Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hurricane Dancers

Bobbie Johnson, a graduate student in my Multicultural Literature course this summer, created this readers' guide for Margarita Engle's 2011 historical novel in verse, Hurricane Dancers. It's full of terrific ideas and activities!

Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9780805092400

Recommended age levels: Ages 11 to 18 1. Summary
This historical novel in verse tells three intertwined stories that occurred in 1509: Quebrado’s story of finding freedom, Talavera and Ojeda’s story of selfish greed and disregard for human life, and Caucubú and Naridó’s love story. Quebrado, a boy of Taíno Indian and Spanish heritage, is captured and enslaved by pirates. His master, Bernardino de Talavera, was once a wealthy slave owner. However, he mistreated his slaves and when they died he suffered financial ruin as there was no one to take care of his land. To avoid being placed in debtor’s prison, he stole a ship and turned to piracy. Talavera captured the governor of Venezuela, Alonso de Ojeda, a ruthless conquistador who had been injured by a Native’s poison dart. When Talavera’s ship is sunk in a hurricane, Quebrado is rescued from the sea by Naridó, a Taíno fisherman from Cuba, and embraced by Naridó’s village. Talavera and Ojeda also survive and are washed up on the shore. When they wander into the village, Quebrado warns the villagers about these two evil Spaniards. Instead of executing the two men, the villagers decide to release them in the swamp, expecting them to die or be eaten by alligators.

In the mean time, Caucubú, the girl Naridó loves, is being forced into an arranged marriage. Knowing the only way to be together is to run and hide, Caucubú and Naridó secretly leave the village. The villagers blame Quebrado for the strange twist in events and exile him. He is able to find Caucubú and Naridó, and together they start their own village. Haunted by his past, Quebrado fears that Talavera and Ojeda might have survived and he leaves to warn villagers on the other side of the swamp. He gets there after Talavera and Ojeda do, and Ojeda tries to kill him upon his arrival. The villagers let Quebrado decide whether the Spaniards’ fate. In choosing to release them, Quebrado finds that, for the first time since he was a young boy, he feels whole. He sheds the name Quebrado, meaning broken in Spanish, and calls himself Yacuyo (Far Light) instead.

2. Review Excerpts
Booklist Starred Review (January 1, 2011) – “Once again, Engle fictionalizes historical fact in a powerful, original story. With the exception of Quebrado, all the characters are based on documented figures (discussed in a lengthy author’s note), whose voices narrate many of the poems. While the shifting perspectives create a somewhat dreamlike, fractured story, Engle distills the emotion in each episode with potent rhythms, sounds, and original, unforgettable imagery. Linked together, the poems capture elemental identity questions and the infinite sorrows of slavery and dislocation, felt even by the pirate’s ship, which “remembers / her true self, / her tree self, / rooted / and growing, / alive, / on shore.”
Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2011) – “Taken individually the stories are slight, but they work together elegantly; the notes and back matter make this a great choice for classroom use.”

Library Media Connection (June 2011) – “This historical fiction story, set in the Caribbean in 1510, is written in verse format. The figurative language is captivating as multiple voices spin a tale of the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck, slavery, banishment, betrayal, and love.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (April 2011) – “Based on the early sixteenth century shipwreck and on the legendary Cuban story of forbidden love between Naridó and Caucubú (who provides the fifth narrative voice here), this is both a taut adventure tale and a grim examination of the disastrous cultural contact between Europeans and the Caribbean islanders they promptly exploited or enslaved. The slender size and accessible format may help draw readers daunted by thicker materials . . .”
3. Questions to Ask Before Reading
a. This story takes place in the Caribbean. Where is that, and what countries are found there? When were these countries discovered? Many students do not understand that in 1492, Columbus did not discover the land known as the United States. Instead, he discovered Caribbean islands. A map should be displayed of the region so students understand the geography in which the story takes place.

b. Lots of people have seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Do you think these movies accurately depict pirates? Why or why not?

c. When you think of Native Americans, what comes to mind? What do you know about their culture, beliefs, religion, etc.? Were Native Americans only found in the American West? Where else were they found? Does anyone know if there were any Native Peoples found on the islands of the world’s oceans and/or seas? (These questions could lead to a rich discussion about Native Peoples. It would be a great time to dispel some misconceptions.)

d. We know there were slaves in the United States. Was there slavery anywhere else in the world? Was there slavery anywhere else in the Americas? Background information about the slavery of indigenous peoples in the Americas can be discussed.

4. Suggestions for Reading Aloud
a. The book can be read aloud over a series of six days, corresponding to the six parts of the story. Each day, different students can be chosen to read the words of Quebrado, Talavera, Ojeda, Naridó and Caucubú.

b. Read the poems on pages 77 and 79. These are Caucubú’s and Naridó’s reactions to the stories Quebrado tells about the things he saw and experienced while with the Spanish. Discuss their different reactions to Quebrado’s tale. After discussing this, read the poem on page 80. What part of Quebrado’s story caught Caucubú’s and Naridó’s attention?

c. Read the poems on pages 5, 9, 13, 40, 47. These poems give readers a sense of the main characters: who they are, their feelings, and their histories. After each poem is read, discuss what it says about the character it describes. Discuss how the traits portrayed by these poems explain the different reactions the characters have to the story’s events.

5. Follow Up Activities
a. Language Arts/Research Assignment - Write diary entries, as if you were a Taíno Indian, regarding your impressions of the Spanish explorers and settlers. Create entries for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, and 30 years after their arrival. You will need to do research regarding the interactions between the Taínos and the Spanish, as well as the fate of the Taíno Indians, to complete this assignment.

b. Science assignment – A research project can be conducted regarding the causes and effects of hurricanes. Students should work with one or two partners, sharing their information on a group wiki. Information regarding tropical waves, depressions, and storms, as well as the different categories of hurricanes could be included. Students should prepare a product of their choice (PowerPoint, Blog, iMovie, etc.) to share their findings with the rest of the class. The presentation should include pictures and other visual representations of hurricanes and the damage they cause.

c. Art assignment -
Make a diorama of a Taíno village. Be sure to include bohios, a central plaza, a caney (the cacique’s dwelling), and a batey court (an area for traditional ball games). The following websites will help students visualize Taíno villages and understand how they were constructed.
2. - Warning: While this website includes a very nice graphic of a Taíno village, some of the Taíno people are drawn scantily clad or naked. No body part details are shown, however the teacher may want to preview the site prior to showing it to the class to ensure it is appropriate for students’ age group.
3. A Google search for “taino village image” will provide several images of Taíno villages.

6. Related websites/blogs
a. The following websites include information regarding the Taino Indians.
1. Welcome to Puerto Rico
2. El Boriqua: Un Poquito de Todo
3. Glencoe Online: The Journey of Christopher Columbus: Native Peoples (The “Indians”)

b. Background information regarding Christopher Columbus may give students background knowledge regarding early Spanish interactions with Native cultures.
2. Although Wikipedia does not always have a reputation for providing reliable information, this article does provide some interesting background information and facts about Columbus and his voyages.

c. A more complete and accurate account of the relationship between Bernardino de Talavera and Alonso de Ojeda can be found on pages 136-139 from Tierra Firme. “Tierra Firme” is a chapter from the following book, available online in its entirety.
Anderson, Dr. C. L. G. 1911. Old Panama and Castilla Del Oro. Boston: The Page Company.

7. Related Books
a. Dorris, Michael. 1992. Morning Girl. New York: Hyperion Books.
A brother and sister tell the story of their lives as island pre-Columbian Indians in this historical novel.

b. Jacobs, Francine. 1992. The Tainos: The People who Welcomed Columbus. Ill. by Patrick Collins. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
This nonfiction book tells the story of the demise of the Taíno peoples after the arrival of Columbus.

c. Crespo, George. 1993. How the Sea Began: A Taíno Myth. New York: Clarion Books.
This Taíno myth describes how the world’s ocean was created.

d. Yolen, Jane. 1992. Encounter. Ill. by David Shannon. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
A Taino boy tries to warn his village about the arrival of three ships (Columbus) to no avail. This story tells about Columbus discoveries from the Taíno point of view.

Other books by Margarita Engle dealing with Cuban history can be read.
1. Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
This novel in verse is about those who fought for Cuban independence during the nineteenth century.

2. Engle, Margarita. 2009. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. New York: Henry Holt.
This story, told in free verse, is about Jewish refugees who found their way to Cuba.

Used with permission of Bobbie Johnson.

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