), while recurring bird imagery signifies elusive freedom. Quall's (The Baby on the Way) expressionistic half-tone illustrations extend Engle's exploration of race as a cornerstone of the social caste in Spanish colonial Cuba. (Juan and his family are dark-skinned; the women who own him use a powder of crushed eggshells and rice to lighten their complexion.) An author's note and excerpts from Manzano's own poetry round out this sophisticated volume. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-This is an absolutely lovely book about the unlovely subject of slavery. It is the biography of an extraordinary young man, with extraordinary intellectual powers, who was born into slavery in Cuba in 1797. Told in verse, it recounts the sufferings and trials of Manzano. As a boy, he was capable of memorizing and reciting poetic verses in many different languages. He could recount epic tales read to him, and in this way served as the entertainment for his mistress and her many guests. Later, when he became the property of a crueler mistress, his talents helped him endure numerous beatings and confinements. It is amazing that he was able to survive, and even more astonishing that he was able to maintain his humanity and his sensitive poetic nature. Manzano's sufferings are almost too painful to read about, but the experience is made bearable by Engle's skillful use of verse. Qualls's drawings are suitably stark and compelling, wonderfully complementing the text. This is an exceptional book on two levels. First, it introduces Manzano to an American public. Second, it introduces readers to slavery as it was practiced in a country other than the United States. Both are noteworthy. This is a book that should be read by young and old, black and white, Anglo and Latino.-Carol Jones Collins, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 7 Up This is an absolutely lovely book about the unlovely subject of slavery. It is the biography of an extraordinary young man, with extraordinary intellectual powers, who was born into slavery in Cuba in 1797. Told in verse, it recounts the sufferings and trials of Manzano. As a boy, he was capable of memorizing and reciting poetic verses in many different languages. He could recount epic tales read to him, and in this way served as the entertainment for his mistress and her many guests. Later, when he became the property of a crueler mistress, his talents helped him endure numerous beatings and confinements. It is amazing that he was able to survive, and even more astonishing that he was able to maintain his humanity and his sensitive poetic nature. Manzano's sufferings are almost too painful to read about, but the experience is made bearable by Engle's skillful use of verse. Qualls's drawings are suitably stark and compelling, wonderfully complementing the text. This is an exceptional book on two levels. First, it introduces Manzano to an American public. Second, it introduces readers to slavery as it was practiced in a country other than the United States. Both are noteworthy. This is a book that should be read by young and old, black and white, Anglo and Latino. Carol Jones Collins, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* In plain, stirring free verse, Engle dramatizes the boyhood of the nineteenth-century Cuban slave Juan Francisco Manzano, who secretly learned to read and wrote poetry about beauty and courage in his world of unspeakable brutality. His present-tense narrative begins when he is six, when his parents are set free. He remains behind with a mistress who treats him like a pet, making him perform for guests. When she dies, five years later, he is given to a cruel, crazy woman, who has him beaten and locked up at whim. He doesn't escape until he is nearly 16. Side-by-side with Juan's anguished voice are the narratives of other characters, including his mother, his demonic owners, and the white child who secretly tries to help. Qualls' occasional black-and-white sketches express Juan's suffering and strength, and a brief afterword fills in historical background. Related in fast-moving poetry, the cruelty is vivid, as is the boy's amazing inner power: tied, gagged, and beaten, Juan knows his owner can't hear the stories I tell myself. Today's readers will hear the stories, though--and never forget them.
Word Count: 12,804
Reading Level: 6.3
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.3 / points: 2.0 / quiz: 121445 / grade: Middle Grades+
Reading Counts!: reading level:5.5 / points:6.0 / quiz:Q38715
Lexile: NP
Juan

My mind is a brush made of feathers
painting pictures of words
I remember
all that I see
every syllable
each word a twin of itself
telling two stories
at the same time
one of sorrow
the other hope

I love the words
written with my feathery mind
in the air
and with my sharp fingernails
on leaves in the garden

When my owner catches
a whiff
of the fragrance
of words
engraved in the flesh
of succulent geranium leaves
or the perfumed petals of alelí flowers
then she frowns because she knows
that I dream
with my feathers
my wings

Poetry cools me, syllables calm me
I read the verses of others
the free men
and know
that I'm never alone

Poetry sets me aflame
I grow furious
dangerous, a blaze
of soul and heart, a fiery tongue
a lantern at midnight

My first owner was sweet to me
I was her pet, a new kind of poodle
my pretty mother chosen
to be her personal handmaid

My mother
María del Pilar Manzano
a slave

Together we belonged
along with countless others
human beasts of burden
to Doña Beatríz de Justíz, La Marquesa
the proud Marchioness Justíz de Santa Ana
noble wife of Don Juan Manzano
who shares my name
even though
he is not
my father

Don Juan rules El Molino
his plantation
on this island of sugar
and many other
sweet illusions

These were my mother's duties:
dress La Marquesa
undress her
cool her skin with a palm-leaf fan
answer questions
never ask
collect milk from new mothers
in the huts
near the fields
slave milk, the lotion used for softening
the skin
of noble ladies

This my mother accomplished:
deliver the milk
grind eggshells and rice into powder
for making la cascarada
a pale shell for hiding
the darkness
of Spaniards
who pretend
to be pale
in our presence

When the noble ladies go out in public
milk-soothed, eggshell-crusted
masked and disguised
we no longer look the same
dark owner
and dark slaves

Now my owner is ghostly
inside her skeleton of powder
but I, being only a poodle,
can watch
I am allowed
to know
these truths
about shadow
and bright

So I listen
when the ghost-owner calls me her own baby
she plays with me
and even decides
to set my true mother
free

Free to marry Toribio de Castro
a man also promised
his freedom

My father is winged, like my mother
oh, I envy them
what will happen
to me
little bird
left behind in this haunted nest?

She takes me with her wherever she goes
I become the companion of my owner, noble ghost
no, not a companion, remember?
a poodle, her pet
with my curly dark hair
and small child's brown skin
suitable
for the theater
and parties

So I bark
on command
I learn to whine and howl
in verse
I'm known as the smart one who never
forgets
I can listen
then recite
every word

Listen, she says to her friends
and the priest
see how little Juanito can sing
see how I've trained him
watch him
perform

Back and forth
over and over
country home, city home, palaces, the plantation
only six years old, she says
but listen to his big funny
voice

Back and forth
over and over
I recite strange words in several languages
Spanish, Latin, French
while my sweet ghost-Mamá-owner
and all her friends
listen
they are forgetful
I am rememberful
I remember there is also one more mother
in my song
a bird-mother
caged
but winged

Copyright © 2006 Margarita Engle
This text is from an uncorrected proof





Excerpted from The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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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